Oxygen Art Centre project wins new media prize

High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese has won the UK-based New Media Writing Prize.

The Oxygen Art Centre installation High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese has been praised as a “beautiful and visually coherent work.”

The collaborative project High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, developed through Oxygen Art Centre’s artist in residence program, has won the UK-based New Media Writing Prize.

High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese is an interactive website (highmuckamuck.ca) and installation exploring Chinese immigration and settlement in British Columbia. The project was created by a team of Nelson and Vancouver artists including former Oxygen director Nicola Harwood, former parliamentary poet laureate of Canada Fred Wah, artist/performers Bessie Wapp and Thomas Loh and composer Jin Zhang.

Significant artistic contributions also came from Nelson performer Hiromoto Ida, Vancouver artists and programmers Tomoyo Ihaya and Phillip Djwa. As well, many community members contributed oral histories and stories, including Cameron Mah and Lawrence Mar, both of Nelson.

Jim Pope of Bournemouth University, organizer of the New Media Writing Prize presented the award, revealing the judges were looking for an “innovative use of digital media” that was both easy and satisfying to use.

Using their varied skillset, the collective married hand-painted graphics with interactive poems and presented on a map interface that the judges described as “beautiful and visually coherent work.” The digital narrative was one of over the 500 individual entries that have been submitted since the event’s inception in 2010.

Presenting the award was Chris Meade, the mastermind behind the if:book think tank based in New York andLondon and a key sponsor for the New Media Writing Prize. Accepting the award via Skype, Zhang, Wah and Harwood shared their excitement and thanks with the audience: “Buildings disappear, stories disappear and racism goes underground shaping continued and subtle patterns of exclusion. Our hope is that High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, unearths some of these layers that make up our shared history of place.”

The process of building High Muck a Muck mirrored the content rather uncannily because the creation of this piece was also a process of immigration. None of the artists working on it had ever attempted a new media project before.

“We literally created our way toward the outcome of this project not exactly knowing where we were going or what we would find when we landed. Landing here tonight, our immigration story has a very happy ending.

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