tendency is to overwhelm the senses. The exhibitions at Centro and
Laboratorio Arte Alameda lived up to this particular expectation with
great ease. And because of this, the aesthetics of the performances and
installations could be dangerously universalized. Part of the reason lies
in the fact that the tools used by the performers and artists are the products
and vehicles of globalization, which strategically saturate the senses
to create the necessary desire to keep production and consumption at its
peak. Another reason is the fact that, thanks to the same tools, people,
who can afford to use them, can communicate across continents not worrying
too much about their geographical places, thus leading to an international
activity that seemly transcends the usual cartographic codes through which
cultures have in the not so distant past negotiated their ever-changing
ways of living.
One could notice this by simply listing the actual equipment and software:
Mac G5 powerbooks were the most common computers in use by many of the
performers, and Sony Vaios were the standard for most installations; for
development, Flash, Director and Max/Jitter were often the applications
of choice. And then, once in front of a screen, whether this one was a
projection or a computer monitor, the viewer could easily fall into a state
of placelessness. Suspense of disbelief never had a better home. The screen/projection
has become the Universal living space for the multifaceted narrative. I
implicate myself and admit that I felt as though I was in my own virtual
place whenever I viewed a screen, yet I knew I was far away from my usual
environment. I looked around each of these events, and thought that I was
not alone in this reflection.
But to claim universality because the aesthetics and tools at play in
Mexico City at the end of the summer of 2004 are popular at least within
media community would be erroneous. If anything the events proved how complex
new media practice is when viewed within a thematic that may try to encapsulate
works of art that, by default, cannot belong to a specific narrative.
The unity I felt throughout the events was extremely pronounced. Knowing
that I was part of a set of international artists who identify themselves
as Latin American in some form was very special for me. Yet, I also realized
that while we embraced this narrative we also had many other aspects that
made our roles as cultural producers extremely complex. Before I state
what I mean by this, I should explain a difference between new media practice
and other practices that do not rely on international communication networks
to disseminate the work (at least as discourse).
It is one thing for a painter or sculptor to produce her work in the
studio and show that work in a local gallery. This activity usually
part of a specific culture that supports and informs the art that is produced.
For an Uruguayan artist, for example, this would mean contributing to the
local art scene and if that work made it out into the international art
circuit, it would always be attached to its place of origin; meaning, it
would be contextualized to have been made by an Urugayan artist. This identification
could become somewhat incidental, and has been in the past, once the artist
becomes internationally recognized; however, this can only happen after
a decent number of international exhibitions.
The place of production of new media, especially net art, is not dependent
on a specific physical place to be recognized. As long as the artists have
a server that can provide the work or samples of the work (as documentation
if the piece is not a net piece) the actual physical place (country) becomes
incidental from the very beginning. This does not mean that the artist
may not emphasize her nationality or country of origin; it just means that
this often happens after the work is viewed.
Brian Mackern is a case in point. He is an Uruguayan artist. I have
known his work for some time but was not aware that he was from
Uruguay in the
I eventually found out because Mackern is quiet open about his nationality.
But this was not the first thing that jumped at me. Further,
he does not have a “stereotypical” Latin
American name, so Brian has the agency to simply downplay his cultural codes
if he so desired. Indeed, he actually has to work a bit to make sure online users
realize what country he is making his art from. Online users could get a hint
if they look at his website URL, which has ".uy" at the end as well
as the fact that some of his work is presented in Spanish. But this does not
automatically mean Mackern is from that country but simply that the server where
his files are stored are attributed to Uruguay. Arcangel Constantini, who is
Mexican, is another example.
new media artists, especially those who make net art, have similar
situations; although their names may hint to being part of a "latino" group
(as it would be stereotyped in the U.S. in particular), this, however,
does not automatically explain what country they may be working from. In
short the usual codes that are imposed on international artists to contextualize
their work are still at
play in new media but in a second order.
New media practice becomes more complex when the artists travel, and indeed,
new media artists travel a lot, so their works are not only seen or understood
online, but also in festivals across the world. The work, then, becomes
part of a global aesthetic that cannot so easily be contextualized within
the usual narratives of difference following post-colonial discourse.
The Latin American artists who participated in the three events in Mexico City
are indeed part of a bigger group of international artists. Many have been
in major exhibitions in Europe that do not deal with cultural narratives,
but rather thematic exhibitions focusing on particular aspects of new media.
So to curate an exhibition emphasizing some type of Latin American narrative
comes up as a very specific choice by the curators, and this questions
what the term itself may mean within new media practice.
The emphasis on a Latin American art (whatever this may mean at this
point) inevitably exposes the diverse state of new media art
practice that is at play throughout
the continent, which could certainly be contextualized as specific to
the region; this, however, would be deceiving because some of
the work is not
produced within the region. Also, much of the work does not deal with
specificities of localities or politics that can be appended
to particular places or
nationalities. Instead the work, shares an aesthetic that is part of
a global network, which is used by new media artists to promote
interests that may be more open-ended or more politically specific. But
this is becoming more of a choice now more
The term Latin American in the end exposes the fragmentation and plurality
that Latin American discourse has experienced for a number of years. How
the term "Latin American" is used now needs to become more specific.
This is something that was not so clear in the series of events. Some of
the artists that participated in the events are not functioning or were
born in Latin American countries, but rather are related to the term based
on family history. Cases in point: Santiago Ortiz, who is from Colombia,
currently lives in Spain; Antonio Mendoza, who is Cuban-U.S. American,
grew up in Spain and lives in the United States; and I was born in El Salvador,
but have lived most of my life as an U.S. Citizen. Then there is Muserna
who has a Mexican background but was raised in the United States identifying
himself more with the many facets of North American culture rather than
Latin American cultures.
What the events in Mexico City exposed, then, is the rich potential for Latin
America, as a discourse, to redefine itself through emerging technologies.
The diversity and richness of the work, and the complexity of the participants
attests to the fact that those who decide to identify themselves as Latin
Americans, for whatever reason, are in a great place to reevaluate their
cultures. The term is becoming more and more complicated to use as new
media artists, in particular, move around the world to live and exhibit
What does it mean these days to call someone Latin American? What does that
actually imply? These are some of the questions that the participating
artists who relate to Latin America as an international discourse have
to face and respond to in order to live up to the challenge of the global
activity of emerging technologies.