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A Modular Framework: Beyond Tautological History
Essay written for the exhibition A Modular Framework
CCESV, El Salvador
November 9 –December 17, 2010.
by Eduardo Navas
Note: This essay was written for the exhibition A Modular Framework, which took place
at the Cultural Center of Spain in El Salvador, November 9 – December 17, 2010. The
catalog was never published due to limitation of funds. I considered publishing this essay
in art journals focused on Latin American Art, but the response by some was that it was
either too specific and could not fit their specific theme at the moment, or that it read too
much like an exhibition catalog essay which would not sit well outside of the context for
which it was originally written. It has been nearly five years since I wrote the text, and I
have decided to release it online, as part of my general research shared on Remix
Theory. I am doing this because I believe that it is fair for the artists who participated in
the exhibition to have access to the writing I produced. I also think that what I write in
terms of critical theory and postcolonial studies may be of interest to people invested in
Latin American Art.
Some of the issues raised in terms of the history of new media and Latin America may
have changed since I wrote the essay in 2010. I leave it unchanged because I don’t see
the point in updating the cultural context given that the exhibit was curated to reflect on
the issues at play in 2010.
A Modular Framework is an exhibition that brings together artists from Latin America, or
artists who have ties to Latin America, and have been producing new media work since at
least the mid-nineties, when new media and digital art began to take shape. Most of the
works included in the exhibition are recent, and were chosen as examples of diverse and
rigorous art practices. The artists, themselves, while they crossover into art practice at
large, are pioneers in digital and new media art in their own countries and for this reason
they were invited to participate in the exhibition.
A Modular Framework is the first of its kind in the Central American Region, and as such
its purpose is to better acquaint the local culture with new media and digital art practice.
At the same time, the exhibit is designed as a marking point, as a fragmentary modular
assessment of the rich production of new media art by a specific set of artists who share
similarities in their approach to the medium of digital art as a proper practice. The works
included comment in one way or another on interconnectivity and possibilities of
communication by exploring diverse interests in politics and aesthetics. This diverse
activity is the result of a long process of art production that is intertwined with global
culture. For this reason, before examining each of the selections, it is necessary to briefly
outline the relation of new media and digital art practice in contemporary art history.
The Context of New Media and Digital Art
The type of work produced in new media and digital art is often linked by art and media
historians to an interdisciplinary practice defined by the interest to move outside of the
gallery as previously explored during the seventies with site-specific art, and especially
conceptual and performance art. Of these three, conceptualism has been more often
presented as a predecessor of new media and digital art practice.1 During the nineties, the
Internet was viewed by emerging artists, who had online access, as a space in which to
present work outside of not only the gallery but also their immediate locality.2 Such
developments have influenced how new media works are currently presented as objects
of art in a physical space. The works included in A Modular Framework reflect on this
process, from different starting points.
Some of the participants in the exhibition, such as Brian Mackern and Gustavo Romano,
began to work within the paradigm of new media throughout the nineties along with other
artists active in the United States and Europe. Yet, these artists, or many of their
contemporaries, living or linked to Latin America have not been included in the history
of digital or Internet art written by historians working for well-established centers and
institutions particularly in Europe and in the United States. As a long term practitioner
myself, I have critically reflected on this and have come to the conclusion that curators
and new media and digital artists, themselves, were the ones that helped shape the current
history of new media and digital art within the communities that initially supported them.
While some books have been written on new media and digital art history, these have
been contributed, in my view, with the understanding that the history will change with
future contributions. New Media and Digital Art History, as a proper practice, is rather
new, and historians are likely to constantly revise accounts of new media and digital art
(or so is my hope). I believe, then, that the time is ripe to acknowledge at least some of
the artists from Latin America, or artists who have ties to Latin America, and who have
been active in new media and digital art since at least the time when the Internet was
launched. It is obviously not possible to include all the artists whose work I have
researched in this exhibition, and I hope that other curators and artists become proactive
in creating more exhibitions that shed light on the rich production of Latin America and
its diaspora.
The contextualization of Latin American new media and digital art history is linked to
well established (and still relevant) contentions of center/periphery, the construction of
the Other, and narratives of difference that were first widely discussed during
postmodernism. To add to this complexity, new media and digital art, even though it has
been included in various biennales and major international exhibitions, is still in the
process of assimilation by the art institution, and therefore artists who are often linked to
new media and digital production have a different position from others who may be
active in well-established art disciplines. This is not the case for every artist in A
Modular Framework, of course, because some of them crossover. Paul Ramirez-Jonas,
for instance, is actually better known for his diverse studio practice, and Fernando
For ways in which conceptualism is linked to new media and digital art practice, see Christiane Paul,
Digital Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008), 11-25; Rachel Greene, Internet Art (New York: Thames
& Hudson, 2004), 19-30; Mark Tribe and Reena Jana, New Media Art (Hong Kong, London, et. al.:
Taschen, 2009), 8-9.
This statement is made based on my own relationship with artists from this period. See the exhibition
P2P[iece], which I curated in 2004,, accessed February 17, 2011.
Orellana, who might appear to be a devoted computer programmer, also crosses over
with his paintings on canvas. Both of these artists, as well as others, are included in the
exhibition not only because their work points to relevant exploration in new media and
digital art practice, but because they demonstrate an ability to interpolate within the field,
thus pushing the establishment to renegotiate its historical ground.
