Category Archives: latin america

Gambiologia magazine: “The gambiarra movement”

My recommendation for anyone who’s looking for something smart, exciting and FREE* to read during the coming Winter break: Facta Revista de Gambiologia #4 – Gambiologia magazine – “Gambiarra em movimento” / “The gambiarra movement”.

The 4th issue of Facta, the Gambiologia magazine has been out since October and i’m still waiting for my copy to snail its merry way through the reliably lethargic Italian postal ‘service.’ Fortunately, the editors have generously uploaded the full edition of the magazine online. Along with the previous Gambiologia publications. The texts are available in both Portuguese and English.

Gambiologia, you may remember, is the Brazilian art and science of kludging. Someone with gambiarrá displays a cunning ability to improvise, kludge, hack and make do with whatever is at hand. In the field of art, design, electronics and every other aspect of daily life and spheres of knowledge, gambiologia is the art of repurposing, recycling, reclaiming. Gambiologia, however, is far more than a demonstration of one’s own resourcefulness, it is also a political and ethical gesture. It questions industrial processes and mechanisms, rejects consumerism and postulates the need for greater personal and societal autonomy.


Guto Lacaz, Industrial coincidencias

This edition of the Gambiologia magazine is more introspective than the previous ones. It reflects on the work achieved so far and attempts to positions the practice in contemporary culture at large. The content of the publication is as fun and feisty as ever though. Inside Facta #4, you will find:

A reprint of the Repair Manifesto; a presentation of Garnet Hertz‘s collective zines Disobedient Electronic and Critical Making; a text by Newton C. Braga that charts the move from the hobbyist of the 20th to the maker of the 21st; an interview in which sociologist Laymert Garcia dos Santos talks about shamanism, acceleration and how the word ‘democracy’ as we use is in the West no longer makes sense; a portrait of Bernardo Riedel who builds sophisticated telescopes using bits and pieces from ice cream engines, sewing machine and chicken rotisserie shafts; a run though the basic of DIY tattooing when you have neither ink nor proper tattoo equipment. And much more.

I would, however, like to single out Ernesto Oroza‘s archives:


Household fan made from telephone components and vinyl LP records. Photo: Ernesto Oroza, via


Rikimbili: ‘Rikimbili’ bicycle fueled by a military tank engine, Havana, 2005. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

Over the past few years, Cuban designer Ernesto Oroza has been documenting ingenious objects that resist mainstream protocols. These artifacts of Technological Disobedience have their roots in Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s call to workers to build their own machines. It was in 1961, the famous revolutionary was then Cuba’s Minister of Industry and he hoped to encourage Cuban workers and technicians to face the scarcity of resources by becoming experts in repair, reuse and re-invent.

The ideological push would become a way of life in the country. People would not only learn to repair and build their own machinery, they would also create toys, household items and vehicles using spare parts and trash.

*you can also buy a paper copy by emailing the editors.

Previously: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging, Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics, Magazines to make you forget that we’ve just entered the Dark Age: The Funambulist, Neural and Gambiologos, Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.

Gambiologia magazine: “The gambiarra movement”

My recommendation for anyone who’s looking for something smart, exciting and FREE* to read during the coming Winter break: Facta Revista de Gambiologia #4 – Gambiologia magazine – “Gambiarra em movimento” / “The gambiarra movement”.

The 4th issue of Facta, the Gambiologia magazine has been out since October and i’m still waiting for my copy to snail its merry way through the reliably lethargic Italian postal ‘service.’ Fortunately, the editors have generously uploaded the full edition of the magazine online. Along with the previous Gambiologia publications. The texts are available in both Portuguese and English.

Gambiologia, you may remember, is the Brazilian art and science of kludging. Someone with gambiarrá displays a cunning ability to improvise, kludge, hack and make do with whatever is at hand. In the field of art, design, electronics and every other aspect of daily life and spheres of knowledge, gambiologia is the art of repurposing, recycling, reclaiming. Gambiologia, however, is far more than a demonstration of one’s own resourcefulness, it is also a political and ethical gesture. It questions industrial processes and mechanisms, rejects consumerism and postulates the need for greater personal and societal autonomy.


