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digital event'11   subversive technologies
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Subversive Technologies
by Arlan Londoño

In 2009 we started an investigation about art and communication technologies with the project Videophagy / Videofagia, that consisted of a series of exhibitions and screenings that were the public manifestation of our research. With Videophagy, the investigation was about the relationship between artists and video as mediated by the web, and how this has changed the way video is approached in this environment. We learned that communication technologies constitute one of he most troublesome categories in critical and theoretical discourse about media and new media because of the unequal distribution of technology that depends on political power games. As a collective of artists from a Latin American cultural background, we are fully aware of the relationship that exists between power and technology.

This year’s digital event, Subversive Technologies, investigates how artists respond to communication technologies as one of the major sources of power in contemporary societies. During the last few years, we have seen an increase in web and electronic artists and activists that use digital tools to create an impact on their societies or to register social unrest. The artists participating in Subversive Technologies use communication, information and networking technologies as a tool to reject control society, in an attempt to liberate bodies across spaces/territories, and across social and political categories.

In a previous investigation on web art we proposed three main characteristics that are present in the work of contemporary artists, which are: Firstly, artistic approaches to programming or developing free software; Secondly, emergent societies on the net for sharing knowledge; and thirdly, imbricate tendencies that involve fighting for social and political rights. Today, these tactics can be shared by new media artists, hackers and activists, and they could even be the same person. These tactics are used to rethink the relationship between technology, aesthetics and politics.

One of the most interesting technological gadgets that are part of locative media art used by artists and activists is the cell-phone. The Transborder Immigrant Tool project, developed by Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab [bang.calit2.net/xborder] consists of a GPS device based cell-phone with a simple compass-like navigation system that would help USA - Mexico migrants safely cross the border. T.I.T. is a device that helps migrants find paths, shelters and water supplies, being a tool that brings to new media the issue of humanitarian attitude and social and political rights.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is a complex project developed in stages, that applies all the three tactics that we proposed before: Programming a software and GPS mapping the Mexico/US border while creating an interface in English and Spanish, along with instructions for use; sharing knowledge by distributing the tool to migrant communities; and finally, working with groups that offer help to migrants, asserting their human rights. TIT project is a powerful tool that goes beyond the gallery space and brings a new panorama to locative media art by working directly with the landscape, while blurring the border between art and activism. TIT is a humanitarian tool that brings disturbance into the games of power that are in place on the USA-Mexico border.

Addressing the issues of globalization and bio power, contemporary artists have created mixed projects using performance and electronics. The project virus.circus.laboratory by Micha Cardenas and Elle Mehrmand is an episodic series of performances using wearable electronics, soft sensors and live audio to bridge virtual –Second life- and physical spaces -Gallery- to reflect on virus hysteria, politics, and gender. The virus.circus.laboratory project challenges the laws by asking what is permitted in virtual and physical worlds, and comments on the hysteria and politics behind virus outbreaks. The project criticizes the so-called “traditionally militarized space of technology” by using the body in this performance both in virtual and physical spaces in order to revisit conceptions of gender, politics, eroticism and the virtual.

Using everyday technologies, the so-called social media have been transmitting the great majority of protests and social movements that we have seen during the last years. We invited local artist No media collective to present Dystorpia, a new media art project. This is a complex project that deals with different media, like radio and TV, and different disciplines like performance and sound art. No media collective will create an intervention in the gallery, producing live streaming sessions and online presentations of their projects and the main events in the gallery. As a consequence of this intervention, they will run the whole exhibition by presenting all artists, curators, scholars, activist and the programs that are planned in the gallery. Dystorpia project will subvert the relationship between artist and curator, because they will take the command of the exhibition. Also, No media collective will connect artists and curators with the public in general in different ways through their interventions by using radio and soundscapes in the context of conceptual art.

Activism Beyond The Interface is an itinerant production lab by Alessandra Renzi and Roberta Buiani. In their own words: ‘The lab invites activists and artists to reflect upon the conflictual coexistence of diverse tactics, interventions, and performative actions gathered under the same umbrella term “activism”’.  This is a project by activists for activist in a gallery context mediated by media connections.

The Reverse Apotheosis: End of The World,a performance and new media project by Ulysses Castellanos, Sofia Escobar and Juan David Casas, curated by Gabriel Roldos, is a multidisciplinary project that will communicate different spaces and art practices to recreate a traditional body-performance presentation. This project deals with artists suicidal notes and online connection.

Political Subversion is a curatorial project by Federica Matelli that includes the video projects of Angie Bonino -a Peruvian videoart and new media pioneer that centers her work on the critical analyses of the implications of sience and technology in a globalized world- and Miguel García, who works with different media thinking about cotidianity, graffiti, performance and its documentation. In this project, artists developed their projects of resistance at the level of the micro politics. As Federica states: ‘The contemporary art history is made by formal revolutions and the history is made by everyday war.’

Current technologies are an expression of a larger historical process, and these systems, performed everyday, have real economical and political power, and ultimately a direct impact on the body. The artists in this exhibition take advantage of ubiquitous technologies and configure them to be used in different ways than usual, to be at the service of other subversive issues and disturbances.


Digital Event’11 is possible thanks to the support from: Canada Council For The Arts, The Toronto Free Gallery, Tinto Coffee House, Ryerson University, and OCAD University. We would also like to acknowledge the support from the artists Ricardo Rozental, Edgardo Moreno and Rodrigo Hernandez, Sue Johnson, Blanca López and all the volunteers that have made this possible

                                        tinto coffee house