For all these precedents, in the next section I present a brief survey on some of the issues
that informed the art production of Latin America since conceptualism was proposed as a
global activity that is linked to new media and digital art, to then move on to descriptions
of each of the selected works.3
Historical Precedents
Kevin Power, in his extensive introduction to the anthology Pensamiento crítico en el
nuevo arte latinoamericano, outlines the critical positions at play throughout Latin
America on discourses such as difference, center/periphery, and the construct of the
Other.4 He explains that some contemporary critics acknowledge that such discourses are
still spaces for resistance against Western hegemony, while others argue that they have
been assimilated by the international global market. Art critic and curator, Ticio Escobar,
who contributed an essay to Power’s anthology, endorses this last point. He explains that
neoliberal influence throughout Latin America often produced fetishized objects for
comfortable consumption by the international market.5 In other words, difference
becomes yet another form for selling Latin American art as a commodity. The result is
that there is no real resistance, as conceptual artists in different parts of the world had
practiced during the seventies. Instead, Ticio argues, many artists tend to water down
their works to make them digestible by the international art market.6
The critical position on the assimilation of the aforementioned discourses by the global
market (capital proper) as analyzed by Escobar is similar to Michael Hardt’s and Antonio
Negri’s position on post-colonialism. Hardt and Negri in their book Empire argue that
the resistance based on difference, and on the concept of center and periphery that
defined post-colonialists during postmodernism became fully assimilated by the global
market. They write about postcolonials: “Power has evacuated the bastion they are
attacking and has circled around to their rear to join them in the assault in the name of
difference. These theorists thus find themselves pushing against an open door.”7
Along these lines, Power comments on how some critics included in his anthology view
difference in terms of feminism, identity, and the construction of the Other, as bland
I have been in contact with artists throughout Latin America since the late-nineties, and have followed
their career through e-mail lists such as nettime-lat (no longer functioning), as well as nettaim-lat,
Iberoamerica-act, and Artenuevointeractiva. I have also traveled to various Latin American Countries to
get a better sense for art production.
Kevin Power, ed., “Introducción: La crítica latinoamericana dentro del contexto global,” Pensamiento
crítico en el Nuevo arte latinoamericano (Madrid: Fundación Cesar Manrique, 2006), 16-19.
Ibid, 189.
Power, 13, and Ticio Escobar, “El arte latinoamericano: el debe y el haber de lo global,” ibid, 189.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Passages of sovereignity,” Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts and
London, England: Harvard Press, 2000), 138
versions of resistance, while others do not. Nevertheless, Power argues that the writings
by critics who have contributed to such discourses in Latin America must be evaluated
according to the particular contexts for which they were written in response.8 This
multilayered context preceded and currently informs new media and digital art.
What happened in the nineties in new media and digital art production globally has
precedents in the seventies, if we accept as a convention what Stephen Bann argues in the
introductory catalogue essay for the exhibition Global Conceptualism.
contextualizes the exhibition which took place at the Queen’s Museum in 1999 as
evidence that the concepts of center and periphery were questioned by the
internationalization of conceptualism as a critical principle used by different artists
throughout the world to serve their own local interests: “[Global Conceptualism]
explicitly rejects the customary practice of plotting out the topology of artistic
connections in terms of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’.”9 He also adds: “Global Conceptualism
offers an alternative framework of multiple points of origin.”10
Maria Carmen Ramirez in her essay contribution also for the exhibition Global
Conceptualism, complements Bann’s argument. She specifically examines what
happened during the seventies in Latin America, when conceptualism was explored not
as a movement but as a critical paradigm. During this time, she argues, the activities that
took place in Latin America that could be considered as part of conceptual art not only
were at play side by side, but also, in some ways, were ahead of other places normally
credited with defining conceptual art language: “The emergence of conceptualism in
Latin America not only closely paralleled but, in many key instances, even anticipated
important developments of center-based conceptual art.”11 The reasons for this, Ramirez
argues, is that Latin American artists assimilated and converted patterns at play in other
areas of the world to engage with their own reality, and were in direct exchange rather
than imitation with other areas around the world.
All this is to state that conceptualism marks the moment when information became truly
global.12 At the time when conceptualism was taking shape internationally, there was no
Internet. Instead, Bann, as well as Ramirez explain that conceptualism was defined in
decentralized fashion by the idea of working in terms of physical travel: “much art of this
period came out of a suitcase, or could be made on the spot by people in transit.”13 Critic
and curator Lucy Lippard also refers to the suitcase as a form of working with conceptual
art, while citing an exhibition in which she was involved in Argentina in 1968:
I returned belatedly radicalized by contact with artists there, especially the
Rosario Group, whose mixture of conceptual and political ideas was a revelation.
Power, 23.
Stephen Bann, “Introduction,” Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin 1950s-1980s, ed. Luis Camintzer,
et. al. (New York: Queens Museum, 1999), 3.
Maria Carmen Ramirez, “Tactics for Thriving on Adversity: Conceptualism in Latin America, 19601980,” ibid, 54.
Bann, 4.
In Latin America I was trying to organize a ‘suitcase exhibition’ of dematerialized
art that would be taken from country to country by ‘idea artists’ using free airline
In this sense, as has been credited by various new media art historians, conceptual art
explored the principles of sharing as well as mobility which were primary elements that
made the Internet popular.15
How new media and digital art may be contextualized in terms of Latin America after the
acknowledgment of conceptualism as an international, yet fragmentized set of strategies
and attitudes and art production is rather different from how the object of the Latin
American work of art may be viewed from the yet again reconfigured center/periphery
debate, as revisited in 2010 by Lima based artist and critic Miguel A. López. He argues
that while the Global Conceptualism exhibition may have questioned and repositioned
the international production of art that can be considered within the umbrella of
conceptualism, it also opened up a new way to reinforce long standing lineages and
typologies in Latin America. More specifically, López admits that the process of
recognition of the importance of Latin American conceptualism as part of a global art
practice is successful, but that now that the artists who are considered part of this process
have become the usual points of reference. They are now part of the contemporary
canon; such paradigm, he states, must be questioned yet again.
In contrast to this view of revisiting and questioning art production in Latin America, yet,
again, from a pre-established paradigm that has been well assimilated by the art
institution, I believe that there is an alternative critical approach to the production of
Latin America after its recontextualization within a global, and strategically constructed,
conceptual discourse—as promoted by Bann and Ramirez, and more recently, in his own
way, Lopez.
