VIDA is turning fifteen today. The path taken in 1999 by Fundación Telefónica to launch the competition is now considered a milestone in the history of technological art. The initiative by a group of pioneering artists – Nell Tenhaaf, Susie Ramsay and Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer –, whose vision was to detect the interest in research that linked art and life, has become a benchmark framework for understanding contemporary artistic practices.
The history of science and technology is drawn from a similar standpoint as that of art: exploration and creativity. In a society captivated by technological advancement, where the parameters by which we understand our surroundings are quickly replaced with newer and more recent versions, it is vital to have daring proposals that record our changing relationship with the environment. In particular, the science of life and its constant redefinition is currently openly proving to be one of the most powerful stimuli for contemporary culture. From this perspective, the role of the artist in these dynamics is seen as essential in showing, revealing and reflecting on the organisation of life and its variability.
VIDA, the International Art and Artificial Life Competition, is aimed at artists whose interest lies in exploring new ways of encapsulating life and its properties, as expressed through artistic constructions developed using advanced technologies.
In this context, the artist plays the role of a researcher working with patterns that can be judged as unusual or unprecedented. Advances in computer engineering, telecommunications, materials and biotechnology profoundly shape the creation of these artistic developments. Over fifteen editions, VIDA has been rewarding these artists, whose work has given rise to some of the most significant technoscientific innovation approaches of our time.
Since its inception, VIDA has chosen to deal with a specific field within creation: art and artificial life. This emerged as a discipline in the 1980s, nurtured by a group of scientists who gathered together at the Santa Fe Institute in California. For years VIDA followed in the wake of that gathering. However, the competition has always aimed to preserve the heterogeneity of art and creative freedom, and to enhance the diffuse and ambiguous boundary that lies between fields and disciplines. In this sense, the discursive field of artificial life has offered the opportunity to conceive artwork as a mechanism that varies, evolves and adapts to the space in which it is located.
In each new edition, VIDA has been successful in highlighting the newest trends in artificial life, demonstrating the ability of artists to take up new debates. Robots, avatars, computer viruses, cellular automata, immersive spaces or augmented reality have been the dominant themes of the winning works for years. At present, highlights involve new approaches to exploring the qualities of life. Without ignoring the computer simulations which are typical of the discipline, these approaches incorporate other fields in a broad-based manner, adopting pseudo-fictional strategies or reproducing critical scenarios that delve into our understanding of living systems and their organisation.
One of the achievements of VIDA has been its ability to help the public appreciate the debates that arise from art when focused on science, thought and the most distinct ways of transcending categories that emerge from a multidisciplinary approach.
One objective of VIDA has always been to include exhibition spaces that would enhance the visibility of the prize winners and attract a wider audience to attend the exhibitions. For many years the VIDA awards took place annually at ARCO. At this art fair in Madrid, VIDA began to offer a kind of art that was hardly ever seen in the contemporary art galleries of the time. It was most definitely a gamble, but Fundación Telefónica pulled it off successfully, distinguishing itself through its nature as an art form that was closer to the technological and social fields. Daniel Canogar, who became the director of the competition after taking over from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, summed up the presence of VIDA at the fair as an essential key in promoting the competition widely to all audiences, not just to an audience made up of dealers, collectors or experts, but to the bulk of visitors to the fair who were not directly involved in the field.
In 2009, to mark VIDA’s tenth anniversary, the possibility was considered of moving the annual exhibition of the awards to the city centre. And so it was that ten years of success were commemorated by holding the VIDA Gala and an exhibition at the recently opened Matadero Madrid pavilions. From this historic show, the audience can still recall examples like the sublime installation Hylozoic Soil by the Canadian Phil Beesley, the space taken up by Performative Ecologies by Ruairi Glynn, or the birds in Sixteen Birds by artist Chico MacMurtrie.
The tenth anniversary of VIDA was also an opportunity to announce important developments in the awards themselves. On the one hand, the prize money was doubled, so that the prize of EUR 40,000 that had been awarded so far was doubled to a total of EUR 80,000. There was also the launch of a series of workshops involving award-winning artists in Latin America, with the aim of complementing the Production Incentive Award, placing special emphasis on the promotion of art and artificial life in these countries. The importance that the competition has had in Latin America is significant, particularly in this category, as it provides the necessary resources for new productions. Thus, the number of completed projects being received from these countries has increased substantially. Jose Carlos Mariátegui, a member of the VIDA panel for several years, has defined the importance of artistic research in Latin America due to their ability to incorporate artificial life into a highly original form determined by different socio-cultural contexts.
In 2012, for the inauguration of Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid, VIDA held its first major retrospective.
VIDA 1999-2012 was an exhibition that aimed to illustrate the pioneering trail blazed by the competition. Karin Ohlenschlaeger, the curator centred her approach on a number of key questions that underpin the philosophical nature of the award: “What is life? What is it like and what could it be like?” or “How do scientific and technological advances influence our way of understanding or changing life?” These questions form the link between VIDA’s award-winning works and the selection of projects in the exhibition.
With the celebration of the 15th anniversary of VIDA, Fundación Telefónica now wishes to highlight the global consolidation of a competition that is set apart by being unique in its field. Over the years, the competition has managed to promote avant-garde art that employs the most advanced technology and the latest scientific knowledge, acting as a catalyst for its dissemination and encouraging the emergence of new approaches.
At the same time, its history and evolution, which have been in tune with the new codes, media forms and innovations in the field of experimental art, make it an international benchmark for a type of art that demands solid settings for reflection and debate. VIDA today has been consolidated as an extraordinary platform from which to observe the new emerging art that brings together a unique vision of art, science, technology and society. The 15th anniversary of VIDA is a special occasion on which to invite the public to meet and explore the kind of artistic practices that encourage us to imagine the present and the future of life, art and knowledge.
Mónica Bello. Artistic Director of VIDA