ORIGINAL POST: Monday, September 13, 2004

BY: Eduardo Navas

Report on LatinoAmedia, Mexico City: fourth installment in a series of five

LatinoAmedia, a round-table discussion at the Rufino Tamayo Museum’s Cyberlounge, was the last of three events happening in conjunction with the Centro + Media Exhibition. It took place on Saturday, August 21, 2004. For accounts on the previous events happening at Centro and Laboratorio Arte Alameda please look over the postings of August 30, and September 03, 2004, respectively.

LatinoAmedia focused on "the [artists'] personal experiences of the present and the future of the production, diffusion and reflection of new media in contemporary art, specific to the Latin American region." The artists, critics and invited participants scheduled to speak included Brian Mackern (Uruguay), Santiago Ortiz (Colombia), Eduardo Navas (EE:UU El Salvador), Gustavo Romano (Argentina), Christian Oyarzun (Chile), Ivan Abreu (Mexico-Cuba), Antonio Mendoza ( EE:UU Cuba), Ricardo Rendon (Mexico), Mario De Vega ( Mexico ) , Fran Ilich (Mexico ), Fernando Llanos (Mexico), Jorge Castro (Argentina), Priamo Lozada (Rep Dominicana) Erandy Vergara (Mexico) Tania Aedo (Mexico), Andres Oriard (Mexico), and Arcangel Constantini (Mexico).

The following are some of the highlights of the round-table. It is impossible for me to present an exact chronological account of the discussion as this one became heated at times and I was not able to take notes of everything that was said as I also found the urge to get a word in as well. What I include in the following paragraphs is a subjective account based on my personal notes of the event. If anyone is interested in an exact documentation of LatinoAmedia, there is a videotape available at the Cyberlounge at the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City.

Some of the topics brought forth by Fernando Llanos, the moderator of the event, included problematics around economical and cultural resources currently facing Latin American cultures and their possible resolutions in relation to technology as well as the role of the artists, curators, and critics within these dynamics leading to possible collaborations in the future.

The round-table discussion started with Antonio Mendoza commenting on what a great experience it was to personally interact with artists from other parts of Latin America. He considered the events to be very educational, as he had learned quite a bit from the other participants, and believed in the importance of organizing similar events in the near future. Then Brian Mackern commented on the important role of the artist as promoter of her/his own work that is particularly vital to the historization of net art and other emerging technologies, and the necessity to understand the potential for creative development in particular countries directly connected to economic realities. Tania Aedo (on the left) pointed out the technological frenzy of a few years back leaving a sense of not knowing where one may be going with emerging technologies, but that it is extremely important to keep in mind what had happened at Laboratorio Alameda and the opening event at Centro, as well as the current round-table discussion at the Cyberlounge, as rich material to generate even more discussion in the future. Ivan Abreu (at center) commented on the ambiguity that is at play with the interdisciplinary aspect of new media practice, and the fact that some innovative projects can fall in the realm of “entertainment,” adding that one should keep in mind the relation of art practice to this particular occurence.

Erandy Vergara
(with Microphone) emphasized the importance of new media as a vehicle for education, that is how emerging technologies play an important role in the social problematics of contemporary culture at the moment, and how these can be vehicles for new educational opportunities through creativity. Santiago Ortiztalked about issues of class, and its differences in Latin America and Europe. He also commented how Latin Americans in many ways are still “second-hand Europeans.” He suggested that artists should focus on the moment of creativity and not to necessarily look at institutions for validation. Ortiz is also interested in blurring the line between art and design as way to revitalize creativity.

I proposed to consider what can actually be questioned today with the creative use of new technologies, especially after a popular time of "pluralism," and that the crossover between the roles of the curator, artist and critic is crucial to the many histories of new media in Latin America. I also pointed out the importance to keep histories in check in order to do justice to the contributions of diverse groups that may fall outside the Eurocentric circles that were created during the early nineties in Europe. An example I proposed was of the net.art movement being contextualized to be specifically a European discourse, omitting artists like Brian Mackern from Uruguay, who had been active along with Jodi and Alexei Shulgin throughout the mid-nineteen-nineties. This inevitably shows that net art practice from the very beginning was used to extend the narratives at play during a post-colonial period of supposed de-centralization. Brian Mackern commented on this explaining that he did see a very strong influence in the historization of new media still coming from the "North."