The selections of A Modular Framework offer an alternative approach to art production
in Latin America not as a paradigm to be questioned, yet again, along the familiar
language of modernism and postmodernism, but as an intellectual space in which
contributors can reflect on the potential of a decentralized network infrastructure—that, if
used effectively, can lead to reconfigurations of long standing narratives that have shaped
how Latin America is positioned in global production. For this reason, the examination
of the selected art works in the exhibition will shed light on how new media has shifted
the functionality of art in a world that favors “a modular framework” for cultural
exchange—hence the name of the exhibition.
Selection of Works
As it becomes evident based on what has been briefly surveyed above, the works
presented in the exhibition come after a time when the concepts of hybridty and
center/periphery have been—if not absorbed—certainly negotiated to a comfortable
Lucy Lippard, “Escape Attempts,” Reconsidering the Object of Art (Los Angeles: Museum of
Contemporary Art and MIT Press, 1996), 20.
Green, Paul, Tribe & Jana.
degree by the global market. The artists in A Modular Framework can be considered
productive nodes in a decentralized system, because their works do not share specific
narratives and are not expected to be recognized with a unifying meta-narrative. Instead
they were chosen with the purpose to present a fragment of the diverse approaches to art
production in new media and digital art, after a time in which Latin American art has
been evaluated extensively by previous generations with their primary goal that it be
recognized by the artworld proper. Nevertheless, the artists do share certain elements
which become evident upon a comparative analysis, to which we now turn.
Figure 1: Belen Gache, Argentina, Wordtoys (2006), Website
Wordtoys (2006) is a website by Belen Gache (Argentina) in which the user can explore
the potential of literary expression with the use of Internet technology. Wordtoys
comments on the works of Carol, Cervantes, and Borges among many others. It also
focuses on long-time literary subjects of interests in both the east and the west, such as
butterflies and birds in order to comment on cultural idiosyncrasies. Gache’s work
extends the experimentation of early hypertext literature to combine it with sound and
animated images in pieces such as, “Mujeres vampiro invaden la Colonia del
Sacramento,” three stories that can be read simultaneously. The hypertext is also
accompanied by a metronomic sound for each story, which overlap as the user clicks.
The stories can be read as metaphors for independence with a strong influence of
existentialist philosophy. Gache also moves past early hypertext conventions to
experiment with sound in “Phone Readings.” In this case, the literary aspect is enacted
by a female voice that answers any of several phones clicked by the user. The stories are
self-referential, all in someway pointing to literature’s intertextuality. All stories are
about searching and finding something. One story is about an umbrella that is lost, then
found, and then lost again; all when one needs it the most—during the rain. Another is
about a glove that is also found and lost, and another about people who search for things
that they never find, but do find things they never looked for; at times, they find
Wordtoys, consequently, contains many of the strategies currently at play in electronic
literature, especially if we are to take the concept that literature in the time of the digital
only needs to demonstrate a strong literary aspect.16 Gache contributes to this openended definition and moves past it to also demonstrate how the literary has always shared
a strong relationship with the visual arts. One of the strengths of the work is that it gives
proper recognition to the literary tradition in global terms—with the careful citation of
literature from different parts of the world—while also exploring what literature could
become once it is ubiquitous in networked culture.
Figure 2: Gustavo Romano, Argentina, IP Poetry (2006), Audio Visual Installation
Katherine Hayles, “Electronic Literature: What is it?”,,
accessed on November 23, 2010.
IP Poetry (2006) by Gustavo Romano (Argentina) is an audiovisual installation that also
functions online. It explores the possibilities of literature with the use of computer
automation. Romano wrote a computer program that creates poems created according to
online searches. Pre-defined poetic phrases are finished according to Google queries.
The gallery visitor, upon entering the dark space, views a large projection of four closeups of the lower half of a person’s face, which simulate the pronunciation of the prewritten phrases and the search results.
Romano, like Gache exposes the structure behind the creative process, which is that of
filtering, and selecting from a large vocabulary, which in his case is the ever increasing
archives of the Internet. When one considers the creative process of writing with this
context in mind, it becomes evident that Romano’s piece comments on how actual
sentences are created. A person begins with the subject and searches for a predicate that
will satisfy the meaning she is trying to convey. The writing of this text, which you are
currently reading, was possible by a similar process. The result is a long process of
constant revision—of going back to a databank of vocabulary and sentence structure
(defined by denotation and connotation), much how the searches keep revisiting the same
initial phrases to reconfigure them with a different ending. Admittedly, this may be
viewed by a humanist as a crude comparison between a human and a machine, but this is
exactly the strength of IP Poetry—the fact that it comments on poetry—one of the most
revered humanist forms of expression. Romano’s piece shows how it is an act of
selectivity that takes place in the search for the perfect rhyme.
IP Poetry has been presented as an installation consisting of computers with no covers,
suggesting a sense of vulnerability when one relates to them as bodies. A certain
coldness sips in as one is confronted with four identical lower halves of a person’s face.
In this sense, the virtual robot (as Romano refers to his computer application) becomes
embodied in the very machine that makes it run. No matter the set up of IP Poetry, the
voices make the words sound detached—void of feeling, while offering philosophical
statements about the human condition.
Figure 3: Brian Mackern, Uruguay, El Temporal de Santa Rosa (2002), The Storm of
Santa Rosa, (Audio-visual installation)
The Storm of Santa Rosa (2002) by Brian Mackern (Uruguay) is an Audio-visual
installation that started as a sound recording that can also be performed. It consists of
sound recorded of the Storm of Santa Rosa, which took place between the 20th of August
and the 8th of September of 2002, in Montevideo, Uruguay. The storm is linked to the
story of a nun who prayed one night when an invasion was to take place in Lima, Perú
around August of 1612. A major storm ensued and the enemy was unable to attack,
which was credited to her devotional prayers. With time people noticed that a storm
would develop around August of each year. This eventually led to naming the yearly
event “Storm of Santa Rosa.”