Guto Lacaz, Industrial coincidencias

This edition of the Gambiologia magazine is more introspective than the previous ones. It reflects on the work achieved so far and attempts to positions the practice in contemporary culture at large. The content of the publication is as fun and feisty as ever though. Inside Facta #4, you will find:

A reprint of the Repair Manifesto; a presentation of Garnet Hertz‘s collective zines Disobedient Electronic and Critical Making; a text by Newton C. Braga that charts the move from the hobbyist of the 20th to the maker of the 21st; an interview in which sociologist Laymert Garcia dos Santos talks about shamanism, acceleration and how the word ‘democracy’ as we use is in the West no longer makes sense; a portrait of Bernardo Riedel who builds sophisticated telescopes using bits and pieces from ice cream engines, sewing machine and chicken rotisserie shafts; a run though the basic of DIY tattooing when you have neither ink nor proper tattoo equipment. And much more.

I would, however, like to single out Ernesto Oroza‘s archives:


Household fan made from telephone components and vinyl LP records. Photo: Ernesto Oroza, via


Rikimbili: ‘Rikimbili’ bicycle fueled by a military tank engine, Havana, 2005. Photo by Ernesto Oroza

Over the past few years, Cuban designer Ernesto Oroza has been documenting ingenious objects that resist mainstream protocols. These artifacts of Technological Disobedience have their roots in Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s call to workers to build their own machines. It was in 1961, the famous revolutionary was then Cuba’s Minister of Industry and he hoped to encourage Cuban workers and technicians to face the scarcity of resources by becoming experts in repair, reuse and re-invent.

The ideological push would become a way of life in the country. People would not only learn to repair and build their own machinery, they would also create toys, household items and vehicles using spare parts and trash.

*you can also buy a paper copy by emailing the editors.

Previously: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging, Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics, Magazines to make you forget that we’ve just entered the Dark Age: The Funambulist, Neural and Gambiologos, Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.

Rendezvous with the CCTV operator


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

Diego Trujillo Pisanty has recently been looking into our relationship with infrastructures, these inconspicuous ‘forces’ that sustain cities. His performance, Finding the Operator, zooms in on the urban surveillance system of Mexico CIty.

The work consisted in a series of attempts to find out who the operator(s) of a specific government-owned CCTV camera are. He first tried to reach out to them by filling in freedom of information requests. Having only received pointless information in return, Trujillo tried a more informal approach. He built an electronic device that broadcasts messages that can only be read by the people behind a CCTV camera, thus establishing an exclusive communication channel with the operator(s) gazing at the video feed. The message invited the operator to call Trujillo and meet him in a bar. No one called him nor turned up at the café appointment.

Trujillo also created a simulation of the camera’s field of view. This simulation was constructed by surveying the camera´s surroundings and from inferences made by analysing CCTV “success stories” published by Mexico City’s government on their YouTube channel.

Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

Trujillo looked at works such as the Surveillance Camera Players, Jill Majid’s Evidence Locker, !Mediengruppe Bitnik’ Surveillance Chess, and many more before developing Finding the Operator. His work similarly attempts to acknowledge the existence of the morally accountable human beings that sit at the other side of this otherwise faceless infrastructure of control and surveillance. However, there is something poignant about his work. Maybe because you can’t help feeling as vulnerable as he was when he stood on that street corner sending messages that no one ever answered. And perhaps no one even saw them.

There is always a power asymmetry between a camera’s operator and the subject it photographs. In the case of surveillance cameras this asymmetry is emphasised by the fact that the subject observed has no information on the people operating the camera or whether they even exist.

I asked Diego Trujillo to tell us more about his work:

Hi Diego! You seem to have stood a long time on that street corner. I found it funny that no passersby seems to question what you were doing there holding a white box. It reminded me a bit of Francis Alys pushing a bloc of ice in the streets of Mexico City while everyone around just ignore him. Did no one really approach you? You must have looked odd?

Really, no one approached me, the guys who were filming got some attention at first whilst they were doing exposure tests, but once the action started no one cared about us. I guess we are in a city where people tend to mind their own business and a little strangeness is not unusual either. There is a sense of loneliness built into the project that partially comes from this though, it seems that my concerns about surveillance aren’t shared by the other people who live and work in the area and that both the camera and my actions just seemed mundane or irrelevant.


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

From the video it appears that no one cared about what you were doing on that street and either the operator(s) never got to see your message or they didn’t bother contacting you. Somehow i suspect that it only confirmed what you were expecting about the infrastructures that surround, govern and monitor us. So what do you think you’ve achieved and expressed with this work?

