Electronic Manifestations in Mexican Art with a minimum of resources
Cynthia P. Villagomez Oviedo
Keywords: Mexican Electronic Art, Science, Technology.
This research explores the possibilities of electronic art production by reusing existing materials instead of buying new ones, that makes the concept or the artistic statement more important than the materials itself, avoiding the spectacle that could provide an electronic work of art and giving more importance to smart ideas. That means anyone around the globe could create with electronic sources, no matter if they have, or not have access to cutting-edge technology. Because if people explore analog or digital electronics through art, simultaneously a new world open up, giving anyone the opportunity to have access to science and technology, which is fundamental in countries like Mexico where the access of that knowledge is not for everybody.
Context of Electronic Art with low-cost materials
Specifically, in the present Latin American context, in Brazil for example, they have a special term for existing materials reutilization called Gambiología which is the practice of make-do, through unusual and smart improvisation, repairing things or creating with what you have at your disposal, means is a form of creative improvisation that uses electronic-digital techniques. In Mexican electronic art case, there are various artists that use obsolete technology and low-cost materials due the bad Mexican economy system, particularly in the beginning of their artistic life, but not exclusively because we can find examples of electronic art work that has been developed by well-known artists with lack of resources though.
Nevertheless, through the essay called Postproduccion from the outstanding theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, we can find evidence that the reutilization of materials is a common pattern in contemporary art, he said, the artistic question it is no longer: What is new that can be done? But rather What can be done with…? Speaking about reuse of materials and ideas also. Bourriaud gave an explanation about why the flea market is so important for current artistic practices: in the first place it is important because it brings a collective experience, the chaotic heap of things derived from different individuals, also because in the organization of a flea market the past takes place and through the flea market people have the chance to avoid the industrial commerce and internet sales, finally at the flea market objects from multiples provenances wait for new uses, as Marcel Duchamp said, this is about giving a new idea to an object.
Production in complex environment
For now, it is necessary to say that the context where Mexican electronic artist works is complicated. The social, economic and politic conditions add the ingredient of uncertainty to everyday life. These Mexican adverse circumstances such as poverty, inequity, violence, corruption, drug trafficking, among others, often provides ideas to the artists for their work. The use of subjects related to Mexican context is one of the most important characteristics on Mexican electronic art, these subjects of the art produced in Mexico are based on situations and events that arouse in Mexican environment. It is necessary to say, that most of the time only a Mexican or people involved in Mexican culture can completely understand all the implications and cultural meanings of these pieces; example of that are these works of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (international artist who born in Mexico City): “Voz Alta”, 2008, piece related to the murders committed by the government in 1968, –for more than thirty years it was forbidden in media talk about this issue; “Level of Confidence”, 2015, about the tragic disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico in 2014 –to this day, no one knows for sure what happen to them; “Displaced Emperors”, 1997, projects the Aztec head-dress of Moctezuma in the facade of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Vienna where the head-dress is kept against the will of Mexicans.
In addition to that, Mexican electronic artists that produces in Mexico shows another reality –Rafael Lozano-Hemmer it’s a Mexican artist creating in other countries like Spain or Canada with the support of those countries-. In Mexico the elaboration phase of the production processes might be different. According to the interviews made to electronic artists for this research, there is a small group of artists that produced frequently supported with government grants or other type of economic resources. Nevertheless, there are artists that find ideas in difficult conditions, that means artists adapts their production processes to the existing resources, been capable to produce with very few materials. This research focus on those artistic work to study Mexican electronic art, because it is more emphatic with the existing and general situation.
Moreover, this research focus on electronic Art works from the last decade of the XX century and the first decade of XXI century. The research process consists in explore and describe then generate theory perspectives, as a research strategy we used direct interview with electronic artists through diverse media, like telephone, cellphone, email, video conference, etcetera, even the personal visit to art studios, or attending to art exhibits and presentations to meet the artists.
Cases of study
In the context of today Mexican electronic art, we are going to analyze works of art that reuse and/or make a different reinterpretation of existing materials. The Mexican artists are: Arcángel Constantini (1970, was born in Cuautitlán); Leslie García (1980 ca., Tijuana); Gilberto Esparza (1975, Aguascalientes). These electronic artists use materials from technological garbage dumps, low-cost materials, free and open-source software to produce art.
Anima is a Netart work developed in 2002 by Arcangel Constantini, it integrates several projects with different tittles: 3:00 a.m., MR vs DR, Azar / chaos, Frecuencia, Retrovisión, Ake/Karas, Más_números and Multiver.s.o.s. In all these projects the reinterpretation of obsolete objects can be seen, also the concept of the artist called “continuous loop” where the same images are repeating constantly in small video sequences.
In the case of 3:00 am, an image appears which is form with 25 different segments, inside of each segment a video can begin by clicking above the text “3 a.m.”, instantly sounds from the Santa Martha Acatitla flea market in Mexico City emerge, the videos and the audios keep going and going in a continuous loop. The films of the videos were edited at the time of the recording, they used the infrared night vision of the camera to videotape. The lighting was carried out with a hand lamp, which emulated the buyers of the flea market at dawn. The audio was made by the artist Manrico Montero Calzadíaz (Mexico, 1973-2018) and emerges from the original sound of the flea market, generated by the constant manipulation of objects: the movement of the bags in which they pack and unpack, the empty cans, and the noise of the dump trucks emptying the scrap metal. Finally, the objects had a relation with the artist's theory of the “conceptual or continuous loop”, that has a relation with the idea of reality and the repeating events in life.
