Last month saw the announcement in Cardiff of the winner of the international Lumen Prize Exhibition for digitally-created fine art. Tommy Ingberg of Sweden collected first prize for his piece Torn which depicts a man ‘torn’ between the sky and the ground by balloons and a boulder.
The prize, now in its second year, was started by business and financial journalist Carla Rapoport in an effort to draw the world’s attention to the amazing art being created by all the new technology that has rained down on artists worldwide, from the ubiquitous smartphone to tablets to the latest computer software.
“I was really taken with all the changes happening to so many industries because of the IT revolution and the impact techhology was having on art being a huge fan of David Hockney’s work. I’ve always had an interest in art as a member of various museums, attending private views and always wanting to spend as much time as possible in front of great art. It’s such a pleasure to be in the presence of genius,” says Rapoport. “I thought it might make sense to set up a competition to provide a bar to which artists who use this genre can reach. I see the Lumen Prize Exhibition as a means of breaking the log jam of acceptability of this genre by the established art world.”
Rapoport, the US-born CEO and Founder of the Lumen Prize Exhibition, has long been a fan of art. For her, fine art is unlike any other cultural discipline because of the proximity that it allows the viewer.
“It’s such a pleasure to be in the presence of genius. While music is fabulous and the theatre is fantastic, you can’t actually stand as close to genius as you can to visual art. You can’t get that close to an actor or an orchestra,” she explains. “Attending a visual art exhibition is perhaps the most exciting cultural thing that you can do. I realised that technology was a great enabler for artists but I also recognised that digitally-created fine art had been shoved off into a corner of the art world. I think this was the simple reason that no-one knew how to sell it.”
Rapoport admits that the response to the Prize has been overwhelming. Between its launch in May 2012 and now, 1000 people have registered on the Prize’s website. When the contest closed its call for entries last summer, Lumen had received over 500 submissions of work from over 30 countries for its 2012 competition.
“The Prize was set up to recognise the very best in art created digitally and then take that art around the world on a global tour. Digital art has the unique ability to be shared and enjoyed via the web or on web-enabled devices, so it can be seen in places where traditional art is already, but also where it can’t be seen,” she says of the art prize which is unlike any other. “From the very start, I wanted the Lumen Prize to engage with a charity, so I took it to Peace Direct which enables and support local peace builders in conflict zones. The charity loved the idea and helped to give us a home so that we could get the project off the ground by providing us with strategy and logistical support. Then, thanks support from the City of Cardiff, we now have a physical home for the Prize.”
In a world that has been rendered increasingly borderless through technology and networking, the story of how the Lumen ended up in the capital of Wales instead of a major world city is a funny one.
It was on a train journey between her home in the Brecon Beacons and London, where Rapoport was working at the time, that she, by chance, sat next to Professor Terry Stevens, an expert in City and Regional Development as well as the Digital Economy.
“I told him what I was doing and he said he loved the idea and that he would be happy to introduce me to Ken Poole who is in charge of the City Council’s resurgence and regeneration activities,” she recalls. “Within ten weeks we had a deal with the City of Cardiff to partner with us for 3 years. Terry also introduced me to Gaynor Kavanagh, Dean at Cardiff School of Art & Design. I met Gaynor for a coffee and extraordinarily kindly, she accompanied me on my first meeting with Ken Poole about the Prize. That was an amazing leap of faith for her – to come along with someone she had just met.”
The judging process of the Lumen Prize is complex but through its complexity, thoroughness is ensured.
“We judge the works in two ways. First, an International Selection Committee of academics and art experts review 100 works each. We structure this so each work submitted to the Lumen Prize is seen by at least 5 committee members. The top 50 works – which make up the Lumen Prize Exhibition – are chosen through this review are then submitted to our Jury Panel of 8 top artists, gallery owners and art critics. These panel members review all 50 of the works and select the 20 works on our shortlist and our three top prize winners,” Rapoport explains. “Also, all the submitted works appeared in a Lumen Online Gallery where there was an open vote for the People’s Choice Winner. Next year, we will invite works into the Lumen Online Gallery for the People’s Choice competition.”
The judging panel of eight industry experts includes nationally-known artist Gordon Young; Ivor Davies, President of the Royal Cambrian Academy and Anne Farrer, programme director at Sotheby’s Institute. In keeping with the digital aspect of the Prize, none of the judges met in person to discuss the shortlist. It was all done online. This is just one of the ideas that makes it so special.
“Digital art is uniquely enabling. It can be created anywhere in the world without the need for canvas, oils, studio or any of those other things. It can be done with an iPad or a computer or any digital device,” Rapoport explains when asked of its importance. “It has incredible potential for what it can do, for example, in education, or in bringing people together who can’t speak, as well as the rehabilitation for the elderly, brain damaged and infirm. There’s so many ways that digital art can bring joy and uplift to people in any kind of situation. Imagine taking a brain-damaged child and trying to get them to work with oil. That would be very hard. But a brain-damaged child could put their finger on a tablet and create something very beautiful. The luminosity of our tablets creates a great effect.”
Like any advance in a traditional industry, digital art has its critics. Carla Rapoport’s response to those who dispute the value of digital art is to ask whether they believe a print made by a press to be art or why photographers like Andreas Gursky can sell their photographs for millions.
“Where the critics of digital art misunderstand is that they associate it with commercial art because dog food commercials are created digitally,” she rebukes. “The person who creates that imagery is not an artist because they are working commercially. But when that person goes home at night, what they create on their iPad could well be fine art and shown in museums. Because an artist does dog food commercials in the day, does that mean they can’t be an artist?”
Very thankful to both the City of Cardiff and Cardiff School of Art & Design, Carla Rapoport is at the head of a very exciting art prize which has the potential to showcase the work of lesser-known artists from around the world and give them a platform for praise.
The Lumen Prize Exhibition – a global tour to five cities – will be launched at Gallery 27, Cork Street, London on January 22 and run to Janurary 26 before moving to Riga, Latvia, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and returning to Cardiff in last March 2013. The 50 artists chosen for the Lumen Prize Exhibition come from 13 countries and 43 cities around the world, including Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Taiwan, and China.