All posts by Nelesi

Professor, researcher, and creative producer. I am currently conducting my Masters degree in Media Studies at The New School, NYC. I have previous professional experience in the audiovisual field, working with Sony Entertainment Television Latin America and HBO Latin America. My research interests include new identities, civic activism, and aesthetics of contemporary discourses.

Quantum Memory Guatemala

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Hi everyone,

You will find bellow the presentation of my final project. Soon, I will update this post with an analytical essay that supports my proposal.

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Quantum Memory: Putting everything on paper

After doing some further reading, I finally felt prepared enough to move forward with my project.

I put my ideas on paper, in order to have a clearer view regarding which the next steps should be.

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Now I know I have three tasks in which I have to work on simultaneously:

1) Getting in touch with the artists with whom I would like to collaborate in order to share our thoughts and to comment on each other’s proposal. Also share the readings that could be relevant to both projects.

2)  Determine what the content of the piece is going to be, by defining who’s memories are going to function as the base for the project. What is the criteria? What is the question that will trigger these memories? In which format are they (the memories) going to be collected?

3) To work on the coding and interface design phases of the project. Get together with web designers and programmers in order to understand my options and make an informed decision in this regard.

I would very much appreciate if you could share with me your suggestions and feedback during our next class!

Quantum Memory: Re-signifying collective memory through physics

Guatemala Timeline

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag dismantles the notion of collective memory by arguing that the concept is just an artifice of the power structures that propose an idea of a shared memory when in fact is just an act of collective instruction. This is certain: History is a product of fiction; a tale winner’s decide to tell and to establish as truth for future generations.

But what if a new definition of collective memory could be proposed?

Quantum memory

Some recent research studies in quantum physics hold that time is an illusion reinforced by the linguistic base of human thinking, that time flow is just a way of perceiving our existence in the world. Along with this idea of simultaneity of all events, they propose the notion of “non-locality”, which refers to the existence elements start to share after interaction despite their separation in time (quantum entanglement). Those ideas have triggered very interesting hypotheses in fields alien to physics; one of them, framed in the field of quantum cognition, addresses the nature of memory: It proposes memories as a human strategy to get free from the strings of time, and it speaks about a sort of shared “cloud” from we can pull elements to remember:

“Rather than viewing memory as the accessing of information stored in neural-chemical traces, the quantum mind uses the technology of the brain to direct us to information patterns stored in entangled electrons produced by past interactions. Neural pathways could be thought of as literal pathways that point us to past information states that remain enduring realities in time-space (…) If it is true that information about our experiences is stored in the structure of time and space — rather than the hardware of our brain — an analogy to cloud computing is natural. Brain synapses are like routing software in a personal computer that accesses information stored “in the cloud”. Weaknesses and errors in our memory are caused by limited capacity or “bugs” in the software of the personal computer of our mind. All the information is safely stored in the super computer of the cosmos if we can properly access it.” (Gillespie, 2014)

With this in mind, Quantum Memory proposes an exploration on the blurred boundaries between individual and collective memory. It invites to rethink the latter no longer as a discourse of power, an imposed one, but as a dynamic structure that is built from interactions and in which time no longer exists.

As the collective memory we currently know, this piece will use language as vehicle to explore events. However, instead of proposing a canonized, untouchable discourse, it will allow interaction and transformation. It will offer a version of Guatemalan collective memory that gathers all versions, that refuses to be linear, and that will help people understand Guatemala’s reality and their own.

Quantum Memory and Guatemala Después

Quantum Memory is a project that stands aside Saturno-Guatemala-USA, a digital project from Julio Serrano and Enrique Pazos that will use Saturn’s calendar system to revise the last 30 years of history in Guatemala and pose some questions on the content of history and time as a fundamental organizational structure in society.

By exploring the relationship between arts and science, both projects support on scientific principles in order to deal with social issues, each one in its own way: While Saturno-Guatemala-USA demonstrates the weight of the notion of time in understanding history, Quantum Memory proposes an alternate version of collective memory that diverges from hegemonic discourses; a possibility of a dynamic, shared memory, accessible to all both in terms of “reading and editing”.

How will Quantum Memory work?

This is still a work in progress. The basic idea is to gather some individual multi-media memories from Guatemala and to have a tag cloud as main interface that allows users to travel between events and that also gives them the opportunity to build upon that new paradigm.