Marckern’s interest in recording the storm is not only aesthetic but also political. In this
work he links the history of Uruguay with its current position in the world. A hint of this
is in the way the work is installed. When entering the dark room, one encounters a
projection of the map of the Americas upside down. This is a clear reference to the work
of Joaquín Torrez García, who originally turned the map of the Americas upside down to
question the conventional worldview of the south, as being at the bottom, and the north at
the top.17 His inversion is considered a declaration of autonomy from Western culture—a
way of demonstrating how the southern cone has its own voice. From the area
It is needless to say that the concept of bottom and top imply hierarchical positions of power. The most
common statement that demonstrates this connotation is “It went south,” implying it did not go as planned
or as well as possible.
recognized as Montevideo, an animated graphic that simulates a transmission that
corresponds with the sound, which is activated with a camera sensor that notes the
movement taking place in the room. The more movement, the louder the sound, and the
more aggressive the graphic shifts on the screen.
Gabriel Galli Danese in an essay written for Mackern’s installation, contextualizes the
need for people to come to terms with nature, in this case by naming the storm that takes
place regularly in South America as part of a religious narrative. This gesture of naming
is an assimilative strategy that enables South American culture to cope with the fact that
nature is uncontrollable.18 Mackern also links the drive for control to the nationalistic
politics of the south, specifically Uruguay’s, when he contextualizes the Storm of Santa
Rosa as a natural event that metaphorically becomes a reflective installation of the
economic collapse that took place in the southern cone during July, just around the time
that the storm of Santa Rosa arrived that year.19 This metaphor then combines effectively
aesthetics with politics, enabling the viewer to come to terms with her art experience as
part of a negotiation of cultural and natural tensions, which people desire to control.
Mackern shares an interest in disruption with Romano. Both artists’ installation depend
on the potential for noise to filter into their work. For Romano this takes place when the
viewer is waiting for the search result, not knowing if the poetic phrases will make sense
at all, but simply be noise. For Mackern this takes place when the viewer realizes that
she can alter the work with violent movements.
Gabriel Galli Danese, “Brian Mackern y el arte atmosférico,”, accessed on February 15, 2011.
Panic over, depression not: A long struggle with recession, inflation and debt lies ahead, The Economist,
Sep 5th 2002,, accessed January 13, 2011. Also see: “Banking
crisis grips Uruguay,” BBC News, July 31, 2002,,
accessed January 13, 2002.
Figure 4: Arcangel Constantini, Mexico, Atari Noise: Como en su casa (2000 al presente)
Atari Noise: At home, (Installation)
Atari Noise: at Home (2000 to the present) is an installation by Arcangel Constantini
(Mexico). This work has taken different forms. At times it has been presented with
multiple screens, and at others in a single monitor on a pedestal. For the exhibition at the
Cultural Center of Spain in El Salvador Constantini chose to present a typical middle
class living room from the 1980's, in which teenagers would play Atari video games. At
the center of the living room is a hacked Atari console, with a series of buttons as well as
an altered cartridge of Pac Man. The installation is designed to be interactive. People
can sit down and play the console, which offers abstract patterns that can be played
similarly to video games. For the opening events of the exhibition Constantini performed
with the console. He sat down and played Pac Man and then switched to play abstract
audio-visual patterns.
Figure 5: Arcangel Constantini, Mexico, Atari Noise: Como en su casa (2000 al presente)
Atari Noise: At home, (Installation, detail)
Constani’s work precedes the now popular interest in video game art as part of the long
tradition of hacking hardware known as circuit bending. Atari Noise links the tradition of
abstract art to gaming in a way that questions how one should engage with the work of
art. The gallery visitor is expected to play with the work of art in a way that simulates
destruction—since the hacked cartridge produces pure noise. In this way, Atari Noise is a
direct commentary on how the work of art has been contextualized as a precious object.
More importantly, it comments on the now expected role of the viewer to complete the
work, quite common not only in art practice, but culture at large. Like Mackern’s work,
Constantini’s also has an online component, and it also presents noise as a strategy of
disruption, with the purpose to provide a moment of contemplation that cannot be
reflected upon, only acted. For Mackern, this consists of a person or group of people
moving constantly inside the projection space, and for Constantini it is the playing of
abstract patterns as aggressively as possible on the console as one would play a video
Figure 6: Antonio Mendoza, Cuba/USA, (2010), Two Channel
Installation (2010) by Antonio Mendoza (Cuba/USA) is an online work that is also
presented as a two-channel installation. It juxtaposes two quicktime movie clips at
random, which are remixes of pop-cultural imagery. The viewer is likely to recognize
some if not most of the clips, as they are taken from Hollywood films and popular TV
commercials as well as other images that have proven to be pervasive in media.
Mendoza appropriates imagery that can only function in an over-saturated culture;
consequently, he exposes the violence in media. Mendoza’s work is an example of how
music and image can be sampled, appropriated, and remixed in a way similar to how
Romano and Gache exercise selectivity in their works: by showing that the act of
expression is also an act of selection from a large bank of material. For Gache’s
“Escribite tu propio Quixote” (also part of Wordtoys) we can note Borges’s relationship
to the library as a source of inspiration as an archive of material to draw from, similarly
to Romano’s Google searches in IP Poetry. Likewise, the video sources collected and
remixed by Mendoza expose the creative act’s relation to a library, which in his case is a
database from which to remix image and sound.
Similarly to IP Poetry, uses automation to also question how we come to
terms with what may be considered original, and begins to show that things become
interesting when selectivity is perfomed by an artist or individual with a rigorous
understanding of how we negotiate representation in a time when repetition is a relentless
strategy of communication. Repetition has become mass media’s guarantee that people
will not forget a message. takes repetition for what it is: a violent act on
the senses.
Figure 7: Fernando Orellana, El Salvador/USA, Plain Text (2008), Installation with
plasma screens
Plaint Text (2008) by Fernando Orellana, (El Salvador/USA) is a software installation of
two screens, each presenting a sentence with the last word spelled automatically from the
last letter to the first. The piece is inspired by the Infinite Monkey theorem, which
proposes that if one has an infinite number of monkeys and typewriters, one can assign
the monkeys to write any text; the monkeys would also write other texts in this process.