One interpretation of the work is that there is an impossibility of direct dialogue with government workers, even in democracies that boast on being transparent and inclusive it is still very difficult to achieve dialogue outside of the established channels and platforms which failed early on in the project when I submitted Freedom of Information requests. This raises some issues about government workers being accountable for their actions, especially in a country where trust in state institutions and the police is at its lowest point in history because of corruption and abuses of power. The video about the meeting is where this metaphor is more obvious, despite all my efforts to investigate and confront this infrastructure I am never able to have my questions answered, the only option left is the pathetic resignation and disappointment portrayed towards the end of the video.

There is another angle of this which I find interesting and that is the effort to exist for the camera and thus for the government. Unlike what happens with many projects focused on protecting your privacy from CCTV, I actively wanted to be seen and recognised, to the point where it becomes a form of vanity. There is a relationship between this and the broader cultural idea that we photograph ourselves to prove our existence, this has been said many times of social media, but I see some value in exploring this idea in the context of surveillance, a technology that was devised precisely to produce evidence on the existence of certain events. I think there is an interesting tension between my efforts to exist and the absolute lack of response from the surveillance system.

In terms of what I expected would happen this shifted constantly. There were days when I was certain no one even looked at the cameras and other days when I was convinced that someone would at least tell me to stop interfering. I had an interview prepared in case I did get contacted, the questions were orientated at dissecting the operator’s own account on how he relates to the people at the other side of the camera from a position of power.


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

The idea for this project came from a course about Occult Infrastructure you taught together with Mark McKeague and Tom Schofiled at the Architectural Association‘s summer school in 2015. What are these occult infrastructures? What makes them occult? And why should we care about them?

The brief at the AA suggested that infrastructure in general is something we believe in rather than experience. This system of beliefs can then be used to explain how a city works without fully understanding its underlying logic and often leads into conspiracy theories and modern forms of superstition and pseudo-science. The occult works in a similar way, there is a belief in hidden forces that can be used to decipher the workings of everyday life and alter its consequences by manipulating these forces. Some examples of the infrastructures that inspired these thought are the mysterious telephone boxes that occupy street pavements, communication antennas, speeding sensors and CCTV. We never get a full view of these systems but just by the glimpses we get we are invited to imagine how they are supporting and controlling our lives.

CCTV is a clear example, where seeing a camera invites the observer to believe that there is someone who has the power to deliver justice watching, and thus a sense of safety is meant to arises. This is supported by the existence of fake CCTV cameras, the mere fact of having an object that looks like a camera can be a deterrent for those who believe in the camera’s power, this turns the fake camera into a sort of protection charm. When doing the research for this course I found it interesting that photography was actually in the service of the occult through the work of mediums like William H. Mumler who claimed that the camera could capture events that are invisible to us, a similar claim is made by surveillance advocates.

I think it’s important to point out the similarities between the occult and certain forms of infrastructure because as much as it may seem that everything works by magic the functioning of a city requires real, tangible components that are complex and mostly hidden. Rather than believing in them and their efficiency I think it’s important to go out and question how much our of lives rely on infrastructure, to what extent its existence benefits us and what politics (if any) it embodies.

In the context of architectural education the brief intended to sensitise students towards the unseen aspects of architecture and how they are designed to deeply drive people’s lives without most of us realizing.


“My son, every time you walk by take my blessing with you. But take your rubbish too”

That course took place in London. Have you found that these occult infrastructures function and manifest themselves differently in Mexico City where you are working now? Or are they roughly responding to the same dynamics and logic wherever we are in the world?

Yes, I see two main differences. The first one is that Mexican culture is far more superstitious and religious so there are real examples of this being used as a form of infrastructure. A personal favourite is that people will paint a Madonna on their house walls to keep others from dumping rubbish, these paintings inspire so much respect that they become clean and safe islands within the city.

I also feel that in Mexico people have less faith in government owned infrastructure, this dissolves the similarities with the occult a little bit as people will question the efficacy of anything the government does much more seriously. I think that Mexico City’s youtube channel is an effort in evangelising people in the power of surveillance infrastructure to try and construct this sort of faith.


Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot


Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot

Could you tell us about some of the concepts and artefacts that the students in the course created to articulate their understanding of infrastructure and the paranormal?

One of the projects that came out (made by Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot) was the design for an illusion that made the Themes Barrier disappear. The students felt that the barrier protected London from a real danger in a way that is completely invisible to most Londoners. The aim of their project was to create both the spectacle of disappearing a large object and to inspire a panicked reaction when a substantial part of the city’s safety simply disappears leaving London exposed to rising water levles.


Christopher Taylor and Vincent Phoen

Another interesting idea (by Christopher Taylor and Vincent Phoen) looked at time as a form of infrastructure that is also built on collective belief and agreement. They argued that if we don’t all believe in the current time (e.g. 3pm) then standardised time collapses. Their outcome was to create a pendulum clock whose definition of a second depended on the amount of people around it at a given moment, creating a form of relativity that relied on human routine and the liveliness of a location. On a busy street time would pass much faster than in service streets or closed gardens. This relativity caused the clock to either speed up ahead or slow down so that it never matched standardised time, the clock never showed the”right” time and thus trust in its readings began to fade reinforcing the idea that time is a matter of belief.

Thanks Diego!

Other works by Diego Trujillo: Self-combusting communication for the Wikileaks era and The 300 Year Time Bomb.

Rendezvous with the CCTV operator


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

Diego Trujillo Pisanty has recently been looking into our relationship with infrastructures, these inconspicuous ‘forces’ that sustain cities. His performance, Finding the Operator, zooms in on the urban surveillance system of Mexico CIty.

The work consisted in a series of attempts to find out who the operator(s) of a specific government-owned CCTV camera are. He first tried to reach out to them by filling in freedom of information requests. Having only received pointless information in return, Trujillo tried a more informal approach. He built an electronic device that broadcasts messages that can only be read by the people behind a CCTV camera, thus establishing an exclusive communication channel with the operator(s) gazing at the video feed. The message invited the operator to call Trujillo and meet him in a bar. No one called him nor turned up at the café appointment.

Trujillo also created a simulation of the camera’s field of view. This simulation was constructed by surveying the camera´s surroundings and from inferences made by analysing CCTV “success stories” published by Mexico City’s government on their YouTube channel.

Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

Trujillo looked at works such as the Surveillance Camera Players, Jill Majid’s Evidence Locker, !Mediengruppe Bitnik’ Surveillance Chess, and many more before developing Finding the Operator. His work similarly attempts to acknowledge the existence of the morally accountable human beings that sit at the other side of this otherwise faceless infrastructure of control and surveillance. However, there is something poignant about his work. Maybe because you can’t help feeling as vulnerable as he was when he stood on that street corner sending messages that no one ever answered. And perhaps no one even saw them.

There is always a power asymmetry between a camera’s operator and the subject it photographs. In the case of surveillance cameras this asymmetry is emphasised by the fact that the subject observed has no information on the people operating the camera or whether they even exist.

I asked Diego Trujillo to tell us more about his work:

Hi Diego! You seem to have stood a long time on that street corner. I found it funny that no passersby seems to question what you were doing there holding a white box. It reminded me a bit of Francis Alys pushing a bloc of ice in the streets of Mexico City while everyone around just ignore him. Did no one really approach you? You must have looked odd?

Really, no one approached me, the guys who were filming got some attention at first whilst they were doing exposure tests, but once the action started no one cared about us. I guess we are in a city where people tend to mind their own business and a little strangeness is not unusual either. There is a sense of loneliness built into the project that partially comes from this though, it seems that my concerns about surveillance aren’t shared by the other people who live and work in the area and that both the camera and my actions just seemed mundane or irrelevant.


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

From the video it appears that no one cared about what you were doing on that street and either the operator(s) never got to see your message or they didn’t bother contacting you. Somehow i suspect that it only confirmed what you were expecting about the infrastructures that surround, govern and monitor us. So what do you think you’ve achieved and expressed with this work?

One interpretation of the work is that there is an impossibility of direct dialogue with government workers, even in democracies that boast on being transparent and inclusive it is still very difficult to achieve dialogue outside of the established channels and platforms which failed early on in the project when I submitted Freedom of Information requests. This raises some issues about government workers being accountable for their actions, especially in a country where trust in state institutions and the police is at its lowest point in history because of corruption and abuses of power. The video about the meeting is where this metaphor is more obvious, despite all my efforts to investigate and confront this infrastructure I am never able to have my questions answered, the only option left is the pathetic resignation and disappointment portrayed towards the end of the video.

