Reflexiones sobre Performance, Cultura y Tecnología
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Edited by Johannes Birringer
In the following dialog, participants of the RePerCute meeting engaged in a postconference conversation which was conducted over the internet. This dialog was intended to expand, and explore more deeply, some of the issues that had been raised in Los Angeles, and thus to elaborate the contexts and viewpoints of our discussions. The internet exchange was initiated by a set of questions and commentaries which the editor posed to each participant.
Participants in the Diálogo:
Tania Aedo, Margarita Bali, David Beaudry Jeff Burke, Heitor Capuzzo, Renato Cohen, Bia Medeiros, Eitan Mendelowitz, Mariano Sardon, Adam Shive, Vibeke Sorensen, Jared Stein, Isabel Valverde, Fabian Wagmister
I. Cultural Issues
Johannes Birringer. The meeting in Los Angeles was an occasion to present the ideas that inform our work and our practice. As practitioners, we were asked to address the cultural context/location in which we create, how we absorb digital technologies into the work, and how our experience of the world in our respective countries shapes the reception of cultural biases that are built into technologies generated in the First World and exported from the north. In the following discussion, we want to explore specific viewpoints and hear from the participants in this dialog how cultural location has affected their use of -- and their position towards -- technology.
Fabian, you implied that there has been a tradition of resistance or radical politics in Latin America -- is there a form of "digital resistance" now?
Fabian Wagmister. If I address the Argentinian context, and look at it in comparison with other Latin American contexts, I have to say that Argentina is different in that our political institutions pursue political ends, but are not interested in cultural innovation. That has also resulted in the fact that there is very little funding for new art practices available in universities; and there is no media center for example. What does one do without infrastructures, when do dont have that kind of support? You can turn to websites or webpages, and that is often how people understand "digital art." We do have a tradition of science projects, however. But radical ideas, for example Brecht's ideas for the radio as interactive art, as an interactive system (low level transmitter) of horizontal transmissions, like the later utopian ideas for community television, or new art that was done in Argentina in neon light sculpture, or in live electronic music -- today that kind of innovation is not possible. After one of the most cruel military dictatorships, todays economic conditions are the result of that dictatorship.
I argued in my presentations that in order to develop an artistic practice with integrity, I have to develop a conceptual framework for positioning myself in the society of change. Eisenstein or the Latin American vanguard filmmakers of the 60s were initially theorists, and they wrote to make sense of new technologies . But since the 60s, with the film industry established, very few filmmakers still produce theory. If we look at artists practicing technology in the third world, I would say we are working with it, absorbing it (getting a donation occasionally), but we are not developing it. I believe that to do this work as a Latin American, it's not the same thing, as a cultural
artistic practice, everyday practice, as it is for Jeff Burke or Jared Stein who live here in Los Angeles. Its natural for them to be working with computers, as electrical engineers, computer scientists, etc., with the technology that is produced here in Silicon Valley, a technology produced in the first world for control and domination, and for economic global markets. Without internet and computers, no globalization. For new art one needs a specific cultural environment. What is ours in Latin America? As Argentinians, we have allowed ourselves to be colonized all over.
Johannes Birringer. How do you resist this repetition of colonization?
Fabian Wagmister. As a Latin American artist, why use technology? For me, it is about the concept of imperfection, I want to embrace it as a power, my identity is the other side of the coin (western side). Like Julio Garcia Espinosa's idea of an imperfect cinema, I look for control to fracture, I look for openness, work that is never finished, that questions its own shape and those power relations that are in control of everything.
 A politicized theory of "recombinant theatre and digital resistance" has been proposed by Critical Art Ensemble, Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2001). Ricardo Dominguez,in a recent talk on his work with CAE, Electronic Disturbance Theater, and Fakeshop, coined the term "hacktivism" when referring to his online art and activism which is focused on the development of electronic civil disobedience in relation to globalization, neoliberalism in the Americas, and the Zapatista struggle. See also Luisa Paraguai Donati and Gilberto Prado, "Artistic Environments of Telepresence on the World Wide Web," Leonardo 34:5 (2001), 437-442.
Johannes Birringer. Renato, you mentioned antropofagia, and your interest in "human technology." Did you think of antropofagia as a form of political or cultural resistance or transformation?
Renato Cohen. I think that the question about technology for me refers to the "human technology" -- not post-human, but phenomenological experiences, meaning our capacity to travel (in mind , spirit) , to use intuition, and visualization and a set of tools that we know from shamanism. For instance, you know that Roy Ascott studied Shamanism and Technology/Shamanism as Technology when he came to Brazil. I'm not referring to the "imaginary" path but to a scientific journey. In my creative works, for example my theatre spectacles of Ka and Victory over the Sun, I'm studying both, the technology (machinery) as a human extension, in the sense in which Marshall McLuhan defined media as extensions, and the inner technology of man. I think this is a cognitive question, a question of consciousness, and also a political one, since this research is more developed and valorized in the East than the West. The question about antropofagia surely refers to a politics of resistance.
But I also think that it is a paradox to speak about a "Latin American language on technology" because we are working in an international network, the culture question I think is subliminal, maybe this subliminal form is running in the unconscious of the creator.
Tania Aedo. How has cultural location affected my use of technology? Maybe that is the reason why I started thinking about "technique" in a wider sense, I mean, wider than just digital technology. I'm working with ballet as a technique / language, as a metaphor for the orthopedic function of technology; the DSM IV, a technical manual for the diagnosis of mental disorders (a scientific-technical book edited in Chicago which regulates all cultures, you can't imagine how I enjoy reading about cultural specificities in it); technological objects designed specifically for the woman's body and so on, because I suspect that we have swallowed the Occident through its "techniques" of the body.