Orellana took this theorem and created a program that runs through the alphabet for each
letter. The first sentence states: “You want _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _” and the second “Will you _ _
_ _ _ _ _ _?” Orellana wrote the first sentence in the imperative, in order to reference
the terms in which consumption engages individuals: by imposing what they are to
consume. The second sentence is philosophical. Orellana’s interest in this case is that
people reflect on open-ended questions of life.
Figure 8: Fernando Orellana, El Salvador/USA, Plain Text (2008), Installation with
plasma screens
The strength of Orellana’s installation is that it demands an action from the viewer. The
first sentence imposes a demand to consume, while the second poses speculation. The
latter lends itself to greater abstraction because the reader must fill in the verb. The two
sentences form a binary that is reflective of contemporary culture, which has reached an
unprecedented threshold in media saturation, driven by corporations that strive to attain
revenue with computing, the very same technology that Orellana uses to make his
Orellana, similarly to Gache and Romano, references the selective process that takes
place in making meaning. Like Gache’s references to literature as a database of
inspiration, and Romano’s Google searches, Orellana asks the viewer to finish each
sentence based on their own database of knowledge. As the letters change on each space,
the viewer can speculate on the possible words that can be created. In this case, it is the
viewer that must rely on her knowledge to complete the possible meaning of the work,
while in Romano’s and Gache’s the viewer merely has to acknowledge this process,
which is begun and completed by the automated work.
Figure 9: Paul Ramirez-Jonas, Honduras/USA, Another Day (2003), Three monitors
Another Day (2003) by Paul Ramirez-Jonas (Honduras/USA) is three channel video
installation consisting of three monitors that show the sunrise taking place in 90 cities
around the world. It was designed to make reference to airports and train stations.
Another Day was installed in the Cultural Center of Spain’s lobby. People who sat in the
lobby could look up to the monitors placed at about eight feet above the floor. The cities
are listed according to the time left for the sun to rise. A countdown is constantly running
to the right of each city’s name.
In Another Day it is the sun that travels not the individual. Consequently, the work
comments on the ongoing development of a globalized interconnected world that often
may give a sense of depersonalization. There is also a measured sense of exoticism as
people are likely to view the installation during the daytime, and the cities listed will
always be on the other side of the world. Travel, then, is here presented as a potentially
exotic activity enacted by naming the city to which one would like to travel. One can
also read this as a deliberate emphasis on networked culture (especially if we make a
historical note of travel as discussed by Lippard), by way of highlighting selected nodes
(cities). Ramirez-Jonas’s piece, then, is relevant because it makes a connection to our
growing need to be constantly connected through some type of network.
Like Orellana’s work, which demands of the viewer to relate to a command and a
question, Ramirez-Jonas’s work asks that the viewer speculate about her position in the
world. In Another Day the viewer is able to place herself in global terms as she evaluates
her familiarity with names of cities that may not be familiar at all.
Figure 10: Giselle Beiguelman, Brazil, Sometimes (2007), Interactive projection/
Generative Video
Sometimes (2007, part of ZKM collection) by Giselle Beiguelman (Brazil) is an
installation that comments on the connection between mobile technology and the urban
landscape. Sometimes encourages the gallery visitor to manipulate imagery taken
originally with a cell phone by the artist.
When entering the installation, the visitor encounters three screen projections each with
its own mouse. The viewer is supposed to move the mouse across the screen in order to
create a composition of looped images, sequentially flipping within a window. The result
is a beautiful composition that becomes a metaphor for travel.
As the user moves the mouse around the screen, a trace builds up much like a glaze in
painting. The more the user moves the mouse, the more saturated the trace marks
become. In this sense the work references the principles of under-painting. In
Sometimes, however, there is no difference between an underpainting and the final
product. The installation is always in a process of creation, and it will never be finished.
Furthermore, at the beginning of each day, the respective screens are blank, and the
visitors will begin a new work, which will be lost at the end of the day. Sometimes, then,
while referencing painting, does so byway of reminding the viewer of the ephemerality of
digital media.
In Sometimes we find the concept of travel once again. Similar to Ramirez-Jonas,
Beiguelman comments on traveling; only in her case, there is no actual destination. The
images are of buildings that the traveler passes as the car moves through the streets of a
large city. This may very well be the new version of the localized flaneur who no longer
needs to go out into the world, but can experience it through some technological
mediation: images taken safely from a moving car become the means of simulated travel
for the gallery visitor who comfortably moves them around the screen projection to create
a beautiful abstract composition that will be lost once the computer is put to rest at the
end of the day.
Figure 11: Isabel Restrepo, Colombia, Atandocabos (2010) Single channel interactive
video installation
Atandocabos (2010) by Isabel Restrepo (Colombia) is a video projection that integrates
personal histories of women to objects of sentimental value. Restrepo’s installation
invites the visitor to move around to discover a hidden image behind the video footage
that shows women wrapping an indescribable object, while they tell their story about the
Atandocabos, as poetic as it may appear, is a critical commentary on the contemporary
reality of Colombia. The women who tell their stories are part of a matriarchal society
that continually experiences violence. As the viewer interacts with the projection, she
learns about the history of Colombia through the personal anecdotes told by the women.
The images that appear behind the video were chosen by Restrepo to extend the women’s
respective personal stories to other issues that may not be obvious. In this way, the
installation becomes a space in which to reflect on the construction of history through
fragments of personal anecdotes that may help one better understand the complexity of
Like Beiguelman Restrepo’s work takes images and manipulates them to create an
aesthetically pleasing composition. Here again, we can note a painterly gesture, in terms
of a glaze. In Atandocabos the user becomes the mouse (when comparing it to
Beiguelman). It is the user that must unveil with her body the image that is behind. But
with time, the video takes over again, and the image fades to the background. The visitor
must then be willing to keep moving so that the image in the back can be uncovered.
