(Ready)Media: Hacia una arqueología de los medios y la invención en México, DVD box recently edited by the Alameda Laboratory Art of Mexico City, revisits the history of artistic practices in the twenties of XX Century in Mexico, on the border between art, science and technological experimentation.

The DVD box is an unprecedented work of research and diffusion, carried out by a team of researchers, artists and curators, which throws light on a part of never historicized Modernism. A work that in North America would likely be realized by wealthy departments of some rich Ivy League’s Universities, with a comparative approach towards the study on Modernism, but in this case it has been carried out in a militant (and scientific at the same time), laboratorial way, by a group of actors playing personally in the context.

We talked about that with Tania Aedo,, visual artist engaged in creative processes which involve research on technology and media since the early Nineties and director of Alameda Center. Tania is the cocurator of the DVD box, which she presented at the Latin American Forum of ISEA Rurh 2010 (see the review here: http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1872).

After we met in Dortmund, we decided to complete by e-mail our talks, in order to discuss Latin and Mexican identity questions, wise use of technologies towards consumers’ attitude and recent Mexican artistic vanguard movements as well.

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Lucrezia Cippitelli: It would be interesting to say something about the Box ideation and the paths you took to choose the audiovisual and sound experiences within it.

Tania Aedo: The idea of editing (Ready)Media: Hacia una arqueología de los medios y la invención en México was born out of the need of retracing the trail of those artistic practices arising when art gets in contact with science and technology. We know these practices have no “recording”, for in Latin America all the activities are stored by the artists themselves who save, manage and spread their works. ù

Inside the Alameda Laboratory Art we launched the Prìamo Lozada Documentation Centre (by the name of our founder curator), the first Mexican centre specialized in the interconnections between Science and Technology. Its primary goals are the reflection and research on the current creative media practice, the exploiting of curatorial projects and the contribution to spread knowledge in the field. Since the Laboratory was founded, ten years ago, a documentary store has been created, containing material reporting every exposition, artists’ dossiers, theoretical essays, audiovisual and sound documents.

When we started the project, we understood we had to accomplish two fundamental tasks: a critical review of this deposit on one hand, and the insertion of more material and documentation on the other. We called a group of six people among curators, researchers and artists in order to write this review and suggest what, according to them, should have been added.

That is how the six sections of our DVD were born. We prepared a full program exhibition to occupy the Laboratory space as well as a coming soon publication containing every curator’s text and some essays showing how Art, Science and Technology were already linked to each other much time before the so-called “New Media Age”.

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Lucrezia Cippitelli: Are the artists featured in the collection somewhat representatives of a specific historical period, just like a photo of actuality (meaning the DVD has no theoretical specification justifying the choosing) or are they part of artists’ community or network moving around certain Mexican institutions?

Tania Aedo: Each program in the DVD has a specific pattern. For instance, the program dedicated to sound art is arranged from certain common categories, used to classify these kind of practices: installation and sound art, including video documentation of works realized for exhibition spaces or videotaping. The rest of the DVD then includes audio tracks divided into Sound Art, Experimental Electronic Music, Electro-acoustic Music, Sound Landscape, Radio Art and Sound Poetry.

This project deal with an archaeological and research interest on the history of Mexican sound practices, and to this purpose it contains even works of the Twenties, such as 1924’s …IU IIIUUU IU… This is the oldest one of the entire project, the “sound poem” laying at the base of the Mexican stridentist vanguard movement. The collection also includes works made in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, considered the oldest experiments with electronic and synthetic sound, as well as 2010 works.

Not all collections are meant to go back through time. For instance, Desbordamientos: Mecanicidad y obsolescencia en el arte mediático actual DVD contains all the works that maintain a critical position on global technocentrism. Desbordamientos discusses about mechanical and obsolete aspects, underlining the forms through which Modernity divides “old” from “new” media and the way it hides the mechanical machine behind the digital membrane of the so-called new media.

Mexico has a great amount of artists researching and experimenting mechanical technology, sometimes along with electronics and information technology procedures: we thought it was important to encourage the analysis in these production areas.

