Máquina Indómita: Latin American Forum III, ISEA 2012

FALL 2012: V.08 N.02: FOUND – SAMPLED – STOLEN – STRATEGIES OF APPROPRIATION IN NEW MEDIA

 
Andrés Burbano
Ph.D. candidate and Postdoctoral Fellow
Media Arts and Technology University of California Santa Barbara

INTRODUCTION 1: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

In 2004 while producing a documentary I had the opportunity to visit the northern corner of South America, the centennial land of the Wayuu people –an indigenous community that sustains, even today, some nomadic practices. That place is a mix of deserted landscape and Caribbean blue waters. During the last day of production I was shooting video at the beach when an inhabitant of a temporary house caught my attention. He was a Wayuu teenager and when I approached him, we began a conversation. I asked him in Spanish if he spoke his own Wayuu language: Wayuunaiki. He said: “yes, sure.” Then, I asked him if the Wayuunaiki peoples have a word for “technology” in their language. He replied with confidence: “yes sure, we do have one it is: Robot!”

“Robot” is a Czech word that found its way into the English language through science fiction narrative, and from there, it made its way into media vocabulary. I suspect that the word was similarly incorporated into the Wayuunaiki language, which accounts for why the Wayuu teenager was familiar with it –a case that illustrates intercultural layering.

The value of this exchange was instrumental for my research.  I asked myself, how might I communicate to others the complex relationships between technology, language and culture?

INTRODUCTION 2: AN INTELLECTUAL EXPERIENCE

In the past ten years, I have followed with fascination the changing cultural discourse about Latin America in the United Sates of America. From a constellation of important writers on the subject, Oscar Guardiola (University of London) is –in my view– a significant contributor to this particular intellectual discussion. Guardiola highlights a linguistic and cultural shift in the United States of America indicating that more than one third of the population will predictably speak Spanish around the middle of the 21st Century, turning what is now considered a minority group into a majority. [1] Guardiola’s ideas about this change have generated all sorts of controversies; however there is something very important in his analysis as it relates to how –as I mentioned earlier– complex ideas about technology and language gain access via intercultural layering; notions that may have a bearing on the momentum gained by the Latin American Forum III within the context of ISEA, held this year in the United States of America.

The world as we know it is changing dramatically. These changes incorporate discourse (from a variety of disciplines) on the new relationships between what is known as Latin America, and what is termed North America. In my opinion, from the specific viewpoint of the art and technology discipline, it is particularly important to adequately formulate and communicate this process of change.

With this idea in mind, the Latin American Forum was formed. The forum has been held during the past three ISEA events –in Rhur in 2010, in Istanbul in 2011, and in Albuquerque in 2012– and it has provided a locus to discuss and share important histories about technology, about language, and about culture, emerging from and about Latin America. The third edition held in ISEA2012 –Machine Wilderness was particularly strong due to its magnitude as a dedicated “Focus Area” of the symposium.

THE FORUM III

The Latin American Forum III hosted an unprecedented number of artists, technicians, scientists and theorists from Latin American countries in the context of ISEA. Seventy direct participants from ten different countries, as well as twenty guest audience-members gathered for this event in Albuquerque, in September. It was a real pleasure to encounter people from Latin America throughout the event. ISEA2012 Steering Committee members Andrea Polli and Suzanne Sbarge dedicated an entire day of the program for the forum’s panels and events. What was initially planned for was ​​surpassed broadly in qualitative and quantitative terms, a forum that was originally expected to host between 5 to ten events, finally consisted of forty events.

Public Dialogue Panel, 2012, Simone Osthoff and Andres Burbano, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.

Public Dialogue Panel, 2012, Simone Osthoff and Andres Burbano, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.

To write a full report of the Latin American Forum III is not only difficult but it is also, probably, an impossible task because during the day of the Forum there were at least 4 simultaneous events. Therefore, even in my position of theme and focus leader, I can only write about the panels and presentations that I had the opportunity to participate in,  and attend –and this represents only a small fragment. Having said that, this is my report:

The day started with the panel presentation “Public Dialogue” led by Simone Osthoff and Giselle Beiguelman; artists, curators and writers from Brazil who had previously participated in the Latin American Forum I. Simone and Giselle elaborated about the international art context focusing on the dynamic dialogues involving media arts.

Parallel to it, the panel “Mapping, Balloons and Kites” featured some of the most active media arts practitioners and activists in Brazil: Lucas Bambozzi, Rodrigo Minlelli, Bruno Vianna and Felipe Fonseca. The panel was proposed as a historical comment to the fact that several inventors related to the aerospace technologies came from Brazil. Today with proposals like the festival Arte.Mov, a festival that runs 5 times a year in different cities of Brazil, such technological tradition is revisited. Of special interest were the presentations by Vianna and Fonseca, two young participants who have contributed to shape the digital culture in Brazil.

Mapping, Balloons and Kites, 2012, Lucas Bambozzi, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.

Mapping, Balloons and Kites, 2012, Lucas Bambozzi, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.