This project hopes to be the genesis of individual reflections not only about Guatemala history, but also about reality as a fragmentary and dynamic notion.

Gillespie, G. (2014). Window to the Past: The Role of Quantum Entanglement in Memory. Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research. Volume 5. Issue 4. United States.

Sontag, Susan (1993). Regarding the Pain of Others. United States. Picador.

http://mayanthreads.wordpress.com/guatemalan-history/

“Dignity has no nationality” and “Can you hear me?” under the same Sun

Under the Same Sun was the name of the most recent Guggenheim exhibition that explored the scope of Contemporary Art in Latin America. “Under the same Sun” also seems a very appropriate phrase to use in the title of an article that analyses the work of two artists from the lower part of the continent and the influence that the local-global binomial have had in their work.

Tania Bruguera is a Cuban contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between Chicago and La Havana.

Jessica Kaire is a Guatemalan contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between New York and Guatemala.

There is no need to point out the obvious similarities, but by looking closely at Bruguera’s and Kaire’s work -specifically at Dignity has no nationality and Can you hear me? respectively- an interesting dialogue between their discourses can be appreciated. Let’s just start by describing both pieces:

Dignity has no nationality is a public project (a collective performance?) that challenges the idea of nationality and borders. Guggenheim’s website describes Bruguera’s proposal:

“The artist and her collaborators will be stationed outside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to gather signatures on postcards addressed to Pope Francis. Referring to Vatican City as a place that was “born as a conceptual nation without borders,” these cards request that the Pope grant citizenship to all immigrants as a concrete gesture of support and protection. Members of the public who are unable to visit the museum may also contribute their signatures online at dignityhasnonationality.org.”

DignityHasNoNationality

On the other hand, Can you hear me? was a series of performances and their respective video-record, in which Jessica Kaire recreates identical settings in both sides of Skype conversations she held with Guatemalan friends and family while being in New York. In her website, the Guatemalan artist explains her project as follows: “This low-tech project is an exploration of the dissolving of boundaries through new technologies. It also presents an opportunity to alter our spacial and temporal awareness.”

CanYouHearMe

Image courtesy of Jessica Kaire’s website

After this brief introduction, we can start digging deeper on these projects similarities and specificities.

First, let’s go over what these artists share: Both were born in countries with a rough political history and a significant diaspora (which somehow they are part from), both are currently based in the U.S., globalization and its influence on identity are part of both personal quest, and both embrace technological and social practices’ languages and aesthetics (petition signing and Skype conversations) to create their pieces.

As there is some common ground between both pieces, there are also differences on the way they approach to the subject matter (understood as the intersection between identity, migration, and globalization). Dignity has no Nationality tries to detach identity from its geographical and national constrains. Can you hear me? explores the role of geographical distance in preserving identity, which in this case is not necessarily a national or geographical one, but one that builds up from personal, intimate relationships.

One could say these are variations on the same theme, but while Tania’s proposes a political approach, Jessica’s offers a more ludic one. The former poses again Debord’s and Benjamin’s questions about the role of art and its possibility to promote change. The latter puts those questions aside (at least in this particular piece) and focuses on the experience, on the now.

Bruguera’s and Kaire’s selected pieces ignite several reflections regarding the nature of art, its purposes, its formats, its environment. One thing is certain; a blog post is not enough to express the understanding one can get from posing both pieces “under the same Sun.

Beat Nation: When contemporary and traditional are no longer a binary opposition


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Images from the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal

It is widely known that over the centuries the image of the indigenous people has been constructed from a Eurocentric point of view. Whether in Latin America, in Europe, or in the U.S., the aborigines are typically associated with ideas of tradition and subjugation, often perceived as naïve or even weak, as an ancient group whose existence in present times seems anachronistic.

Aborigine artistic practices are equally affected by these ideas. The category of indigenous art is a very impermeable one, at least from the hegemonic discourses. For many, the phrase “contemporary indigenous art” is just a contradiction. Surprisingly –for them- aborigine art can be contemporary in more than one way.

First, there is the time frame: Every artistic practice that exists in this time is somehow contemporary. That is kind of obvious, and while there are many indigenous individuals producing any kind of artistic pieces at the moment –and that is something that worth highlighting-, this is not the sense of contemporaneity I want to focus on.

