The Search for Entropy: Latin America’s Contribution to Digital Art Practice

Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay (, Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico y Reynaldo Thompson (, Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico

1. Introduction

What, we may ask, is Latin America’s contribution to global art? The answer assumes special importance in the context of the twentieth century when pioneers in the intersection of art and technology were creating new precepts, like in the works of the ‘Fluxus’ group in USA. If abstraction and penetration through formal stasis were acknowledged as the basic style in the art world, then pioneers in Latin America were also in pursuit of a set of most innovative possibilities for their art. We may say that Latin American artists through the sixties and seventies created such kinetic artworks that no group of artists, joined together either by contiguity or ideology, had yet achieved anywhere else in the world. What Latin American artists did were to reinvent kinetic possibilities in their most entropic and unprognosticated formats, denying subjectivity and creating ooportunities of looking at movement in art, not movement as a vector but as a function with an unknown trajectory. Our ongoing archival project on Digital Art in Latin America is especially oriented toward a perception of a digital art prototypes that evolved as a response to infiltrations of technology into Latin America.

2. Thematic Content

We should first emphasize on the rise of pre-electronic art in the middle of the twentieth century, which was initially represented in structural invariances of optical and sometimes pre-digital templates. Julio Le Parc’s metallic illuminations, and Martinoya and Joel’s Abstratoscopio Cromático are exemplars of this new beginning with the experimental media, a new search for entropy in kinetic objects (Fariat, 2015). Leading artists like LeParc were experimenting with projection of light on reflective material. In Brazil, Abraham Palatnik tried trans-positioning colors through mechanical movements. Waldemar Cordeiro was a similar innovator with punch cards. Chileans Carlos Martinoya and Naum Joel created the Abstratoscopio Cromático, an installation which anticipates an entirely new artistic usage of polarized light effects, something the world never witnessed before (Martinoya and Joël, N. 1968). In Mexico, Manuel Felguérez, produced innovative pictorial compositions using paleo-computational programming in an age when the PC was nonexistent, and the Mexican artist Pola Weiss embraced video art. The archival project on digital heritage preservation could be an attempt to save the history of this transformation in the arts and to restore the place of Latin-American artists in the trajectory.

3. History of Digital Art in Latin America

The beginning may be marked from the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially in countries such as Argentina and Brazil where some of the most innovative artists began experimenting with new tools and technologies. Unfortunately, these pioneering Latin-American artists have neither been recognized nor absorbed in mainstream literature or the history of art. The initiative is specially oriented to create an appropriate perception of a digital art prototype that evolved as a response to infiltrations of technology in the Ibero-American world. Our objective is to show that Latin American artists in the new media evolved a peculiar style which manifests itself in the intelligent use of kinetic actions in an art work, to create effects which supersede categorization. They were able to explore movement and its entropic combinations. The moment could no longer be predicted, and the teleological design would lie outside subjective and interventionist approach. Perhaps Julio Le Parc or Abraham Palatnik, the agents of creative deconstruction, saw the possibility of having an art independent of intentions, one couldn’t predict outcomes, an in an interation of lights and angles, or as in an interactive program with random inputs. In Le Parc’s kinetic sculptures and in Palatnik’s optical moments we see this first evidence of play and disruption of linear structure, later so enormously amplified in the kinetic sculptures of Mexican artists like Rafael Lozano Hemmer or Gilberto Esparza (Thompson and Mukhopadhyay, 2015). The parallels to such art installations in the north are in the K 456 of Nam Jun Paik, and the robots of Norman White, but the peculiarity of Latin American artists lie in their minimal use of technology and the potentially rich suggestivity with more formless, thermodynamic movements.