There is another angle of this which I find interesting and that is the effort to exist for the camera and thus for the government. Unlike what happens with many projects focused on protecting your privacy from CCTV, I actively wanted to be seen and recognised, to the point where it becomes a form of vanity. There is a relationship between this and the broader cultural idea that we photograph ourselves to prove our existence, this has been said many times of social media, but I see some value in exploring this idea in the context of surveillance, a technology that was devised precisely to produce evidence on the existence of certain events. I think there is an interesting tension between my efforts to exist and the absolute lack of response from the surveillance system.

In terms of what I expected would happen this shifted constantly. There were days when I was certain no one even looked at the cameras and other days when I was convinced that someone would at least tell me to stop interfering. I had an interview prepared in case I did get contacted, the questions were orientated at dissecting the operator’s own account on how he relates to the people at the other side of the camera from a position of power.


Diego Trujillo Pisanty, Finding the Operator, 2016

The idea for this project came from a course about Occult Infrastructure you taught together with Mark McKeague and Tom Schofiled at the Architectural Association‘s summer school in 2015. What are these occult infrastructures? What makes them occult? And why should we care about them?

The brief at the AA suggested that infrastructure in general is something we believe in rather than experience. This system of beliefs can then be used to explain how a city works without fully understanding its underlying logic and often leads into conspiracy theories and modern forms of superstition and pseudo-science. The occult works in a similar way, there is a belief in hidden forces that can be used to decipher the workings of everyday life and alter its consequences by manipulating these forces. Some examples of the infrastructures that inspired these thought are the mysterious telephone boxes that occupy street pavements, communication antennas, speeding sensors and CCTV. We never get a full view of these systems but just by the glimpses we get we are invited to imagine how they are supporting and controlling our lives.

CCTV is a clear example, where seeing a camera invites the observer to believe that there is someone who has the power to deliver justice watching, and thus a sense of safety is meant to arises. This is supported by the existence of fake CCTV cameras, the mere fact of having an object that looks like a camera can be a deterrent for those who believe in the camera’s power, this turns the fake camera into a sort of protection charm. When doing the research for this course I found it interesting that photography was actually in the service of the occult through the work of mediums like William H. Mumler who claimed that the camera could capture events that are invisible to us, a similar claim is made by surveillance advocates.

I think it’s important to point out the similarities between the occult and certain forms of infrastructure because as much as it may seem that everything works by magic the functioning of a city requires real, tangible components that are complex and mostly hidden. Rather than believing in them and their efficiency I think it’s important to go out and question how much our of lives rely on infrastructure, to what extent its existence benefits us and what politics (if any) it embodies.

In the context of architectural education the brief intended to sensitise students towards the unseen aspects of architecture and how they are designed to deeply drive people’s lives without most of us realizing.


“My son, every time you walk by take my blessing with you. But take your rubbish too”

That course took place in London. Have you found that these occult infrastructures function and manifest themselves differently in Mexico City where you are working now? Or are they roughly responding to the same dynamics and logic wherever we are in the world?

Yes, I see two main differences. The first one is that Mexican culture is far more superstitious and religious so there are real examples of this being used as a form of infrastructure. A personal favourite is that people will paint a Madonna on their house walls to keep others from dumping rubbish, these paintings inspire so much respect that they become clean and safe islands within the city.

I also feel that in Mexico people have less faith in government owned infrastructure, this dissolves the similarities with the occult a little bit as people will question the efficacy of anything the government does much more seriously. I think that Mexico City’s youtube channel is an effort in evangelising people in the power of surveillance infrastructure to try and construct this sort of faith.


Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot


Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot

Could you tell us about some of the concepts and artefacts that the students in the course created to articulate their understanding of infrastructure and the paranormal?

One of the projects that came out (made by Irena Stoeva and Richard Abbot) was the design for an illusion that made the Themes Barrier disappear. The students felt that the barrier protected London from a real danger in a way that is completely invisible to most Londoners. The aim of their project was to create both the spectacle of disappearing a large object and to inspire a panicked reaction when a substantial part of the city’s safety simply disappears leaving London exposed to rising water levles.