Then, there are two other possible ways of understanding the label “contemporary indigenous art”: One that perceives it as aborigine artists using the contemporary, new forms of art (street art, performance art, video art, conceptual art…); and other that considers how aborigine art has for long evidenced some conditions that now are attributed to contemporary times (fragmentation, multiplicity, its ludic and ephemeral character…). Both of them are very interesting approaches that deserve a closer look, and I want to use the Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture exhibition, -showcased in Canada last year- to illustrate my point from now on.

Beat Nation was born in 2006 as a website based gallery, and in the summer of 2013 opened as an art exhibition “…featuring more than two dozen artists using beats, graffiti, humor and politics to challenge stereotypes, the exhibit coincides with the growth of Idle No More, an indigenous political movement in Canada.” (Sommerstein, ¶2)

At first glance, Beat Nation is indigenous art as it showcases aborigine artists practicing all kinds of contemporary art forms.

Now, I want to bring up a term that Oswald de Andrade coined in 1928, and that is mentioned in the article Against Latin American Art written by Gerardo Mosquera, to define a process of appropriation of a dominant culture, when referring to Latin American contemporary art: anthropophagy.

One might be tempted to identify this exhibition as an act of anthropophagy, as a way for indigenous culture to adapt to new times in order to survive. In fact, Beat Nation showed a phenomenon much more complex than that.

It happens that the principles of hip hop, of performance, of breakdance, and even of graffiti have somehow been long embedded in Canadian indigenous cultures -and in indigenous culture worldwide: The human body as center of some  rituals, the idea of taking over public spaces with painting, the circular perception of time (the beat); these are all aborigine ideas and practices. So, could we say that in Beat Nation indigenous artists where appropriating of a dominant culture? Who is appropriating whom? What is traditional and what is contemporary in this exhibition? What belongs to the dominant culture and what to the dominated?

Néstor García Canclini, an Argentinian communication theorist, coined another term that seems much more suitable for this case: Cultural hybridization. In the article Against Latin American Art, Mosquera quotes Canclini: “[Cultural hybridization is] not the synonymous of fusion without contradiction; it rather help[s] to show peculiar forms of conflict generated in recent intercultural dynamics that have taken place in Latin America [and the world], amid the decadence of national projects of modernization.” (p.15)

Even though this concept does not gives us all the answers to the previous questions, it certainly seems a much more appropriate lens with which to read Beat Nation‘s exhibition, and to comprehend the complexity of he tensions and interplay between contemporary art and indigenous art in Canada, Latin America, and across the globe.

Bonus Content: Here is a video of  the exhibition.

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Mosquera, Gerardo (w.d.). Against Latin American Art. Contemporary Art in Latin America. Artworld, Black Dog Publishing.

Sommerstein, David (2014). Hip hop’s Aboriginal Connection. Recovered in September 17, 2014, through the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259428743/hip-hops-aboriginal-connection

Musée D’Art Contemporain De Montréal. Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture. Recovered in September 17, 2014, through the link:

http://www.macm.org/en/expositions/beat-nation-art-hip-hop-and-aboriginal-culture/

The GIDEST, Krzysztof Wodiczko and his interrogative design

The brand new Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought (GIDEST) is opening its doors at The New School with a series of interesting seminars from its faculty fellows and other relevant guests. While checking its schedule, I noticed that one of the sessions can be of particular interest for the class:

“Krzysztof WodiczkoProfessor in Residence of Art, Design, and the Public Domain at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, is world-renowned for his pioneering, large-scale video projections on landmark architecture and public monuments that explore the relationships between art, democracy, war, trauma, and healing. His practice, Interrogative Design, combines art and technology to highlight marginal social communities and add legitimacy to cultural issues that are often given little design attention. ” (From GIDEST website)

We reviewed part of his work during our first class, I believe. His seminar will be on Friday, October 10, from 11:00am to 1:00pm in the GIDEST Lab at 411, 63 Fifth Avenue. For all GIDEST seminars, the speakers will upload in advance on the website some relevant readings that will serve as a starting point for the discussions.

Hope to see you all there.

Krzysztof-Wodiczko-1

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Tijuana Projection, 2001.
Public projection of live images and sound at the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, as part of
InSite 2000. Image from website re-title.com.