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The Cine Povera collection instead includes many 16 mm filmed works (and one Super-8 work), each of them realized between 2000 and 2010, by do-it-yourself and hand-crafted way, making use of minimal tools. It is important to know that In Mexico, as well as in other countries, there is a strong trend in working with films, by doing researches on the film production procedures and “intervening” on such procedure by scratching, cutting, pasting, projecting…

Audiovisual experimental contemporáneo is a collection about independent and experimental cinema and videos. It comes from the Mexperimental research (Rita Gonzáles y Jesse Lerner, Mexperimental: 60 años de vanguardias en México. Santa Monica: Smart Art Press, 1998), which reveals the experimental character of the Mexican production through expositions and editions.

A reflection on the curatorial practice of videos and new media was needed as well, and so we began a research that reached a first step: Apuntes sobre una revisión de curadurías de video. This collection is all about interviews with some of the most influencing curators in the field, such as Guillermo Santamarina or Jesse Lerner, or others who developed a very important work of research and spread outside Mexico City’s borders, like Bruno Varela working in Oaxaca, the directors of Guadalajara Chroma Festival and Antonio Arango at Glycerina magazine, important review distributing VHS in the Nineties.

Among the interviewees it is also right to remember Ximena Cuevas, who talked about Priamo Lozada, former curator and founder of Alameda Center that died in 2007. Ximena speaks about him and presents his curatorial practice for the Videobrasil festival.

Each interview contains fragments of the works that made part of it. Familiar Memorable focuses on the production by the youngest “digital native” artists, who are most of all students sharing a common pattern in their works: a wide yet not exhaustive overview.

Last but not least, Voiceover consists in a series of documentaries produced by Alameda Art Laboratory, which mean to take a closer look on the path and specificity of the creative procedures of artists fundamental for the Mexican scenario. Arcàngel Constantini, Ximena Cuevas, Sarah Minter, Arthur Henry Fork and Ariel Guzik are among them.

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Lucrezia Cippitelli: According to you, can we consider or speak of a specificity of Mexican artistic and cultural vanguard in the last few years? And do you think the practices on the creative use of digital technologies are pillars of such vanguard, under the creative and curatorial point of view?

Tania Aedo: I believe many specificities exist. One of them concerns the creative use of technologies, while another one involves the forms through which artists produce works according to the geopolitical context. Mexico too, just like any other Latin American country, has played the role of consumer and user towards digital and electronic technologies.

That is why a critical and reflexive behaviour towards them is needed. It is important to dig into the past to understand that this behaviour concerns Modernity first. It is therefore important to go beyond, to the “deep time” to see that this definition, like many others, only works well in the case of modernity. The Mayans, may have produced a far more complex concept of universe than the mechanical.

The Mayas and other pre-Columbian cultures have developed a far more complex concept of mechanical universe.

Another noticeable specificity is the orientation towards researches under the perspective of electronic arts, which cross with other disciplines such as History, Biology, Physics, and so on. I think we can speak of specificity even in the case of curatorial practices. Two very important characters of these practices are research heterogeneity and experimental nature.

The fact that a real “market” does not exist determines a freedom in production (just like in every country where the “electronic arts” are developed). It goes without saying that communication between curators, artists and researchers is constant in Mexico.

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Lucrezia Cippitelli: For what concern the institutions, why don’t you tell us something about the Alameda Laboratory Art you direct, trying to putting it into the new DF (Distrito Federal, the Mexico City area) media context? What kind of relation established between the new media scenario and the modern, more traditional art (I mean the gallery system and the biennial collectors, for example)?

The reason I am asking this question to you is because I think it is very interesting the first Mexican pavilion to the Venice Biennale 2007 hosted an electronic arts protagonist like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Moreover, looking back over the last few years, I see a more and more active Mexican scene, a rejuvenation of creative and curatorial practices, an improvement in the communicative and theoretical procedures that lie at the base of modern art.