Christopher Taylor and Vincent Phoen

Another interesting idea (by Christopher Taylor and Vincent Phoen) looked at time as a form of infrastructure that is also built on collective belief and agreement. They argued that if we don’t all believe in the current time (e.g. 3pm) then standardised time collapses. Their outcome was to create a pendulum clock whose definition of a second depended on the amount of people around it at a given moment, creating a form of relativity that relied on human routine and the liveliness of a location. On a busy street time would pass much faster than in service streets or closed gardens. This relativity caused the clock to either speed up ahead or slow down so that it never matched standardised time, the clock never showed the”right” time and thus trust in its readings began to fade reinforcing the idea that time is a matter of belief.

Thanks Diego!

Other works by Diego Trujillo: Self-combusting communication for the Wikileaks era and The 300 Year Time Bomb.

Mexican Lucha Libre Wrestling: Family Portraits

1.12_-Villano-V-dentista
Lourdes Grobet, Vilano dentist

I was going to post this story next month but i just realized that the show closes this weekend already. If you are in Barcelona at the moment, DON’T MISS IT!

So, yes, the show! It’s called Mexican Lucha Libre Wrestling: Family Portraits and it’s at CCCB (the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre) until 1 November 2015.

The photos are as stunning as the individuals they portray. They are by Lourdes Grobet, an artist who has spent the past 30 years exploring the world of Mexican lucha libre. She followed the luchadores on the ring and, as they got to know each other better, she also portrayed them at home, with their family.

The exhibition features a previously unpublished series of over forty large-format photographs complemented by the screening of material from the artist’s extensive photographic collection on the theme. There are also daily screenings of films from the 1960s and 1970s featuring El Santo.

CCCB made a video interview with the artist where she explains that Mexican lucha libre isn’t about violence. It’s about the choreography of two bodies that collide. She also looked into the history of lucha libre. While other forms of wrestling around the world are descendants of Greco-Roman wrestling, Mexican lucha libre has its roots in pre-Columbian civilizations:

CCCB interviews Lourdes Grobet for the exhibition ‘Lucha libre: Family portraits. Photographs by Lourdes Grobet’

5bluedemon440226
Lourdes Grobet, Blue Demon

021 001
Lourdes Grobet, Astro Boy

This one isn’t part of the show at CCCB but i liked it so much…
briosa-con-bebe_w580_h580
La Briosa and her son, 1984

011 002
Lourdes Grobet, Vilano

009 002
Dr X and his daughter

3untitled850_q85
Lourdes Grobet, Untitled, ca. 1982

3canekysolar_q85
Lourdes Grobet, Canek y el Solar, Arena México (Canek and el Solar, Arena México), ca. 1983

Lucha_Libre_Lourdes_Grobet_Solar-parado
Lourdes Grobet, Solar parado

SeucharistieTK6706531
Lourdes Grobet, Fray Tormenta

Views from the exhibition space:
2room7ebf_b

2screenhero0da934_b

2screenhero0da934_b

I leave you with a thrilling scene from Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos:

Book review: Futures. Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas

Past Futures. Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas, edited by curator Sarah J. Montross.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

0futu9cover29025_0.jpg

Publisher MIT Press writes: From the 1940s to the 1970s, visionary artists from across the Americas reimagined themes from science fiction and space travel. They mapped extraterrestrial terrain, created dystopian scenarios amid fears of nuclear annihilation, and ingeniously deployed scientific and technological subjects and motifs. This book offers a sumptuously illustrated exploration of how artists from the United States and Latin America visualized the future. Inspired variously by the "golden age" of science fiction, the Cold War, the space race, and the counterculture, these artists expressed both optimism and pessimism about humanity's prospects.

Past Futures showcases work by more than a dozen artists, including the biomorphic cosmic spaces and hybrid alien-totemic figures painted by the Chilean artist Roberto Matta (1911-2002); the utopian Hydrospatial City envisioned by Argentine Gyula Kosice (1924-); and Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan, in which Robert Smithson (1938-1973) layered tropes of time travel atop Mayan ruins. The artists respond to science fiction in film and literature and the media coverage of the space race; link myths of Europeans' first encounters with the New World to contemporary space exploration; and project futures both idealized and dystopian.

