This Saturday at 3PM, FOG Design + Art will host the talk, “Mutual Muses: What Can Art and Technology Learn from Each Other,” with the head of the Artist in Residence and Analog Research Lab at Facebook Tina Vaz and Director of Online Sales at David Zwirner Gallery Elena Soboleva.
Whitewaller checked in with Vaz to learn more about Facebook’s residency program, as well as the forthcoming conversation around tech and art at this week’s fair.
WHITEWALLER: Facebook’s Artist in Residency Program is going into its 8th year. How has the program evolved in mission since its beginnings in 2012?
TINA VAZ: The Artist in Residence program grew from Facebook’s early practice of inviting working artists to use its campus as a canvas. The program was founded on a spirit of experimentation and risk-taking and a belief that artists and technologists share common values and can benefit from working alongside one another. All of that is true today. Since 2012 the program has scaled exponentially in terms of its global footprint and reach, but it remains an initiative committed to artists and to building community through creativity.
WW: What specifically is asked of an artist for the program?
TV: Artists are first invited to submit a proposal that responds to a short set of criteria, including a focus on primarily analog work that emphasizes connectivity and multiplicity of perspective. From there, it’s really up to them to develop the work and we give them as much freedom as we can to realize their vision. We document the installation process and interview the artists to create content that’s shared with our internal and external communities. We’re interested in building relationships, and we try to stay engaged with artists by bringing them back for workshops or programs or by helping to support other projects.
WW: What are some considerations, given that this work is in a public/work environment?
TV: We’re mindful of maintaining a respectful work environment, so we avoid things such as nudity and profanity, for instance. Otherwise, our artists and curators are empowered to create the best work for the space. Often, this involves stretching an artist’s practice in terms of scale or material or installation, which is an exciting challenge for everyone.
WW: Hundreds of artists have been commissioned to create site-specific works. How is Facebook’s community encouraged to interact with this growing cohort of artists?
TV: We’ve worked with more than 600 artists around the world since the program began. In its early days the program was small enough that it could be more of a true residency, with artists installing their pieces in active workspaces. At today’s scale, we rely more on photo and video documentation to introduce our internal community to the artists. We’ve also begun exploring new ways of engaging Facebook staff through tours and an interactive online collection as well as our growing public programs and partnerships initiative, which takes our commitment to art and artists outside Facebook’s walls—such as our support of the San Jose Museum of Art’s Facebook First Fridays.
WW: Are you seeing a growing culture of support for artists in the tech community?
TV: I can’t speak for the entire tech community, but we enjoy significant interest in and support for our program among the Facebook community in the Bay Area and in our offices around the world. In addition to our Artist in Residence initiative, our program includes an in-house design and production studio and designer-in-residence, creative engagement workshops and classes, and public programs and partnerships. In all of these ways, we aim to forge connections, create opportunities for creativity, and introduce new ways of thinking about the world. I feel privileged to be part of a company and community that celebrates and values art so demonstrably.
WW: In San Francisco specifically, what kinds of connections are you seeing between the tech and artist communities?
TV: There’s a lot of discussion and interest right now in how analog, digital, and virtual processes can intersect to create authentic connections and spaces for discovery around issues ranging from human impact to empathy to diversity of voice. Much of the work within our program for the year ahead will focus on these themes, including a collaboration at UNTITLED SF with textile artist Kira Dominguez Hultgren that will explore loneliness and social isolation and an upcoming presentation at SXSW focused on climate change.
WW: What role do fairs like FOG play for you in your role at Facebook?
TV: Fairs like FOG are a blitz of seeing art and connecting with people in real time. They’re one of the most intensive ways to take in what’s happening in the art world, what artists are thinking about, and who’s working on what and with whom. For a global program and team like ours, the fairs are an important way to be active in the community and the conversation.
WW: What are you looking forward to in your conversation with Elena Soboleva at FOG this weekend?
TV: Elena has been out front in exploring and realizing the potential of technology and art. I’m interested to learn more about her work and where she thinks this space will go next.