This can be read as a metaphor of what is necessary of people to be critical, which is to
be active not just intellectually, but physically. The visitor can only gain a better
understanding of the story if she is willing to become involved with both body and mind.
Figure 12: Mayra Barraza, El Salvador, 100 dias en republica de la muerte (2006), 100
Days in the Republic of Murder, (blog)
1 00 Days in the Republic of Murder (2006) is a blog by Mayra Barraza (El Salvador). It
reported on violent murders that took place in El Salvador for 100 days, between
September and December of 2006. The blog functions as a space to reflect on
Salvadoran violence.
The online project is used to tell stories and create commentary on El Salvador’s harsh
reality of gang violence. Here we could consider the blog as part of a new form of
literary practice that is taking shape online. It can be considered the next stage of writing
along the lines of the hypertext, and literary explorations like Gache’s, previously
Barraza goes against the initial tendency of some early Internet artists which was to
create work that deemphasized the location of its production, and celebrated the potential
of participating in a network with no apparent boundaries. Barraza overturns this option
in online communication in order to create a work that comments on her local situation.
In this way, 100 Days in the Republic of Murder becomes a form of education, while also
exploring the creative potential of online communication in its current stage often
referred to as Web 2.0.
Barraza uses the blog to foment discussion about issues that are real to average people in
El Salvador. This work may be the most accessible to anyone who visits the exhibition,
as local people will be able to understand the subject matter with great intimacy while
also considering the possibilities for communication and dissemination with online
Figure 13: Bang Lab Collective and Electronic Disturbance Theater, USA, Transborder
Immigrant Tool (2010), Performance/installation
Transborder Immigrant Tool (2010) by Bang Lab Collective and Electronic Disturbance
Theater, (USA) is a mobile phone tool designed to provide GPS information on the
location of water, and nearby shelters and immigration centers for people crossing the
U.S./ Mexico border. The phones also recite poetry, to which travelers can listen while
on the road.
For the exhibition, The Transborder Immigrant Tool was presented as an art installation
on five cell phones. The gallery visitor would enter and encounter the phones reciting
poetry as well as displaying GPS information. The collective’s aim with this work is to
open a space for dialogue on the complexity of geographical borders in a time of global
immigration. The piece is designed to create discourse that moves beyond the gallery
into the real world.
Bang Lab Collective and Electronic Disturbance Theater, USA
Transborder Immigrant Tool (2010), Installation detail
This project shares an interest with Barraza’s in that it brings into the gallery space an
issue that is well-understood by the average person, in its case, it is the issue of
immigration, which is also linked to the gang violence taking place in El Salvador. The
issue of immigration is something that needs no specialized language in order to be
understood in El Salvador; thus the installation becomes a bridge between the specialized
and privileged art space, usually attended by the culturally enriched in society, and the
real world, in which at times art appears too intellectual, too specialized—and
inevitably—incidental to real life issues. In this sense, Transborder Immigrant Tool
demonstrates how art can be a political tool that functions on various cultural layers
After the New and the Digital
As it may be evident at this point, I have been referring to the selected works in A
Modular Framework as new media and digital art. The reason is that these terms are the
ones most commonly used when contextualizing the works of artists who emphasize the
role of the computer in the production of their works. In my view, the terms complement
each other in order to emphasize the process of working with computing in similar
fashion to how conceptualism privileged ideas. This is why I choose to mention them
The difference with new media and digital art from conceptualism, however, is that while
concepts need to be carefully considered for eventual production, such process is always
linked materially to the computer. Another aspect to be kept in mind about new media
and digital art is that the artist is always working by default with information; and if an
actual object is produced, this may well be a deliberate strategy by the artist to enter the
more established artworld, in which the art object is likely to be sold.20
The issue with digitally based work is that its uniqueness is taken beyond the initial
principles of originality that the analog photograph introduced in the nineteenth century.
While the photograph could be validated by claiming that a negative would be destroyed
to make each print in a series more valuable, with the digital work of art such argument is
mute. The original shares the same quality with the copy—that is, of course, if the copy
has not been compressed for efficient exchange or manipulation of the material. In
digital work there is no original. This means that the artist and the gallery system must
rely directly on discourse to develop monetary value on a work that cannot be sold based
on its uniqueness. These issues have kept the digitally based work of art, in large part,
outside of the established commercial art market. For all these reasons, new media artists
often work on commission and with careful agreements, much how Sol Le Witt
Blake Stimson argues that Conceptual art, at least in NY, contributed to keeping the gallery system afloat
in its own way. He shows an awareness of this implication beyond the United States, to which I add that the
assimilation of conceptualism’s critical strategy by the commercial sector is still relevant in Latin America
because the international art market is largely influenced by the models that were developed in New York,
Post-World War II. See Blake Stimson, “The Promise of Conceptual Art,” Conceptual Art, A Critical
Anthology (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1999), xlii.
developed his art practice.21 New media artists often charge for the right to show their
work (if they choose to take this route), but others are willing to simply share it.
The way the new media and digital art work functions in Latin America, as a
dematerialized form of production complicates the contextualization of art after
conceptualism was proposed as an alternative cultural interpretation of art practices in
different parts of the world from the seventies to the present. In other words, new media
and digital art throughout Latin America differs from how conceptualism was framed by
Bann And Ramirez, and the other critics I mentioned in previous sections of this text. A
principal reason is that the computer enabled artists in different countries to make art and
share it with anyone who had online access, (or at least make available extensive
information about it).22 This led to production that cannot be easily contextualized within
any specific discourse, including that of Latin America in terms of modernism, because
the works are designed to be shared modularly. A sample of this shift is evident in the
projects part of A Modular Framework. They are interpolative devices that can be seen
from various points of view and contextualized within diverse cultural themes, which can
include technological exploration, identity construction, geographical issues and abstract
experimentation, among many others.
Difference politics recur in the arguments by the theorists I have surveyed above; who
successfully give attention to a historically important body of work that otherwise would
not have been noticed had it not been discussed within the discourse of Latin America.
