Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Blog written by Dale Hudson, co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of “Map Open Space” exhibit at FLEFF 2010.
Part One: Conception and Realization
Winner of the Jury Prize in the Map Open Space exhibition at FLEFF 2010, La Buena Vida/The Good Life (http://la-buena-vida.info) is a video project comprised by more than 400 interviews with pedestrians in the streets of twelve Latin American cities conducted between 2005 and 2008.
Along with several commissioned texts that respond to the question ‘What is democracy to you?’ from different social and theoretical perspectives, the video interviews can be accessed through an online archive.
The project is also a multi-channel video installation that premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 2008 and has been also exhibited in Aarhus, Berlin, Bogotá, Buffalo, Buenos Aires, Castelló, Florence, Gijón, Lyon, New York City, and San Francisco.
Sharon and I have received lots of requests for additional information on the project, so we asked Carlos Motta whether we could interview him for the Digital Spaces blog. He agreed, so the text for the interview, which took place on May 6th, 2010, is published in two posts. This one focuses on Motta’s conception of the project; the next will focus on its reception and his other projects.
Dale Hudson: As you might have read on the Digital Spaces blog, our jury loved La Buena Vida/The Good Life! How did you conceive the concept for the project?
Carlos Motta: It is a project that took a long time to complete, so it went through different phases. Initially, I was working on a different project, the S.O.A. Cycle, which investigates the image of the Cold War in Latin American politics from a political and military perspective. Upon finishing that work, I wanted to take all of the information that I had gathered to the streets in order to see how we [Latin Americans] perceived U.S. foreign policy and democracy as an “imported” concept.
DH: I noticed on the web site that New Commissions/Art in General (AIG), the New York-based nonprofit organization, is credited with commissioning The Good Life. What was the exact role on AIG?
CM: Art in General commissioned the website itself, which is the last part of the project. There is also an installation and a publication, parts with which they weren’t involved. But the online archive was produced with their generous support.
DH: How did you go about doing the earlier parts? Were they self-funded or were there other supporting organizations?
CM: In the beginning, I had no money or support, so my strategy was to produce the videos during my trips to other exhibitions and festivals. For example, when I went to Mexico City, I had been invited to teach a course. The school where I was teaching paid for my travel so I did my shooting on the side.
In the beginning, it was kind of self-funded, so I had to be as creative as I could in terms of finding the money. Later on, when I started to look at the material and shape it, I started to apply for grants. By the end, I think I was very fortunate: I think that I got every grant that I applied to, so it became a very well funded project, and I was able to finish it.
DH: In what ways does The Good Life draw upon Fernando Solonas and Octavio Gettino’s concept of Third Cinema and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed?
CM: Solanas and Getino play an important role in the cultural reflection on class struggle and difference in Latin America [during the 1960s]. Their concept of “Third Cinema” proposed a filmmaking practice that would respond to the pressing social and political issues of that time directly and not metaphorically. I looked closely at the ways that they thought about the issues of spectatorship and audience, for example, and how they thought of film as enabling a sense of national belonging and citizenship. There are other filmmakers, such as [Jorge] Sanjinés in Bolivia and Marta Rodriguez and [Jorge] Silva in Colombia that are very influential to me.
Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed served more as a theoretical framework for the making of The Good Life. Freire’s is a hugely influential ‘method’—he really didn’t like that word—it is a way of conceiving a pedagogy that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of students, as opposed to imposing an agenda that lies outside what people really need. I drew upon Freire’s ideas as I thought about the ways that I would ask the questions and the type of work that I would create from all of this material.
DH: The Good Life engages in acts of what is sometimes called radical historiography, a re-conception of history in terms of people rather than in terms of political leaders, in terms of relationality rather than chronology. How did you conceive the criteria (question, city, gender, age group, occupation) by which users of the internet archive can select and sort data?
CM: There are two things about that I found interesting since, as I told you earlier, the work has two parts. The first part was the installation: In conceiving of the way that I would treat the video for the installation, I realized that, in a way, I wanted to treat it somewhat more conventionally. I was thinking in terms of narrative and linearity. I was approaching this material in a way that was more filmic.