Christian Oyarzun commented on the issue of "center versus periphery," a theme that had actually been previously brought up in the discussion and that was implicit throughout the events, given that the exhibition at Centro was called Centro + Media (Center + Media) and the event at Laboratorio Alameda was called Periferico (Periphery). Oyarzun pointed out how there were many peripheries at this point, that is peripheries and centers within other peripheries and other centers and so forth, and how this was always relevant to the definition of an actual Center. Someone in the audience disagreed and claimed that there was no more "center or periphery," and how he did not find such discussion relevant anymore. He gave an example of how an artist could live in a remote place of the world and still have a gallery in Germany show his work with great recognition.

At this point I intervened and disagreed with the audience member explaining that global communication is so efficient today that anyone can be in dialogue with others in many areas of the world considered part of the "center of cultural discourse" but that in the end, while one may not need to physically be in specific places to be part of such discourse one still needs to be part of such centers intellectually. Meaning that having or not having the ability or cultural position to develop the “right connections” to be in the discourse of the "center" is where marginalization starts to happen today, both locally and internationally. I also added that developing an audience today is much easier with emerging technologies and that having exposure to diverse communities may lead artists to think that they are at the "center" of mainstream global culture, when in fact this might actually be part of a periphery, hence I agreed with Oyarzun's comment on the complex development of peripheries and centers emerging within other centers and peripheries at local and global levels, leaving the contemporary art practitioner in a very complex situation.

Toward the beginning of the discussion I had expressed how glad I was to be part of an amazing set of events that were fully funded, something that was simply not possible in the United States at the moment due to the lack of funding following the extreme conservativism that has developed there since 9/11. And then, the relationship of Latin America to the United States was brought up in consideration to this dynamic—and the conversation became a bit heated. I explained that, unfortunately, no matter how great things, similar to the events happening around Centro + Media were, that the art culture in the United States, even today, has the tendency to ignore such events, and that this is a left over of the myth of the United States being the "center of the artworld." I emphasized how this was a problematic myth, particularly because the U.S. does not have the type of funding available to convene so many artists together for eight days at a five star hotel with all expenses paid and on top of this include a decent honorarium, especially in relation to new media, like Arcangel and Ivan had been able to do with great ease in Mexico City. Antonio Mendoza also added that he did not see events like this happening in the United States. Erandy responded explaining how Mexico and Latin America have the agency to write their own history and that there should be strategic efforts to make this a priority, and that she, personally, in the end, was not concerned how the United States viewed what was happening in Mexico.

Arcangel also asked me how I saw the current and future situation in the United States in relation to emerging technologies, and I re-emphasized the conservativism that is currently being experienced throughout the many facets of American Culture being quite unfortunate for new media in particular, and that I saw the fact that there was funding available in Mexico for a series of major events, such as the ones we had been part of up to that point, very promising for Mexico and Latin America to redefine major areas of the continent as cultural centers in the fields of emerging technologies and new media.

Constantini then entertained the role of the artist as a professional playing an important part in art discourse when exercising a collaborative practice. He considered the model of the professional artist crucial for places like the Rufino Tamayo Museum in order to open up art discourse to a wide audience that need not be specialized in the arts. He saw this happening at the moment with the round-table, which had been a collective effort.

Mario De Vega questioned the term “New Media,” wondering how it relates to the idea of art, and Jorge Castro then raised questions on the critical position that the emerging fields could and should have in art practice explaining how many artists and performers were often more interested in being “cool” than in thinking what the content of their work actually promotes.

Fran Ilich questioned the role of the institution in the new media field, asking what it actually meant to be sitting in the Museum gallery having a discussion about centers and peripheries. He questioned whether this actually extended the elitist exclusivity in art practice to the new media field even as this one keeps changing.

Arcangel Constantini explained that the cyberlounge had actually been set up with this issue in mind. He also explained how the museum had specific educational programs targeting people who would not normally visit the museum as a way to enrich the many facets of Mexican Culture; to further this aim, events are free to the public and that therefore the museum should not be seen as an elitist institution but rather as a resource with its doors open for everyone.

Gustavo Romano (on the left) finally proposed to look at thematic approaches as a way to re-evaluate the interpolated dynamics discussed up to that point in relation to centers and peripheries; that is to focus on the actual content of the work and relate it to specific curatorial engagements that can make way for a focused narrative to surface first. I consider this a great suggestion because a thematic approach then can place other political and cultural aspects of each artwork as important yet not over-powering elements in their complex creative development.

The discussion had to end at the Cyberlounge, but it was continued over yet another great meal. The last one the local and foreign artists would share around this series of events.

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