Fig. 1. “3:00 am” by Arcangel Constantini, (2002). This work of Netart was in Desmontajes, reapropiaciones e intrusiones, tácticas del arte en red exhibition from May, 18 to August 25, of 2012 in Spain Cultural Center in Mexico City. It was made with the support of Rockefeller / McArthur Foundation, and it is available at http://www.unosunosyunosceros.com/anima/index.htm.
Telematic Sound Weapon
This work was made by Leslie García within the Astrovandalistas Collective. " Telematic Sound Weapon " (s / f), is a sound installation made using an existing metallic structure in front of Campo Marte, which is an equestrian field in Mexico City, used for the practice of equestrian sports and for different military and government events, for example, at the Olympic Games in Mexico 1968, was the venue for horse riding competitions, inside it is a monumental flag of 50 x 28 meters and a flagpole of 100 meters high; On one side of this field was built in 2012 the "Memorial to the victims of violence in Mexico". However, records have been found in various books and documents (Poniatowska, 1971) indicating that, during the student massacre that took place on October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico, a place also known as Conjunto Habitacional Tlatelolco, the lifeless bodies of hundreds of people, most of them students, were buried surreptitiously in the Campo Marte. Leslie García comments the following: “…we found a metal structure of 4 x 6 meters located in front of Campo Marte, a military camp that contains stories of a repressive past that has been forgotten little by little. We intervene the structure with 64 galvanized pipes connected to an engine. This mechanism is activated remotely every time someone writes #BANGCampoMarte on Twitter” 1.
The "Telematic Sound Weapon" is a work designed to make evident the desire of people to manifest themselves both in the physical space of the piece and in social networks, "A weapon is a device that extends the direction and magnitude of a force. We want to amplify a collective questioning about the role of violence in the recent history of Mexico” 2. On the work website, a public invitation is made to participate in what they call virtual manifestation exercise, where the complete manual is available if the audience want to make something similar.
Fig. 2. “Arma Sonora Telemática” (2012) by Leslie García and Astrovandalistas Collective.
“Urban Parasites” was created between 2006 and 2008 by Gilberto Esparza. The process of creation of the pieces that conform “Urban Parasites” (robots with different names: Flies, Scavengers ppndr-s, Inorganic Autotrophs, Maraña Mrñ, Hung Clgd, Dblt) could be seen in the website of the artistic work3. In the video of the process of production we can see the artist in a dump among piles of technological garbage, two large cranes rearrange the scrap while Gilberto Esparza recued various objects from the waste; later in his study the artist design different robots with this objects, then he shows his ideas to his crew, engineers and programmers separately, then they build the robots, put them on the light cables of the streets and observe people reactions.
The artist mention he uses recycled material and frequently goes to a cellar of a well-known telecommunication company (called Telmex), in this cellar he refers saw different objects to build his robots, he wants the robots could mimic in an urban environment; a special cage which is very resistant is the exterior of the robot, it is designed to keep safe the cables of the robot and allow it to survive. Esparza made his robots to be capable to live outside for long periods of time, could be months or even years, he said they live in urban environment and are part of the city landscape, they make sounds also.
Gilberto Esparza put his robots in the city of Lima, Peru, people reacted with surprise, they laugh when they saw the “Urban Parasites” mounted and moving on the light cables of the city, asking one to other –What was that! The contrary happened in Mexico City, where people just ignore the robots, the artist thinks that might be because in Mexico City people lost the capacity of been surprised due to the fast way of life and the monotony of the existence in big cities; finally, he said it is good that people ignore the “Urban parasites”, that way maybe they could live more.
Fig. 3. Gilberto Esparza, “Urban Parasites” (2006-2008).
Electronic art in Mexico has gone through different phases, which have helped to strengthen it in the national artistic scene, even though there have been different artistic works with the use of electronics, electronic art does not have a preeminent place in Mexican art. Throughout the last decades there have been different forums where electronic art has had spaces for its exhibition, such as the Alameda Art Laboratory; the CECUT Tijuana Cultural Center; the Center for Art and New Technologies, CANTE in San Luis Potosí (the area of new technologies does not exist anymore); the Carrillo Gil Museum; the Multimedia Center of the National Center for the Arts; the Cyberlounge of the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo (now disappeared); among other spaces most located in Mexico City, all of which brings with it that electronic art is not completely known by the audiences that attend to museums and galleries. A positive thing is that not all electronic artists like to exhibit in galleries or museums, they exhibit directly in public spaces, seeking in this way to reach the majorities, through these practices they also seek to return public spaces to citizens, nowadays most of the public spaces in cities have been occupied by companies and institutions; example of this type of works are Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Iván Abreu public works. However, the advance in the knowledge of electronic art in Mexico advances at a slow pace, while in other countries it is well entrenched and even have spaces for the development of work like: "Media Lab Prado" in Madrid, "Laboluz" in Valencia both in Spain; "Ars Electronica" in Linz, Austria; "SymbioticA" in Pert, Australia; the other side of the coin is in Latin American countries where the spaces for project development operate with limited resources and sometimes, the lucky ones, with grants, such as "Platohedro" in Medellín, Colombia or in Mexico City an autonomous place in San Rafael area called "Crater Invertido".
An important fact in this panorama is that Mexican electronic artists have been producing art no matter if they have the economic or material resources, the examples that we saw in this research proved that artistic electronic creation is far from the limits of having enough resources. Most of Mexican electronic artists refer on interview they struggle at the beginning of their work, but that was not a reason to stop working on the field they loved: the electronic art creation.
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1 Lelsie García, “Arma sonora telemática”, https://bit.ly/2xgwwrz. Query: February, 2015.
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