When it came to think about how this material should be organized for the online archive, however, I wanted to break away from narrative and linearity and provide a different form of viewing/editing the material, which is when these categories and the tagging came about. Even though it would be me who was defining certain possibilities [for selecting and sorting by tags], it would be a more fragmented experience of viewing the videos for the website’s users. With that in mind, I studied the material and, in a way, it told me what to do. There were very specific themes that kept reoccurring all the time; so those, of course, became important categories, which are the ones listed in the subjects and themes. Other categories were inescapable—city, gender, age, etc.—since they were practical ways for sorting through the material and they also reflected specific tendencies amongst age groups or in certain cities, for example. You could think of this information as statistical.
Check back soon for the second part of this interview with Carlos Motta.
If you haven’t already done so, explore the video interviews and data visualization in The Good Life. If you’ve already done so, explore further—and let us know your thoughts about the content and form of the project of considering the complexities of U.S. interventions into democratization in Latin America.
Any videos in the archive unsettle your expectations?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Blog written by Dale Hudson, co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of “Map Open Space” exhibit at FLEFF 2010.
The forthcoming FLEFF exhibition Map Open Space asks artists, activists, and academics to consider the digital environments on networked communication in relation to radical cartography and data visualization. In short, the exhibit continues the work of the previous exhibitions that Sharon Lin Tay and I have curated for FLEFF since 2007.
Map Open Space does, however, take a more specific focus on work that engages with the unsettled and ongoing debates and conversations about anything that falls under FLEFF’s rubric for the environment — public health, war, labor rights, women’s rights, human rights — according to the technical and imaginative possibilities of web-based projects. We were less interested in work that could be streamed online, for example, than we were interested in work that could only operate, run, or happen online.
We are very fortunate to have South African urban geographer Ismail Farouk and Dutch-born Iranian programmer Babak Fakhamzadeh serve on the Map Open Space jury, along with California-based Christina McPhee. Part of our ubuntu.kuqala exhibit for FLEFF 2008, Farouk and Fakhamzadeh’s soweto uprising.com demonstrates that something as familiar as web-application mashups using GoogleMaps can be used to visualize, archive, and interact with history, becoming an exercise in radical historiography.
Most people are probably so familiar with GoogleMap mashups that they don’t even think about the types of knowledge produced by them. They are often used for entertainment, such as documenting parades for Chinese New Year and snowmen in Europe and North America after the recent blizzards caused by global warming, as well as tracking the global whereabouts of tabloid celebrities. (That’s right, you can use them to avoid being anywhere near the likes of Paris Hilton, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, and Sarah Palin!) More commonly, they appear in the results to Google Web searches, marking the locations of basic consumer services like banks, cafés, and dry cleaners, to specialized services like halal groceries and martial arts dojos.
GoogleMap mashups are ubiquitous and do everything from tracking climate change and traffic jams, visualizing uneven distributions of resources like fresh water and access to education, as well as human rights violations and advocacy campaigns, such as torture awareness campaigns, in acts of “maptivism.” There are lists of the “best” ones of sites like Mashable and even blogs dedicated to tracking them, such as Google Maps Mania
What distinguishes soweto uprising.com is that it opens up unsettled debated in history from the perspective of high-school students who took to the streets of the Johannesburg township of Soweto during the protests against the oppressive Apartheid system in South African on 16 June 1976. The project seeks to become a community-driven digital archive through which members of the “lost generation” of young South Africans who sacrificed their education to stand against Apartheid can reclaim and transmit history.
What makes the project urgently important is that this history is in the process of being memorialized by the post-Apartheid government under the African National Congress (ANC) in heritage sites for international tourism, as well as football fans flocking to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. This official version of history diminishes or marginalizes the role of women and of organizations, such as Black Consciousness Movement and Positive Action Campaign. Soweto uprising.com, then, seeks to open a space for other threads to a moment in history that we think we understand, but we probably have lots more to learn before we even begin to understand.
The project includes routes of the participants along with custom icons that link to additional information about sites, events, and martyrs; contemporary photographs of key sites along the student routes, such as schools and police stations; user-contributed testimony or remembrance; and blog queues into Google keyword searches to track what people around the world are writing about sites in Soweto.
The project was initially conceived four years ago in conjunction with the Hector Pieterson Research Project, Soweto’s first historical museum, named after one of the first victims of police violence against the student protesters. A substantial obstacle for soweto uprising . com, of course, is the realities of the global digital divides. Many of the participants in the Soweto uprising do not have Internet access or Internet literacy, and others are understandably suspicious of documenting their histories.
We feel that soweto uprising . com is an inspiring example of the possibilities for politically engaged GoogleMap mashups that help us to visualize and archive history, as well as to open up thinking about our ongoing interactions with history. If you know of others, please share them with us.