Probably the most articulate panel –in the scholarly sense– was “Cybernetics in Latin America,” featuring worldwide key intellectual researchers Eden Medina, Susana Quintanilla, Eduardo Bayro-Corrochano and Pablo Colapinto. They presented their research about the rich history of Cybernetics in countries like Argentina, Chile and Mexico. This was a challenge particularly when it came time to present the investigations on Computational Geometry and Robotics discovering its relationship with the cybernetic history in Mexico.

The panel “Open Laboratories,” was a window to look at how the politics and ethics of open source software has been translated into a series of initiatives of open laboratories for media arts and experimental research in several Latin American countries. The panel featured consolidated scholars like Felipe Cesar Londoño and Ricardo Dal Farra and also opened the doors for young artists like Leslie García, Gabriel Zea and Camilo Martinez. Remarkable is the fact that the moderator Felipe Fonseca has already published a book about the idea of “open labs.”

The panel “Code Talkers and Technology” proposed to revisit the history of the Native American Navajo Code Talkers inviting a representative of the Navajo community to take part in the Forum. Eighty-eight year-old Bill Toledo rendered an outstanding presentation about his experience in WWII as a “coder.”  This was an attempt to establish a respectful dialogue that affirms the commitment of a new discourse on Latin America regarding of indigenous communities.  This panel was possible thanks to the efforts that Esteban García.

Code Talkers and Technology, 2012, Bill Toledo And Mexican scientist Eduardo Bayro-Corrochano,, ©Photo Pablo Colapinto.

Code Talkers and Technology, 2012, Bill Toledo And Mexican scientist Eduardo Bayro-Corrochano,, ©Photo Pablo Colapinto.

One of the key components of the Forum was the presentation by the “Mexican Space Collective” (MSC). They propose to intervene the celestial and cosmic spaces with the satellite ULISES I. As part of their participation in ISEA the Mexican Space Collective opened an exhibition of the satellite in the Albuquerque Balloon Museum. The MSC is composed of artists Marcela Armas, Gilberto Esparza, Ivan Puig, Arcangel Constantini, amongst others. Juan Jose Diaz Infante coordinates the project.

Such interest in outer space-related matters is not exclusive of the MSC as it was shown in the presentation of Kosmica Mexico, a space art event that took place for the first time in Mexico City right after ISEA2012. The organizer of this presentation was Nahum Mantra. In the media art show the project “SEFT1” by Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla had a prominent place.  The SEFT1 is a machine for exploring abandoned railroads in Mexico as a futuristic exploration of Mexico’s past. At ISEA2012 the “SEFT1” made a historic border crossing from Mexico to the USA, highlighting a process for a creative reading of border issues.

The Forum operated as a dialogic platform in a dual sense, by promoting the encounter of Latin American artists and thinkers with people from other latitudes, while also confronting the interesting experience of thinking in the familiar when we are away from home. To conclude I would like to mention that Juan Jose Diaz Infante offered a thorough presentation proposing Mexico City as host for ISEA2015. Other candidates to host ISEA2015 are Vancouver, Amsterdam and Jakarta.

Beyond those mentioned, participants of the Latin American Forum also included: Ignacio Nieto, Yto Aranda, John Angel, Coco Fusco, Eugenio Tiselli, Agnes Chavez, Danny Bazo, Carlos Rosas, Priscila Arantes, April Bojorquez, Matthew Garcia, Miguel Palma, Silva Ruzanka, Rodrigo Guzman, Mariana Perez Bobadilla, Fred Paulino, Lucas Mafra, Henrique Paulo Ganso, Mario Valencia, Tiago Franklin, Andriana Ramirez de Arellano, Miguel Gandert, Vicki Gaubeca, Manuel Montoya, Gabriel Menotti, Diana Domingues, Alessandro Saccoia, Ian Clothier, Joana Moll, Heliodoro Santos, Marybeth Howe, Alexander Glandien, Luz Maria Sanchez-Cardona, Vanessa Ramos Valezquez, Jorge Rojas, Lucia Grossberger Morales, Micha Cardenas, Miguel Carvalhais, Josephine Anstey, Ed Osborn, Tatsuo Unemi, Joanna Cheung, Lyn Goeringer, Matthew Hawthorn, Jan Mun, Martin Rieser, Sara Schnadt, Rene Barge, David Dunn, Gustavo Matamoros and Duck Pond.

Latin American Forum, 2012, Leslie Garcia, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.

Latin American Forum, 2012, Leslie Garcia, ©Photo Esteban Garcia.


REFERENCES

1. Oscar Guardiola, What if Latin America Ruled the World? : How the South Will Take the North Through the 21st Century”, (London, Bloomsbury Press, 2010).


Bio

Burbano, originally from Colombia, explores the interactions of science, art and technology in various capacities: as a researcher, as artist and collaborator with other artists, designers, scientists and engineers. Burbano’s work ranges from documentary video (in both science and art,) to sound and telecommunication art, to the exploration of algorithmic cinematic narratives. The broad spectrum of his work illustrates the importance, indeed, the prevalence, of interdisciplinary collaborative work in the field of digital art. Andres Burbano is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Postdoctoral fellow in the Media Arts and Technology program at the University of California Santa Barbara.