Tania Aedo: I believe the Lab played a key role on the “electronic arts scenario” in Mexico. About ten years ago, as a simple observer I had the chance to attend to the expositions of artists such as the Brazilian Eder Santos, experimental 8 mm cinema projections by Takahiko Iimura, video installations by Gerardo Suter, Claudia Fernàndez, Marina Grzinic, Grace Quintanilla and Gary Hill. Just to mention only Priamo Lozada’s 2001 program.

I had the possibility to see live all which until that moment I only saw on photos or books, though they were images in movement or interactive works. The Lab, as many other places, accomplished the really vital function of getting people in contact with artists, inspiring specific reflections on the relationship between art and technology.

And yet I would not consider the “new media” scenario and the “traditional” one as opponents. I think we could be traditional and work with new media at the same time. No doubt your question is important because although the Lab is a place dedicated to certain specificities (in constant transformation), the “electronic arts scenario” has split into different spaces, museums, schools, festivals and platforms.

I agree with you when you say this scenario is fundamental: in my opinion the most interesting things are happening right now (although I know almost any contemporary art museum director would say the same). And its importance is due to the convergence of many disciplines and practices.

Another interesting aspect of this scenario is that you can make reference to artists like Lozano-Hemmer, but you can also think about other artists who make use of different procedures and work on open source hardware and software, or even about media activists who work with art. It is certainly noticeable the first Mexican pavilion has been given to Rafael, a new media artist. But the fact that for the next 2009 Biennial Mexico had chosen an artist like Teresa Margolles is important as well: such diversity tells much about Mexico.

Those two exhibitions say a lot about what Mexico is, and it also tells us a great deal about the complexity that characterizes the flow of works and ideas that are less visible, that are being produced in an intense state of  effervescence in the country. And when you are talking about communicative and theoretical procedures, it seems there is always present an interesting peculiarity: the multiple theoretical traditions that converge onto these practices, as well as every reflection, knowledge and discussions that derive from them. The curatorial aspect played a key role in this configuration, and in the Lab they care very much about it.

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Lucrezia Cippitelli: I would like to go back to a discussion we attended to during the Dortmund Latin American Forum (August 2010), where you presented (Ready)media. The discussion in question was the one concerning the possible identity of art in the Latin American Continent. To talk about a Latin identity seems very naïf and abstract on one hand (none in Europe would accept it, especially if said by a non-European.

Yet, it would be nice if someone finally do that, in order to inspire a debate about our thoughts on the white, catholic and conservative identity…). One the other hand, while I was listening to the discussion I understood that in every Latin American country many common variants exist. These variants could maybe be defined by explaining our everyday life conceptualism in the artistic practices. The same concept artist and theoretic Luis Camnitzer tries to describe as “didactics of liberation” in his book on Latin American conceptualism.

Tania Aedo: Latin America has many different histories yet shares similar traits in colonization, dictatorships, post-colonization periods, trade negotiations, and so on. Maybe you are right to say none in Europe would consider a common cultural identity, but it is also true that they talk about European media festivals or specific programs for European artists. And even when cultural projects are exposed to the purpose of claiming funds, is inevitable to speak of identity most of the time.

Andreas Broekmann had already noticed this aspect at ISEA and I believe he was right. One substantial difference is that here we do not have common programs like festivals or scholarships which would allow artists to travel throughout the continent. When speaking about cultural policies then, although the term Latin America is widely used, it seems that the national institutions aim to separate rather than unite. In this sense we are very close yet so far away from each other.

Even the Bolivarian dream of integration seems a risky fancy to resort to on convenience. Let’s imagine we were united by one language: we are actually divided into Spanish, Portuguese and other thousands of (indigene) languages. It does not exist a Latin, European or Anglo-Saxon essence.

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On the pages of Camnitzer’s book, many analogies with electronic art can be made: if is sufficient to replace the term used by him, “dematerialization”, with “contextualization”: art responses to immediate needs. This fundamental element can be seen in many works produced in the continent. And for the same reason, following his ideas we could also talk about an “impure and hybrid” electronic art, for it is critical. Yet it is dangerous to take that for granted, for we might end up accepting that any art produced in Latin America is critical and vice versa.