The result is that the work is committed to be legitimated by a process of subordination,
as the critics, with their best intentions achieve to point out how the work has been
omitted or subjected to interpellation under a hegemonic post-colonial paradigm. This is
is fair and just. But the question is, can the work be highlighted with the same intensity
under other contexts without worrying about losing what has been achieved by Latin
American critics? This question, in my view, remains unanswered.23 The result is the
work’s validation repeatedly relies on an accepted and comfortable argument of
difference. What these writers have done is similar to what Judith Butler argues
Catharine McKinnon did for feminism.
Butler explains that MacKinnon accepts a
heterosexual model to discuss sexuality, which, even though it is not the author’s intent,
ends up functioning within a space that is already defined for the entering subject:
“Whereas MacKinnon offers a powerful critique of sexual harassment, she institutes a
regulation of another kind: to have a gender means to have entered already into a
heterosexual relationship of subordination.”24
I previously contextualized the work of Sol Le Witt with new media. See my blog post, “A Visit to
Magasin 3: Notes on Sweden’s Approach to Art and Exhibitions, by Eduardo Navas,”, accessed on February 18, 2011.
I state this as a practitioner of new media art. I met the artists included in this exhibit as well as many
others because of their devotion to sharing their work via online communities.
I state this based on my discussions of cultural producers throughout Latin America, as well as a
combination of readings I have performed in my investigation. I also say it based on my own experience as
a Latin American.
Judith Butler, “Preface,” Gender Trouble (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), xv.
I will repurpose (remix) selectively part of Butler’s sentence, to expose the hegemonic
ideology that informs not only gender and sexuality (her subject of research), but also, in
our case, the identity of an entire region. This is my remix: whereas the writers discussed
above offer a powerful critique of a hegemonic reading in Latin American art production,
they institute a regulation of another kind: to be considered Latin American means to
have entered already into a political relationship of subordination. Lopez’s need to go
back and revisit issues that are well-understood yet once again is evidence of this
tendency. These critics, then, inevitably, even though it is not their aim, provide a
reductive reading in the name of difference; a paradigm that at this point is too
comfortable and is a thriving space with no real resistance in the international art market
when it is called upon as a legitimation card.
The question that lurks for Latin American art in terms of identity, similarly to the gender
for Butler, is how can one discuss shared issues, or participate in activities that are not
always linked to the initial source that provides legitimation in the cultural spectrum?
This is difficult to understand, let alone answer because, as I demonstrate with my remix
of Butler’s sentence, the ideological template that is imposed by the established order on
any subject is preset before the subject even enters discourse. Butler argues that this
problem becomes evident when we revisit the foundationalist reasoning of identity
politics, which advocates agency in association with a pre-exisiting “I” which again
keeps us within a tautology. In response to this issue, she writes:
This move to qualify and enmire the preexisting subject has appeared
necessary to establish a point of agency that is not fully determined by that
culture and discourse. And yet, this kind of reasoning falsely presumes (a)
agency that is not fully determined by a prediscursive ‘I,’ even if that ‘I’ is
found in the midst of a discursive convergence, and (b) that to be
constituted by discourse is to be determined by discourse, where
determination forecloses the possibility of agency.25
Butler follows this point by explaining that she sees the subject (the doer) being
constructed “in and through the deed.” The problem she sees on the question of whether
one could see a subject in “woman” in terms of gender and sexuality (which I am
transferring to whether one can see a subject in “artist” and “Latin American Art”) is that
the subject, as I previously noted is viewed as predetermined well before it is able to
enter discourse. This format again is self-circular and does not provide the subject with
agency to be constructed as discourse develops, which Butler argues would provide the
subject real agency.
A way to disrupt from within this self-referential system is possible, Butler argues, when
the subject becomes part of a process of repetition aimed to rupture the conventional
understanding of how the subject is constructed. In other words, the focus should be not
on repeating a discursive paradigm to keep fomenting discussion about identity or gender
politics based on a tautological definition of the Other, but on how to repeat with the
Ibid, “Conclusion, From Parody to Politics,” 195.
strategic aim to disrupt such predisposition.26 She proposes “to displace the very gender
norms that enable repetition itself.” While Butler is arguing for gender specifically, I
have deliberately extended her critical model (in the spirit of disruption as she, herself,
promotes) to art practice because the ideology imposed on the need to define gender is
the same ideology that defines art production in terms of difference.
In my view, disruption of the subject’s subordination can be attained when cultural
variables are negotiated with the appropriation of technological developments. And this
is what drove my selection of the artists included in A Modular Framework, as I believe
that their works enable the viewer to evaluate the construction of the subject by
demonstrating how discourse takes effect when the viewer participates in the work of
art’s definition through their actual experience. Each work challenges specific paradigms
of convention linked to the subjects of interest of the respective artists. I consider the
works in the exhibition exemplary of the effective use of repetition in disruptive fashion
with the aim to break out of the tautological arguments. It is now worth briefly revisiting
the artworks to evaluate how they contribute to the disruption of the subject’s
The Subject of Interpellation and Modularity
The artists in the exhibition have repurposed pre-existing material with strategic use of
modular technology for critical commentary on subjects, that certainly can appear
idyosincratic, but still form part of a paradigm within the realm of global art production.
Their work can be read as strategic disruptions of repetitions, following Butler’s
To this effect, Romano presents the lower half of his own face as a depersonalized
device (a fragment, a module) that recites concrete poetry to anyone around the world
with an Internet connection. He demands that the viewer defines the work as it develops
in time not before. Mackern takes an annual storm specific to the southern cone and
repurposes it as an audio-visual installation that demands exertion from the viewer in
order to activate image and sound. The viewer becomes a proactive user who must move
to activate the work, and thus becomes part of the subject. Antonio Mendoza pushes the
possibilities of modularity by directly showing how images can be taken out of context to
create a violent reality made possible through the saturation of images distributed by
mass media worldwide. The user is unable to form a concrete narrative, and must
question what the subject matter maybe—waiting for a sense of cohesion is futile and the
definition of the subject is never complete. Beiguelman recontextualizes images taken
with a cell phone as an art installation thereby recreating a modular tour of a city that
could be anywhere in the world. It is the viewer who must create the composition,
thereby again becoming inserted into the actual project as a joint subject. And Restrepo
repurposes video of personal anecdotes in relation to appropriated imagery to
demonstrate how women define themselves as subjects of a violent history. In turn the
viewer joins in the process of definition by moving across the screen.