Mariano Sardon. My scientific background and studies led to me to have an approach to all kinds of technologies, digital ones too. I think this is the context in which I started to consider digital technology. The form in which I study machines has to do with the form in which machines are considered in a laboratory of physics in Argentina. We need to know the way in which machines work, because we work with very expensive machines coming from northern cultures in most cases, and once you can get them it is very important to conserve them too. To get funds for research is very difficult in my country, and you have to take care of machines, instruments, and all the technical stuff. That's the reason we work with analog and digital technologies together. Even though it is hard work for scientists there, making art with machines is a rich field of experience for me!
Aspects like connectivity and languages are interesting for me in this context, and I think this is part of the specific characteristic of the digital. Digital technologies are used in my work in many different ways. Not only in some of the technical devices used, but I'm also interested in concepts regarding digital technologies. For instance, the process through which I track the people's movement on streets is achieved by spotting that movement in successive positions on images coming from a camera, and applying a regular grid on it to measure light intensities. This is a process similar to the way in which CCD works. This mapping process which I built is conceptually the form in which one can translate certain external characteristics of the world into meaningless numbers. It is almost all
a digitizing process of the people's movement on streets. In this sense machines are a form of expression for me; they are objects which are part of an artistic process.
I would like to note that the form in which technologies are imported and considered in my country has changed in recent history. I think it's not an isolated matter, the way in which we use, consume and conceive different aspects of technology.
I think it can reveal some social judgments concerning the use of technology. It is common that computers are part of art processes (artists use them for many tasks, and during the last few years in Argentina, one of the reasons for this is that computers have become cheaper). But in most cases machines are not taken account of seriously as part of such artistic processes. Reviews and speeches usually refer to "artistic" aspects of the work, as if it was finished like an object, and paradoxically machines are considered like secondary devices, if they are considered at all. The only common reference is that "they are just tools," and that's it.
I think this value judgement has roots in the way we have experienced the world during the last years in my country. Tools don't appear to be important.
But I think that tools are the very form in which I can perceive the world during the art process. Tools are cultural manifestations of a particular society, and by means of them we choose to express something. Expression is mediated by tools. Tools have inherent physical and conceptual properties (e.g., the digital conception of the world), their inner structure and conception, and if they are involved in my work, then my work involves those characteristics too.
Tools are not "transparent" media to achieve art objects, we have to take account of them in many different ways, technical, conceptual, cultural, etc. If we think of machines as tools imported from northern cultures whose characteristics are not relevant to the art works we make, this doesn't bode well for me. And if we don't consider this issue of digital technologies-as-tools, it reveals the position that tools have been taken in our society. It's a more general problem; my society has lost its possibility to conceive its own tools.
Tools stand in relation to the form in which we transform our world according to our conceptions and interests. Such things have changed over the last years in Argentina. A degradation of our own construction of our society, our knowledge and industries, our health, education, etc., has been carrying on. Now we have no tools, we have no work for people. I think this explains why many people think that machines-as-tools are not important in an artistic process! For this and other reasons we need to emphasize such reflections about digital technologies involved in our art processes.
Johannes Birringer. We are beginning to see very interesting differences in the approach to technology. Mariano addresses the pragmatic need to have "tool knowledge," and the cultural significance of tool production, which is certainly related also to our understanding of craft. Technology - the meaning of the Greek word - is the study of skill, while technique is a method of doing something, possibly using skills, technologies.
It occurs to me that Mariano's concern about tools and machines, which may also reflect, perhaps, an approach to technology from a physicist or engineering point of view, does differ in interesting ways with Tania's thoughts on techniques, which seem motivated by a feminist political critique of devices as inscriptions of power, and by theoretical investigations how the terms of gender are embedded/embodied in technologies or how "techniques" shape our notions of gender. I suspect that one issue we did not pay enough attention to in our discussion is the role of gender in regard to our specific situatedness in technology-driven processes and the discursive strategies with which we articulate our work. On the other hand, I may have misrepresented Margarita Bali when I spoke of her use of digital technologies "simply as tools" to create dance, without further concern for the underlying software code.
Margarita Bali. Yes, I might have said something in that order within the context of the meeting, maybe trying to bring in a different view when Fabian and Mariano were
so thoroughly and almost messianically approaching their work from the pure investigation of digitality. But it is not true that for me technology is a BLACK BOX. I still have a science oriented approach to many things in life. I am really investigating the systems I use quite profoundly within my possibilities, and I usually take a hands-on approach to the both hardware and software.
For instance I took a Midi course for musicians; I am currently studying Max/Msp, also a musicians' course, and I am learning Isadora (an interactive software written by Mark Coniglio) on my own. I am currently designing my own Max patch for an installation; I have to admit I enjoy solving the puzzle myself. I know I am only learning programs and not thinking "digitally", but technology is certainly not a black box for me because knowing more about how these systems work is giving me new ideas.
 Cf. Malcolm McCullough, Abstracting Craft: The Practical Digital Hand (Cambridge: MIT press, 1996), p. 21.
 There is a growing body of literature produced in women's studies and gender studies. See for example, Jennifer Terry and Melody Calvert, eds., Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life (New York: Rourledge, 1997). Coco Fusco, The Bodies that were not ours (London: Routledge, 2001); Diana Domingues, ed., A Arte no Séc.XXI: A Humanização das Tecnologias (São Paulo: Ed. da Unesp, 1997); Bernice L. Hausman, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1995); Katherine N. Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Marina Grzinic, Fiction Reconstructed: Eastern Europe, Post-Socialism, The Retro-Avant-garde (Vienna: Edition Selene, 2000); and Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex' (New York: Routledge, 1993).