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Pushing Boundaries in Digital Art: Accenture Bursary Recipient's Vision

3 July 2023

Nadia J. Armstrong is a visual artist working with performance, 3D composition, AI, and expanded video installation. She won the inaugural Accenture Digital Innovation in Art Bursary in 2022. We sat down with her to explore her work and progress since then.

Nadia's practice is concerned with the commodification of human emotions and our relationship to the machines we create. Her work arises out of the symbiosis between human and machine, device and individual. She treats machine learning processes, data accumulation methods, and computational systems as creative and cultural material with which to explore the conditions of our existence.

What encouraged you to apply to the inaugural Accenture €10,000 Digital Innovation in Art Bursary?

As a visual artist whose work directly engages with the ethical and social frameworks that emerge from digital communication technologies, I knew that the bursary aligned with my work’s concerns. I saw the bursary as an opportunity to have the conceptual, performative, and technical aspects of my practice recognised as factors within my work that operate symbiotically to produce innovative digital forms for the public.

Accenture is a company that deals with the circulation and regulation of big data on a daily basis - my practice examines the ethics and conditions of data circulation, seeking to highlight the dominance of these systems of exchange and bring knowledge to the public about the global networks of data circulation.

What was it about your practice that you hoped would help you stand out?

Perhaps my practice stood out to the panel because I extract cultural material from digital space as a way to invoke unreal and commodified experiences and examine their conditions through performance, text, and digital components.

My use of language and spoken word is something that I always return to. I hoped that the tones and textures of the digital poetry I forge within my video experiences would speak to the innovative socio-technical research values of Accenture as a company and to the Business to Arts Awards panel.

What did you propose to use your Bursary for?

I proposed to use the bursary to provide me with the digital horsepower that I needed at the time. I invested in a professional computer for video editors which enabled me to develop more advanced 3D models and to improve my capacity for editing at a professional cinema-level standard.

This streamlined my process, giving me the ability and the confidence to take new compositional risks, and has enabled me to expand the horizon of possibility for my virtual creations.

What professional opportunities did winning the Bursary create for you?

Alongside the financial support and investment in my practice, the bursary increased my visibility as a contemporary Irish voice within the realm of digital art. It helped me position myself as an artist who examines forms of digital exchange, their implications, and their past, present, and future potentialities. Receiving the bursary has encouraged me to continue working as an independent digital artist, despite the challenges that come with my chosen career.

In March 2023, I completed Galway Culture Company’s CYBERNATE residency programme, which invited three Irish and three French digital artists to research and develop ideas around digitally-driven public art in the locations of Lyon and Galway.

This experience inspired new projects - currently, I am based in a studio with the MART Gallery and am working on a new video installation for the upcoming BETA festival at the Digital Hub.

I will be featured in an upcoming book from Sample-Studios and Blackwater Publishing that looks at digital art in Ireland and in August, I will be showing new work with Screen Service, as part of their augmented reality exhibition Altered Terrain, which will see QR codes that activate digital artworks placed across the map of Ireland.

How has your practice expanded since winning the Bursary?

My work has become increasingly focused on the textures and tonalities of the digital social sphere. I am developing new methods to conjure digital beings that I can speak through, expanding my use of virtual performance approaches. I am honing the installation aspects of my work and experimenting with multi-channel displays, pushing the limits of the border between the analogue and the digital.

I have furthered my use of machine learning technologies, particularly image and voice generators. I am currently working with AI-generated voice applications and image GANs that produce and enhance the visuals within my work.

My work speaks about global digital transitions and concomitant socio-economic transformations. My recent experiments consider physical public space as a potential site for virtual performance. The new project I am developing plays with ancient forms examines the rituals that emerge from public localities and reflects upon global infrastructural changes.

How did you engage with Accenture after your win?

Throughout the process of the award Accenture were supportive and encouraging. They gave me a corporate backing that is not often available to digital artists, especially those that provide a more critical take on the socio-technical climate we find ourselves in.

I had the opportunity to learn more about Accenture’s research - I met with the Human Sciences Studio team at the Dock, Accenture’s Innovation Hub at Hanover Quay. I gave a talk on my work and the discussion after was diverse and engaging - the research that the Human Sciences studio engages in mirrors parts of the research I perform within my practice.

What advice would you have for the next winner of the Accenture €10,000 Digital Innovation in Art Bursary next year?

Essentially, to continue doing what they are doing - to keep experimenting and to use the support made available through this bursary to make important work. I would tell them to remain equitable and true to the driving forces of their practice.

I would encourage all digital artists to use technology not solely for aesthetic purposes but also as a conceptual tool for production - this is a driving force in my socially conscious practice.

How do you see art and technology evolving over the next 10 years?

I am interested in how artists might work with machines to augment our future for the better. I produce work that assists in the reclamation of digital agency for all and there are many other artists working in the digital space that highlight the ethical concerns and social shifts these technologies usher in. I am excited to see how Irish digital artists in particular expand upon this field.

Often digital art is disregarded as less venerable than more traditional practices - however, this is illogical. Humans understand themselves through the dominant technologies of their time and if we believe that art seeks to understand the human, then the transition to digital tools speaks to the contemporary moment on a philosophical level as well as a material one. I would urge contemporary art institutions and leading IT companies to continue to fund and platform art that employs technology and provide routes for the public to access these virtually driven experiences.

The combination of art and technology can operate in many different environments - therefore it has an endlessly hybrid nature. Increasingly, we see digital art within an entertainment space, which of course helps to financially support artist’s careers. However, I am reluctant to reduce all art made with or about technology to spectacle and I am acutely aware that capitalism has a tendency to consume and commodify that which holds the power to challenge it.

Over the next decade, as we continue to define what “art and technology” means, artists must push, question, and engage with ever-changing, ubiquitous technological systems on an emotional, visual, and physical level.

Artist Bio

In 2020, Nadia received a Digital Society Bursary Award, the RDS Mason Hayes & Curran Centre Culturel Irlandais Residency Award, and the Fire Station Artists Studios Digital Media Graduate Award.

In 2020, Nadia received a Digital Society Bursary Award, the RDS Mason Hayes & Curran Centre Culturel Irlandais Residency Award, and the Fire Station Artists Studios Digital Media Graduate Award. In 2021 she was one of 13 European artists under 30, who received a Goethe-Institut A.I. Residency Award. She was also a recipient of a 2021 DLR County Council Emerging Artist Grant.

In 2022, Nadia received a Visual Art Bursary from the Irish Arts Council to support the production of new work. She then went on to be awarded the inaugural Accenture Digital Innovation in Art Bursary at the 2022 Business to Arts Awards. More recently in 2023, Armstrong completed Galway Culture Company’s Cybernate Residency Programme, a digital arts in public space research residency, produced by Culture Works in partnership with Pôle PIXEL, HACNUM Network, CREW, the French Embassy in Ireland, and ATU and funded by The Arts Council. Exhibitions during 2022/23 include the Mart Studios Members Exhibition at the Mart Gallery in Rathmines, Dublin, the 192nd RHA Annual Exhibition at the RHA Gallery at Ely Place, Dublin, “Performing Research: four directions of artistic inquiry” at Solstice, Navan and “You breathe differently down here” curated by Amanda Coogan at Draíocht, Blanchardstown, Dublin.


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