Judson-Morrissey 2022 Fellow: Anna Zhang

Anna Zhang is an artist and technologist based in New York. Working with photography, algorithms, and
extended reality, Anna’s practice focuses on imaging and reimagining our relationships with technology. Her work engages with the socio-political complexities of technological landscapes, questioning the neutrality of technological systems and the metrics they seek to optimize while also offering new opportunities for engagement that center on human and environmental well-being. Anna has spoken at Georgetown University and Fast Company Innovation Festival, and her work has been recognized by Forbes. She currently studies visual arts and computer science at Yale University.

Anna was a recipient of a 2022 Judson-Morrissey Excellence in New Media Award.

Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist and/or scholar.

I found my love of photography while I was in middle school. I would take photos of anything and everything around me: the flowers in my backyard; the pears in a local Chinese supermarket; my friends and family. Unfamiliar with the arts world and quite young at the time, I was eager to get involved in an arts community. I discovered an incredible range of creatives online, from other photographers to musicians to fashion designers and stylists. I wanted to find a way to spotlight these young artists and create a space for collaboration, so I ended up founding a magazine. It ran for over seven years. Beyond artists, we also profiled technologists, activists, entrepreneurs, and athletes, hoping to broaden the images of what these roles look like and who occupies them. Through the process of building the publication, I also started learning how to code. It was just a few tweaks to the HTML and CSS of a website template at first, but I began to see the potential of code to bring ideas and stories to life.

In the past few years, I have been experimenting at the intersection of technology and art. I worked to
improve the accessibility of an open source, civic tech platform through changes to the site’s design and
development. I ideated and creative directed a mobile game that rewards kindness and was part of a team
that designed augmented reality experiences to improve public planning. In my undergraduate program, I am exploring my interests in computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and the history of science and
technology, looking at what developments and findings in these areas mean for art and how art informs and pushes these areas.

Discussions around technology today are often either very optimistic or highly alarmist. For any problem,
there seems to be excitement around how technology can be the solution; at the same time, there’s criticism around issues such as censorship and surveillance. In my work, I hope to explore both the potential and failures of technology, and bring in people who may not have a technical background into discussions around the technologies that are increasingly shaping our lives. What new sorts of worlds can we imagine and create, together?

What are some of your main influences?

Some artists, writers, and researchers who have influenced my work include Mar Hicks, Xiaowei Wang,
Kazuo Ishiguro, Kate Crawford, Trevor Paglen, Jenny Odell, Christine Sun Kim, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and
Taryn Simon.

New Media is …….

Not necessarily about the technology itself but about the experiences you create and the stories you tell
with the technology.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a couple of web-based pieces, as well as experimenting with using AI in my artmaking
process. I’ve also been exploring speculative fiction.

Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

A question I would love to explore with others: How can we make New Media more accessible and
welcoming, for both artists/creators and viewers/participants?

What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?

It’s easy to stick to what you know and continue doing what you are comfortable with. It’s hard to take risks, to give yourself the space to change and pursue new interests. I am trying to carve out that space for myself right now.