And also from Brazil, Waldemar Cordeiro was a similar innovator in the 60s who used punch card applications to manipulate images within a prehistoric computer: some of his works were recently restored by the ITAU Cultural in Brazil. In Argentina, back in the 50s Julio LeParc started experimenting with projection of light and only years later his works were shown at the Venice Biennial (1966). Also in Argentina Marta Minujin together with Wolf Vostell in Cologne, Germany and Allan Kaprow in New York, were transmitting the actions of events to artists in Cologne and New York by means of a satellite: this artwork was known as Simultaneidad en Simultaneidad (1966). In Chile, Carlos Martinoya and Naum Joel created the Abstractoscopio Cromático (1960), to anticipate an entirely new artistic object with polarized light effects, something the world had never witnessed before. In Mexico, Lorraine Pinto combined light with the music of Stockhausen in La Quinta Dimensión (1968), an artwork shown in the same year as that of the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Years later Manuel Felguérez, produced innovative pictorial compositions using paleo-computational programming in an age when the PC was nonexistent. He named his project La Máquina Estética (1975-1977). Women like Pola Weiss embraced video-art: her video Flor Cósmica was produced in 1977 and few years earlier in 1973 in Brazil, Analivia Cordeiro created the video-dance installation performance M3x3.

4. Geo-cultural Markers

We see that many of the artists that contributed to the development of new pathways in art and technology were ones living in other countries, especially Europe or the United States; some others came to Latin America from other regions of the planet and settled and gradually established themselves there. In Argentina for instance a fertile ground for innovation in the arts was created by the Instituto Di Tella that was bringing some of the most important and revolutionary creative minds of the world to work and exchange ideas with Argentinian artists in Argentina (Plotkin and Neiburg 2014). The Instituto Di Tella as such became during the sixties a deservedly international reference for the arts. Some of those important figures showed their work for first time at the Di Tella museum in Buenos Aires. Julio Le Parc and Martha Minujín were among them.

5. Archival Tools

Any archive could be created with adequate programming for a template that creates a space for storing information on these important art works. The survey for this project would have to be long drawn, with attempts of collecting information on individual works displayed in museums and galleries, and often during important events like biennials and electronic festivals of art. Simultaneously, it is necessary to obtain, wherever available, existing videos or photographs of electronics installations and designs (Gumbrecht and Marrinan, 2003). There is no comprehensive digital catalogue of digital art. Archival efforts would have to be directed with the aim of creating a virtual space in which visitors to the archive have an opportunity to share a video or visual image of the art works that have been created as part of a tradition.

6. Additional Material

6.1 Links

6.2 Websites

Archive of Digital Art

The Google Art Project / Digital meets Culture

An introduction to the booming world of Latin American digital arts

6.3 Articles

Davis, D. (1995). The work of art in the age of digital reproduction (An evolving thesis: 1991 -1995). Leonardo, 381-386.

Bertacchini, E., & Morando, F. (2013). The future of museums in the digital age: New models for access to and use of digital collections. International Journal of Arts Management, 15(2), 60.

Turnbull, D., & Connell, M. (2014). Curating digital public art. In Interactive Experience in the Digital Age (pp. 221-241). Springer, Cham.

6.4 Books

Hilbert, M. R. (2001). Latin America on its path into the digital age: where are we?. United Nations Publications.

Appendix A

  1. Fariat, A. (2015). Julio Le Parc. Critique d’art. Actualité internationale de la littérature critique sur l’art contemporain.
  2. Gumbrecht, H., & Marrinan, M. (2003). Mapping Benjamin: The work of art in the digital age.
  3. Martinoya, C., & Joël, N. (1968). The'Chromatic Abstractoscope': An Application of Polarized Light. Leonardo, 1(2), 171-173.
  4. Paul, C. (2008). New media in the white cube and beyond: Curatorial models for digital art. Leonardo Reviews Quarterly, 1(2010), 33.
  5. Plotkin, M., & Neiburg, F. (2014). Elites intelectuales y ciencias sociales en la Argentina de los años 60. El Instituto Torcuato Di Tella y la Nueva Economía. Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y el Caribe, 14(1).
  6. Thompson, R., Mukhopadhyay, T. P., & Dufour, F. (2016). The Latin American digital heritage: methods of digital art archive construction and the retrieval of immateriality. Archiving and Questioning Immateriality, 204.