This week I viewed the Digital Latin America Exhibition at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, one of the city’s only true contemporary art spaces. The carefully curated show was brimming with compelling, 21st century investigations of space, identity, perception, language and the line between digital and physical.
The exhibition also proved fruitful (and invigorating!) for my own digital/hybrid work and I was able to enjoy each of the installations as new media objects, while also considering conceptual applications to my thesis. Several of the pieces encouraged me to reconsider how I can engage with the viewer, electronic media and physical space. I went away scribbling tons of notes!
Digital Latin America is an outgrowth of the Latin American Forum for the award-winning International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA2012) produced by 516 ARTS last fall (www.isea2012.org). It will explore the North/South axis of cultural development and exchange between South America, Central America and the Southwest United States.
Connecting individuals, cultures, traditions and social histories to a rapidly expanding global network remains not only a pressing challenge but a profound opportunity and necessity. The utopian notion of closing the digital divide represents a paradigm shift that encourages the participation of all communities and cultures to express themselves through contemporary methods and continue a progressive existence in today’s technology dependent society. Digital Latin America looks at the ways in which artists negotiate the complex terrain between global and local, virtual and real, and political and private, in the creation of work that proposes alternative understandings of technology, art and cultural exchange.
The multi-site International Art Exhibition, based at 516 ARTS’ museum-style venue in the center of Downtown Albuquerque, will highlight contemporary artists from Latin America and the Southwestern United States with high caliber, innovative, interactive artworks, accessible to the general public and presented in an educational context. Satellite artworks and exhibitions will be located at The Albuquerque Museum of Art & History and UNM Art Museum.
The viewer is dwarfed, consumed even, by Jessica Angel’s Hemispherical Immersion, 2014. Constructed of offset prints, adhesive vinyl and physical perversions of perspective, this massive piece fills the entrance, rising several several floor. It was delightfully challenging to truly comprehend the scale and distortion–a process my iPhone camera failed to resolve.
The work demands the viewer to consider their physical and visual position in constructed, deep “digital” space, blurring the definition between the architectural environment and the artist’s mark.
The viewer literally walks in, on and through Angel’s piece. Angel literally asks us, “Can we fantasize that we are as teeny as a living megabyte, sightseeing through the superhighways of information?”
There is no way to access any other part of the exhibition without negotiated the semi-real space of Angel’s information-scape.
Another artist (whose name I shamefully did not note) produced a work that invites touch. A wired system of braille is framed and lit. Viewers interact with it by looking, touching and listening. As you run your fingers across the braille, it triggers atmospheric, ambient sounds. Not knowing how to read braille myself, the raised bumps suddenly elicited a new kind of meaning and understanding.
Rejane Cantone and Leonardo Crescenti produced Speak / Fala, 2011. This hybrid work makes use of voice-responsive software and interacts with the viewer, or with itself if no words are spoken into the microphone. It cycles through a variety of languages, preventing it from being lodged in one linguistic tradition or association. It also means the viewer can speak almost any language into the mic and receive integrative responses. When I said “hello,” I was greeted by a gradual chorus of international “welcomes.” When I said, “tomorrow,” the speakers fell silent briefly, then one said, “to-morrow” and another said “24 hours” before diving into variations of days, passages and time.
New Mexico Diné artist William R. Wilson sucked us into Talking Tintypes, 2014. Several richly textured, digital enlargements of hand-processed tintype photographs created a corner of pause–the subjects in each panel equally paused in mid-action, quietly considering the viewer. We took the time to read the panel and discovered the photos were actually embedded with QR codes and could be scanned.
You can see the photos above and below as an example of the way the work shatters the separation between digital and physical, shifting our understanding of the “still” in a provocative way.
Pointing a smartphone to “read” the portraits instantly opened an active video of the same tintype. The portrait literally comes to life and the subject completes a process (reading a poem, dancing, playing an instrument) as a virtual extension of the frozen still. This recalls, for me at least, the 19th century work of problematic photographers like Edward R. Curtis, who frequently presented the “vanishing Indian” as a colonized archetype of the tame-able wild, often posing them in a hodge podge of cultural items and dresses drawn from nations outside their own. The Native American of Curtis (and photographers like him) became a generic, iconographic non-person. Here, a Native artist provides access to portraits of human beings as active, engaged, creative individuals that spring to life through a digital-physical crossover. Each individual demonstrates the kind of agency denied to most of the 19th century subjects.
Above: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Surface Tension, 1992. Plasma screen, computerized surveillance system, custom-made software. Hemmer’s eye is closed when you’re out of range, but opens and watches you impassively as you move about the gallery, especially as you speak with the smartphones in the work mentioned earlier. As you talk into the mic, engaged with another work of art, the eye considers your actions ambivalently and unabashedly.
Below: Giselle Bieguelman’s Cinema Lascado (Chipped Movies), 2010 and 2013, was incredibly compelling. Projected into a separated space (just out of eye-shot of Hemmer’s piece), the viewer is confronted by disturbing, fractured sequences–stills that are animated by the force of their forward momentum. Ambient, sometimes grating, noise fills the room, swelling and dissipating as you occasionally uncover strains of action (is explosion a natural part of the harbor function, or an attack? A destructive moment?) but it denies resolution. Instead, it brings montage and filmic compositing together. Fractured moments provide a mosaic-like overview of an urban industrial space, where you understand change takes place, sometimes drawn out as archaeological moments, other times in the blink (or melting) of a still.
Above: Hernando Barragán, Interactive Lamps.
There were many other pieces in the exhibition and it’s worth ordering a copy of the exhibition catalog if you’re interested in the cross-platform, cross-cultural investigations of these artists. You can also view additional images of other works, and read more about some of the artists I did not mention here, by viewing the links below: