On Wednesday, May 10, the Knight Foundation Awards 2023 Arts + Tech Fellowship announced five recipients for an unrestricted $50,000 grant. Notably, the list includes Clevelander Kara Güt, an artist known for her mixed-media exhibits including the 2022 piece Hurt/Comfort, where a series of digital vignettes blur the line between a video game streamer and their avatar. The work utilizes the recently viral game Elden Ring.
Nominations for the award — given to artists pushing the boundary between arts and technology — were submitted anonymously. Güt remains unaware of who pushed her name forward.
“I was nominated and then somehow made it to the final round,” Güt says. “It's a huge, huge opportunity. I'm so grateful, and it really has kind of shone a light on other ways of working with art and tech that aren't like the traditional ways. I feel like our group is more about storytelling and using technology in innovative ways.”
Branching out from the local scene, the artist has recently seen her art displayed on the international stage. Hurt/Comfort was displayed in Dresden, Germany, last year. Plainchant for Paper Hands — exploring the aesthetic of DIY crypto-mining farms — showed in Canada that same summer and she’s currently featured in a group exhibition, Open Systems 1: Open Worlds, in Singapore.
This isn’t the first time her work has been recognized. Earlier this year, Güt received the Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Award and inclusion in A New World: Ohio Women to Watch 2023, an exhibition expected this summer at several Ohio venues.
With the money from the Knight Foundation grant, Güt aims to push the boundary further, focusing on collaboration and live performance. Using the $50,000, the artist would have more freedom to coordinate mixed-media live acts, like the play she once produced utilizing human actors in tandem with avatars from the game Red Dead Redemption.
“Watching somebody is exciting,” Güt says, “even if what they're doing is not tangible in real space, it's still happening. I think that feeling of wanting to be together and in a live event … it's a very human emotion. And so I wanted to tap into that experience as well as the sweeping, cinematic nature of a game like Red Dead Redemption.”
The money would help pay actors, production costs, promotion etc., as well as support her individual endeavors.
Before her life as a digital artist, however, Güt had little idea what her creativity might turn into. She initially went to the Ohio State University for photography, but an urge to write mixed with a creative leap in grad school set her down a different path.
But, the roots of her current work were always there, she says, reminiscing about an earlier era of the internet and growing up on online forums — spaces that shaped her notion of art.
“It's sort of been a part of me for a long time,” Güt says. “I was in a medium of photography and using video, but then I really took a jump in grad school and started modding video games and using digital space more as a material and creating videos that had no physical elements; they were only derived from things I could find on the internet and had sort of the absence of all of the traditional photo-based things that I've been using in my practice before.”
She looks forward to the growth all but guaranteed by the Knight Foundation grant.
"Larger scale performance is what I'm trying to get into more so as the future," Güt says. "And basically, it takes a lot of funding. I want to be able to pay the artists that work with me and pay the performers, so being able to compensate everyone for their hard work is the next step. I've started writing a play, I have a couple other larger performance ideas that are still in the nascent stages."