Two film and digital media faculty receive 2023 Guggenheim Fellowship Awards

Sharon Daniel is a media artist and innovator in the field of interactive documentary. (Contributed photo)
Anna Friz is a radio and sound artist, composer, performer and installation artist. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Sharon Daniel and Anna Friz were among 171 artists, scholars, scientists and writers selected from nearly 2,500 applicants for the award. Over nearly 100 years, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted almost $400 million to artists, scholars and scientists, including Aaron Copland, James Baldwin, Ansel Adams and Linus Pauling. 

Fellows are chosen on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise and are awarded varying amounts based on need. 

“Like Emerson, I believe that fullness in life comes from following our calling,” said Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation and 1985 Fellow in poetry. “The new class of Fellows has followed their calling to enhance all our lives, to provide greater human knowledge and deeper understanding. We’re lucky to look to them to bring us into the future.” 

Daniel is a media artist and innovator in the field of interactive documentary. She creates online artworks and multimedia installations that examine social, racial and environmental injustice. She is especially interested in mass incarceration and injustice in the criminal legal system. 

“I am very gratified by the fact that this prestigious foundation is willing to support and promote this kind of work,” she said. 

She said she will use the fellowship to work on Reasonable Doubt(s), an interactive documentary and installation that will “document the many forms of official misconduct and abuse that lead to the wrongful convictions of Black men and women - exposing the systemic ordinariness of racist arrests and prosecutions.” The installation will focus on the case of Timothy James Young, a black man Daniel believes was wrongfully convicted. Young, who is on death row in San Quentin State Prison, “will serve as a narrative through-line linking the stories of black exonerees and appellants to demonstrate how structural racism undermines the credibility of our criminal legal system and ruins lives.” 

Daniel said Young’s wrongful death penalty conviction “was based on the false testimony of a jailhouse informant, unreliable eyewitness testimony, witness intimidation, evidence tampering, racially biased jury selection, ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and judicial abuse of discretion.” Young is one example “among many, of the unacceptable injustices inflicted on real people by an unreliable and unaccountable system of policing, prosecution and punishment,” Daniel said. 

The project is scheduled to launch with the installation in Abolition Futures at the San José Museum of Art in spring 2024. 

Daniel met Young through Exposed, a project she completed documenting the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, jails and detention centers through quotes, audio clips and statistics assembled in an interactive timelines. 

Two other major projects involving the legal system that Daniel has created are  Blood Sugar and Public SecretsBlood Sugar is an interactive documentary examining the social and political construction of poverty and addiction. The project features testimony of 20 current and former injection drug users recorded at the HIV Education and Prevention Program of Alameda County and in California state prisons, and linked it with social theory and biological research.

Public Secrets is an online audio archive of hundreds of hundreds of statements made by incarcerated women that “unmask the secret injustices of the war on drugs, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex. “The injustices of the prison industrial complex are public secrets - secrets that the public chooses to keep safe from itself like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” Daniel says on her website. 

Friz is a radio and sound artist, composer, performer and installation artist. Her work reflects upon media ecologies, land use, infrastructure, time perception and critical fictions. 

“I applied to the Guggenheim Fellowship in order to gain the most valuable, elusive gift that any artist needs: time,” she said, explaining that she has to balance research and creative practice with teaching and service commitments. “For me, working on longer form projects requires not only practical time to engage in research and fieldwork, production and post-production work, but more than anything time in which to cultivate and hold a state of mind that is more open, able to embrace tangents and curiosities, in which to deepen my relationships to thinking and making around a particular set of questions and experiences. The fellowship will give me more of this creative, open time.” 

Friz will use the fellowship to compose Children of the Sun, a 50-minute radio piece that will critique the ongoing exploitation in the salt flats of Chile’s Atacama Desert. The conditions there are so similar to Mars that billionaires are considering how mining techniques developed there might be used for off-planet mining. The work will be a suite, following the cycle of a 24-hour period in the salt flats.  

Children of the Sun reconsiders the history and fate of the industrialized desert by simultaneously listening to the Salar de Atacama as a place at the bottom of a sea, as a high-altitude mining site criss-crossed by infrastructure, and as inspiration for off-planet dreams,” she said. “I seek to shift audience perception of the desert, to understand it as more than ‘wasteland’ to be exploited, and to reframe the goals of extra-planetary travel away from dominion and exploitation, and toward listening and adaptation.”

Friz’s piece will be completed by fall 2024 with a premiere set in winter 2025 on ORF Kunstradio, the radio art program of the cultural channel of Austria national public radio. A live multi-channel concert will also be ready to premiere in winter 2025. 

Children of the Sun is part of Friz’s series We Build Ruins on the  Atacama Desert, based on the three research trips she has made there since 2017. Work created from her research includes

the solo audiovisual performance work Radiation Day, the multi-channel audiovisual installation Salar: Evaporation, the short film Overburden: We are surrounded by torta and two other short films not yet completed.  “I expect to continue with this work for at least another five years,” Friz said.