Ibid, 202-03.
Some of the artists, however, create spaces that resemble real situations as a way to invite
the viewer to become part of the piece’s definition. Constantini’s Atari Noise simulates
the living room of a middle class home. Here a fictional middle-class living room that
could be found any where in the world, is presented to the viewer, who then is expected
to play a hacked Atari game. Similarly, Ramirez-Jonas’s Another Day creates an
ordinary daily situation in which the viewer must reconsider the context of three monitors
that present themselves as real communicators of travel. The viewer must negotiate her
immediate context (in this case, the lobby of the cultural center) in order to come to terms
with the aesthetic space that Ramirez-Jonas creates for them. The viewer, then, questions
the piece in the space, and she may even wonder if she is in the right place, thus turning
the question on their own position—again here we find a process of definition performed
by the viewer as a pivotal factor for the work’s understanding taking place.
Gache’s Wordtoys, on the other hand, reconextualizes text with a different strategy. Her
project demonstrates, in Barthesian fashion,27 how it is the reader that actually completes
the text—and the reader is integral in providing text with meaning—meaning that the
work would be incomplete without the viewer’s interaction, which makes it unique each
Orellana’s installation presents text on screens, which, as previously noted,
demand that the user defines the work by speculating on the possible words that can be
spelled out. In this case the viewer must project herself into the work by trying to figure
out what it would say, realizing that the work itself defies to make a specific statement.
Barraza’s 100 Days, encourages the user to navigate links in any order. Similarly to
hypertext, it is the user who comes to complete the work. Bang Lab Collective’s and
Electronic Disturbance Theater’s TBT Tool implement a software application that is
designed to make people aware of specific areas of the world: between the border of the
United States and Mexico. The way the tool was presented in the exhibition, with five
telephones remind the viewer that in order for the work to be fully experienced one
would have to travel to the place where it is meant to function. In this way, the collective
points to the power of cultural specificity to expose how immigration and border issues
are of concern to everyone, and must be defined only by understanding how the migrant
is framed much how the subject of gender is subordinated for Butler.
What all of the artists who participate in A Modular Framework point to through their
actions whether creating a work that must be experienced in the space or an online work
is material that lies beyond the immediate physical space; and here lies the critical act by
the artists who ask the viewer to reconsider her preconceived ideas of the work of art. To
evaluate further this disruption of repetition as defined by Butler, we can also evaluate
Louis Althusser’s argument on individuals as subjects of interpellation. For Althusser, a
person becomes a subject when she recognizes a code imposed on her whenever such
code is activated in a social context. Althusser’s example is that of a police officer
calling out in the crowd “Hey, you there!”28 The person addressed will then turn around
Here I refer to Roland Barthes’s theory on Authorship. See, Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,”
Image Music Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 148.
Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an
without hearing their proper name, knowing that it is him or her who is addressed. The
reason for this, Althusser argues is that the subject is aware of the codes imposed by
For Latin America, historically, the dominant ideology, which Butler refers to as
foundationalist reasoning of identity has imposed interpellation in terms of colonialism.
Artists have repeatedly rebelled against this recurrence. We only need to look back at the
assessment of the various Latin American critics I cite above to evaluate this complexity.
They all worry about turning when they are called not by name but by codified abstract
terms. However, in my view, what has not been deliberately discussed, or at least
acknowledged enough, by historians and critics is the power to contest interpellation
through interpolation (through strategic insertion of the subject against the grain that
defines it), which is possible when understanding how with the critical use of modularity,
along the lines of disruption, as seen by Butler, take effect. This is the contention that I
as curator see in all of the works in A Modular Framework. The artists use new media
and digital technology to open the possibilities of how the works question subjectification
because in order for the works to be understood, the user must also become embedded in
it. The viewer cannot attain understanding of the work by simply looking at it, even if
she claims to be critically engaged through visual examination. Physical interaction is
always needed. Actual decision by the viewer is necessary which means that the
outcome of the work will be according to what the viewer choses to do. The viewer then
becomes a user that, when accepting to interact with the work, enters a predefined space;
a space, which puts them in a subordinated position. The artists appropriate the position
of subjectivity so that the viewer becomes aware of how they can be predefined in daily
setting according to a pre-set of concepts. The works are designed as interpolative
devices for diverse issues that go beyond Latin America’s art history—as defined so far.
As shown above, they reposition the subordination of the subject.
In my view, then, what is important is that the selected artists shed light on how the
subject should be defined in the process of experience itself. The works in A Modular
Framework ask that viewers become actors and doers and thereby be willing to also
become reframed as subjects in ways usually reserved for those expected to function as
subordinates. It is the artists who decide how far the interactivity can go, just how the
standing ideology does on subjects in daily life. This reversal for the artists, however, is
done so that we become aware of the process of definition that takes place within
discourse. They achieve this by disrupting cultural conventions. Skeptics of my
propositions may respond that what I am saying about interactivity in all these works is
inherent in all new media and digital art works. And that is exactly my point. This is one
of the pivotal elements of new media and digital art: it demands that the viewer be turned
into a user: an actor who quickly realizes that their choices within the context created by
the artist is limited. Artists may be reprimanded for restricting the viewer with choices
made for them. But artists do it to make users aware of this aspect of discourse, so that
then the point becomes to define by actually doing within discourse. With modularity in
Investigation),” Media and Cultural Studies Keyworks, ed. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M.
Kellner (Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2006 ), 86.
digital culture, the ideological framework can be reconfigured. This is the principle
behind A Modular Framework.