0i0i0iconquistadro.jpg
Poster for the film 'Conquistador de la luna (Conqueror of the moon), Mexico, 1960

0guerredesmond2824500.jpg
Henrique Alvim Corrêa, illustration for H G Wells "La guerre des mondes", 1906

Once in a while, i like a good catalogue. Especially when they educate me about a topic i know little about: retro futurism in the Americas. Past Futures. Science Fiction, Space Travel, and Postwar Art of the Americas is the catalogue of an exhibition of the same name at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The book explains in 4 essays and many many images how artists of the period that goes from 1940s to 1970s imagined the future.

The context is exciting enough: it's the time of the Cold War, of the growing popularity of the science fiction genre, of a faith in the power of science to transform society and the human condition. Artists were more than ever stimulated to imagine what the future would be like.

Times were full of hope but they weren't, however, all naivety and science worship. First, people were afraid of nuclear extermination. And believe it or not, they were also already worried about government surveillance. Or about the disruption that technology would bring to the social fabric. And, for some artists from Latin America, space control evoked unpleasant memories of a colonial past.

The first essay, by curator Sarah J. Montross, explores the impact that space travel and science fiction had across the Americas and also the tensions between the promises of the present and a rich cultural past.

Miguel Angel Fernandez Delgado looks at Latin America's long tradition of studying the cosmos (which dates back to the Mayas, the Incas and the Aztec) and presents the work of artists whose work is related to astronomic phenomena and utopian ideals.

Rodrigo Alonso's essay on the influence of science fiction over art in Argentine in the 1960s shows how much artists also had to contend with a political atmosphere that oscillated between a transition into democracy and surges of repression and censorship.

Rory O'Dea explored the influence that science fiction had on the work of land artist Robert Smithson.

Unsurprisingly, i was more interested in reading about art from Latin America and discovering how they questioned the nature of progress. I found some real gems in the book, works by artists involved in scientific inquiries, building robots, walking through a desert that evokes a lunar terrain, or expressing a critical ambivalence towards technology. Too bad i couldn't find images for some of these works online. I managed to dig up a few though:

0-cid-anthropomorphics-1-2-1964-x640.jpg
Enrique Castro-Cid, Anthropomorphicals I and II. 1964 (image via cyberneticzoo)

Enrique Castro-Cid's automata lack any human shell but reproduce our bodily functions.

0kosiceBRm1rqefo7o1_500.jpg
Gyula Kosice, La ciudad hidroespacial (The Hydrospatial City), 1946-72

Tired of the housing models proposed by Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and functional architecture, Gyula Kosice plexiglass maquettes and drawing of dwellings 5000 feet above the surface of the earth. The Hydrospatial City, which finds some echoes in the cloud cities of Tomas Saraceno, responds to fear of ecological degradation and overpopulation.

0aapairicuti.jpg
Peter Hutchinson, Paricutin Project, 1971

In 1970, Peter Hutchinson climbed the Paricutin volcano in Mexico. Upon reaching the summit, he spread 450 pounds of bread along its rim. After 6 days of high humidity and intense heat at the crater's edge, the bread began to sprout spores of luminous orange mould. Life grew in a place thought as lifeless.

0histohormigas_3_21a_gr.jpg
Luis Fernando Benedit, Laberinto para hormigas A, 1974

0caracoleshabit.jpg
Luis Fernando Benedit, Hábitat para caracoles, 1970

Luis Fernando Benedit built dwellings for snails, ants and other tiny creatures in order to observe the behavioral conditioning in an artificial, enclosed environment.

0biotron15.jpg
Luis Fernando Benedit, Biotrón, 1970

The artist participated to the Venice Biennale 1970 with an installation that included a beehive with live bees, and a garden of artificial flowers that supplied nectar.

0onautas-AND-Festival-2013-5.jpg
SEFT-1, Los Ferronautas

SEFT-1 is resolutely contemporary but the curators of Past Futures found some resonances of Past Futures in Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene's half car half spaceship hybrid called SEFT-1 (the Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, in english Manned Railway Exploration Probe.) The artists traveled along the ruins of the Mexican passenger railway system, which was left to rot after privatization in the 1990s, and investigated the remains of what they consider a misuse of common resources and therefore a political issue.

0CAAnj4RUsAAhaxH.jpg
Rufino Tamayo, Terror Cosmico, 1954

This post might suggest that the book is all about early forms of media art in the Americas. It's not. Plenty of paintings in there as well.