Nelesi Rodriguez

I am a college professor, researcher, and creative producer. I am currently conducting my Masters degree in Media Studies at The New School, NYC. I collaborate with Bicimamis, a Venezuelan activist urban cycling collective that empowers Venezuela women in the usage of the bicycle as means of transportation. I was also part of Gritos Silentes, a movement that used the principles of performance to create alternative ways of protesting against violence in Venezuela. My research interests include new identities and aesthetics contemporary discourses.

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In favor of a shared memory

In the year 2005, Guatemala’s government records of the genocide in the country were accidentally discovered. It took extensive efforts from experts and the financial aid of foreign institutions to turn piles of filthy papers into a proper archive. In 2009, after decades of wandering in the dark, the archive opened its doors, with a policy of complete access to the public (unlike other similar archives in Latin America). Finally, Guatemalans affected –directly or not- by the violence between the decades of 1960 and 1990 would have the possibility of getting an answer to their questions.

Currently, the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) “includes over 10 million scanned images of documents from the National Police Historical Archive. This digital archive mirrors and extends the physical archive that remains preserved in Guatemala as an important historical patrimony of the Guatemalan people.” (¶1)

LLILASConciliation_1

One of the pages of the AHPN, from the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive.

Now, for the purposes of this post, I want to refer to the material of this archive as “images”, and to focus particularly on the photographs that are part of this register, in order to revise their significance and to point out other considerations regarding their power.

Susan Sontag, in her book Regarding the Pain of Others, states that “…photographs help construct –and revise- our sense of a more distant past.” (p. 85). In the case of the AHPN this could not be more true: many of the images helped entire families to properly mourn and to give closure to a phase of horror in their lives. Just by being displayed, this photographic archive acknowledged an era of Guatemalan history that for many years was not addressed by the State.

Furthermore, this archive presents the opportunity to think more deeply about the limits between personal and collective memory. In regards to the latter, Sontag problematizes:

Photographs that everyone recognizes are now a constituent part of what society chooses to think about, or declares that it has chosen to think about. It calls these ideas ‘memories’, and that is, over the long run, a fiction. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory –part of the same family of spurious notions as collective guilt. But there is collective instruction. (p. 85)

But the images that conform the AHPN are not the images that everyone recognizes. These are the individual stories of thousands of victims, of many families. The archive already exists as a whole, but it also constructs itself as Guatemalans find their parents, siblings, and children in those records. This archive is within the limits of personal and collective memory. And that borderline is what most interests me.

There’s also a value in the combination of photographs and documents. Sontag alludes to the risks of reading a photograph as the (whole) Truth. She states that while we need photographs to remember, we need narratives to understand. This archive is a visual narrative of the Guatemalan genocide; therefore it is extremely invaluable for those who seek to comprehend this episode.

Now, it’s known that the metaphor is a very useful resource when talking about narratives. This is when art comes into play. In Luke Pizzato’s article The Language of Public Memory art is presented as an “alternative language that can generate more solidarity between the victimized communities and the general public” (p. 40). By saying that, they refer to the artistic work of Minga, a Colombian artistic institution that works hand in hand with communities affected by the violence. However, Pizzato’s reflection could also be applied to the work of many other artists that approach violence and memory in the Americas and the world.

Lets take for instance Ejercicio Volumen, from the Venezuelan artist Teresa Mulet: this piece is a testimony of the thousands of violent deaths that occur yearly in her country, which is my country as well. It is a book in which each page represents a victim. Its impossibility to stand up because of its weight also represents how the situation has become unbearable, and sometimes this kind of images can be more powerful that the very pictures of the victims.

 Ejercicio Volumen

Ejercicio Volumen, from Teresa Mulet. From Trafico Visual`s website.

This post is the very first exercise on discovering how images (photographs, scans, artistic installations) intertwined, can help to build our memory: a shared memory, which is not to say a collective memory (as a discourse of power, an imposed one), if that is ever possible.

Bonadies, Angela (2014). Teresa a través del espejo. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: http://www.traficovisual.com/2014/04/06/teresa-a-traves-del-espejo-por-angela-bonadies/

Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: https://ahpn.lib.utexas.edu/home

Doyle, Kate (2010-2011). Guatemala`s Police Archives: Breaking the Stony Silence. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.

Pizzato, Luke (2013). The Language of Public Memory: La Asociación Minga and The Authentic Image of the Victim. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.

 Sontag, Susan (1993). Regarding the Pain of Others. United States. Picador.