Distinguished Artist Award

The Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art is presented annually to an artist who has created a substantial and important body of work that significantly advances aesthetic content in the field of digital art.

Current Recipient

Tamiko Thiel

For her innovations in virtual and augmented reality art used to explore place, space, the body, and cultural memory.

The 2024 ACM SIGGRAPH Distinguished Artists Award for Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art is presented to Tamiko Thiel for her innovations in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) art used to explore place, space, the body, and cultural memory.

Thiel, born in Oakland, California, has been at the forefront of digital media art for over four decades creating works of art that she describes as ‘exploring the intersection of space, place and cultural memory’. Her body of work spans genres and then fuses themes and formats in novel and quirky ways. She uses her extensive knowledge of technology and new approaches to art and storytelling to create complex installations dealing with political, environmental and social issues that are accessible to the art community and the wider public. Her works take the form of an AI supercomputer, sculpture, digital prints, videos, interactive 3D virtual worlds, AR, and deepfake AI installations in situ in galleries, museums, and public spaces.

Educated as an artist and a technologist, Thiel earned a BS degree in Product Design Engineering from Stanford University and a MS in Mechanical Engineering Design from the MIT. She moved to Germany in 1990 to study studio art at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, where she specialized in video installation art and received a Diploma in Applied Graphics.

From 1983-’85 Thiel worked as lead product designer on the Connection Machines CM-1/CM-2 supercomputers at Danny Hillis’ MIT AI lab start-up Thinking Machines Corporation. Thiel designed the computer with translucent panels and dramatic blinking lights, as though to reveal the cerebral processes of a vast electronic brain; she considers the project to be her first professional artwork, and the Connection Machine is now in the collection of MOMA.

From 1994 to 1996, she worked for Starbright World as the creative director and producer of the initial system for the Starbright World project, working closely with Steven Spielberg, to create an online interactive 3D virtual world (or “metaverse” using today’s term) for seriously ill children.

In 2001, at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles, Beyond Manzanar (2000) by Tamiko Thiel and Iranian-American Zara Houshmand, was exhibited. It is an interactive 3D world based on the actual location of Manzanar, the first of more than ten incarceration camps built to imprison Japanese-Americans during World War II. A parallel layer designed by Houshmand reflects similar threats of mass incarceration of people of Iranian descent during the Iranian Hostage Crisis 1979-’80. The life-size image of the 3D space is projected onto a wall within a darkened space, and viewers navigate and change the viewpoint by means of a joystick on a pedestal. Archival photographs from the internment camp are juxtaposed with Japanese and Iranian cultural artifacts in a constantly shifting environment that – reacting to the viewers’ presence – illustrates a chasm of cultural identity, contrasting a dream world of cultural heritage with a reality of political injustice.

She is one of the founding members of Manifest.AR, a group of artists focused on augmented reality, with which she staged spontaneous interventions at the Tate Modern and the Hayward Gallery London in 2012, Venice Biennial in 2011, and MOMA in 2010.

Unexpected Growth (2018), commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, is an AR installation viewable on smartphones or at viewing stations by the terrace windows, placing coral-like formations of plastic garbage that respond to the number of viewers experiencing the project in the outdoor gallery. The project opens a portal into a future when sea levels have dangerously risen. It was presented as part of the exhibition Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018. Thiel highlights the inherent connection between natural processes and the generative qualities of code and the ways in which we affect the natural environment surrounding us.

Her works have been exhibited at notable international venues, including the International Center of Photography, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Ars Electronica, and at SIGGRAPH and ISEA International events. Her works are included in the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Jose Museum of Art.

During 2024 her AR and VR works are being exhibited at Ludwig Museum, Budapest, Hungary, King’s College, London, UK, at the Paulskirche, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, EVOLUON, Eindhoven, Holland, and at the MIX Center, Arizona State University, Mesa, AZ, USA

In 2018 she received the SAT Montreal iX Visionary Pioneer Award. In 2024 she was inducted into the Augmented World Expo (AWE) XR Hall of Fame. Also, in 2024 Contemporary Art Issue (CAI) Magazine ranked her in the top 10 most famous digital artists in the world.

We are honored to add to Tamiko Thiel’s list of accolades, the 2024 ACM SIGGRAPH Distinguished Artists Award for Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art for her pioneering work in virtual and augmented reality art used to explore place, space, the body, and cultural memory.

Previous Recipients

  • 2023 Paul Brown
  • 2022 Vera Molnár
  • 2021 William Seaman
  • 2020 Jeffrey Shaw
  • 2019 Donna Cox
  • 2018 Monika Fleischmann
  • 2017 Ernest A. Edmonds
  • 2016 Steina Vasulka
  • 2015 Lillian Schwartz
  • 2014 Harold Cohen
  • 2013 Manfred Mohr
  • 2012 Jean-Pierre Hébert
  • 2011 Charles Csuri
  • 2010 Yoichiro Kawaguchi
  • 2009 Lynn Hershman Leeson
  • 2009 Roman Verostko


  • The artist has been contributing internationally to the digital arts for more than 20 years.
  • The artist has produced important work(s) referenced in digital art history/theory papers/books.
  • The artist has established an unexplored area in the field of digital art/media art.
  • The artist has been advancing the use of digital technologies in creative expression.
  • The artist has contributed to the history and/or theory and/or practice of digital art through writing and presentations at conferences and symposia.

Nomination Procedure

ACM SIGGRAPH members are invited to nominate individuals for the Distinguished Artist Award by contacting the Artist Award Chair by January 31 each year. Nominations for the Distinguished Artist Award are evaluated by the Art Award Committee, and should include as much information about the nominee as possible.


  • Name(s) of the individual(s) being nominated (address and/or phone number and/or email address are also appreciated).
  • References to web sites showing the artist’s works and texts when applicable (multiple references are welcome).
  • Nominator’s name, address, telephone number, and email address.
  • A statement describing the significance of the artist’s contributions according to the criteria for this award.