Autophotosynthetic Plants, a hybrid organism powered by sewage

0toutlintstallatio9.jpg
Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014

fotofundazgaleria_1113.jpg
Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

For a number of years, artist Gilberto Esparza has been using recycled electronics, alternative forms of energy and other modern technologies to investigate the action of human beings on the environment. His Urban Parasites are small robotic insects made of recycled consumer goods. They climb, crawl and hang over the urban space in search of any source of energy they can feed on. In 2010, he developed Nomadic Plants, a robot hosting living plants and microorganisms. Whenever its 'guests' need to be fed, the autonomous robot will move towards a contaminated river and drink water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cells, the elements contained in the water are transformed into energy that powers its circuits. The cleaned up water is then sprayed onto the plants.

Like Nomadic Plants, but on a larger scale, Esparza's new research project makes use of microbial fuel cells technology to produce electricity and improve the quality of water.

Autophotosynthetic Plants takes the form a hybrid, self-regulating organism. Part machine, part organic ecosystem, it feeds on organisms found into the sewage water of Lima, Peru, in order to create its own light, energy and be self-sufficient.

As any living organism, Autophotosynthetic Plants features a central system where microorganisms, crustaceans and algae live; a digestive system where bacteria feed on polluted water and transform it into cleaner water that can be used for photosynthesis; and a nervous system made of an electronic network that monitors the activities of the organic parts.

The process is probably better explained in the video below:

The modules create hydraulic network that administers bio-filtered water to the central container, creating an optimal environment where producer species and consumer species from different trophic levels (protzoans, crustaceans, micro algae and aquatic plants) can achieve homeostatic equilibrium. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as intervals of luminous energy, enabling photosynthesis by the plants that inhabit the central container which thereby complete their metabolic processes. When the organic material present in the microbial cells has been entirely consumed, an electronic monitoring networks pumps out the byproducts generated by the species that inhabit the nuclear ecosystem to the modular cells, restoring the cycle.

The ambitious project not only suggests that polluted water can be used as a source of energy but it also stands as a model that could potentially be applied to other cities, communities and industries.

I contacted the artist to know more about the project (Scroll down if you prefer to read the interview in Spanish):

0ibnstallergaleria_1112.jpg
Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Fundación Telefonica

Hi Gilberto! Where do the electricity-bacteria come from? Did you find them existing already in the contaminated water? Or were there introduced from another source? Are they the same bacterias as in Plantas nomadas?

The bacteria come from the rivers where the samples are taken. One of the bacteria commonly found in organic waste is the Geobacter which has been used in various studies to generate energy by microbial fuel cells. It is the same system that Nomadic Plants is using.

The obvious question is: could the system be implemented on a large scale? Going thus from the scale of an art installation in an exhibition room to a fully functional system used for a whole area of the city?

Yes, all the research centers that are working with this technology have that possibility in mind. The idea is to implement the use of microbial cells in wastewater treatment plants to reduce the power consumption that the plant requires.

Does the system require a lot of maintenance and attention? Or does it pretty much manage itself without any help from you or from scientists?

The installation has analog electronics and multiple sensors that auto-regulate the functioning of the installation. The only maintenance consists in aliment it with wastewater each time a biodegradation cycle ends.

0fotoChristianSanchez8467544623394587_o.jpg
Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

0i1sanchez65049_2143547823263683042_o.jpg
Gilberto Esparza, Plantas Autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014. Photo: Christian Sánchez

In the video, you explain that you took water from various parts of the city and that each zone of the city had its own level and type of pollution. Could you explain a bit more? How does that translate in the installation? Do the various types of polluted water require different bacteria? produce different intensity or types of energy?

It depends on the area where the samples were taken. In industrial areas, for example, you can find a higher amount of toxic waste that sometimes inhibit bacteria. In other sectors of the city, household waste generate more organic matter. In those waters bacteria feed on this waste and produce more energy and this energy is reflected in the installation in the form in flashes of light that are more intense and that make aquatic plants perform their photosynthetic processes better.

In the video, we see visitors entering the room of Plantas autofotosintéticas wearing a mask. Is it because the installation has a bad smell? Or is dangerous to breathe in? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wyL4jRlqbY

The installation emits bad smells and presents a source of infection for visitors, so we decided to protect them. I find this approach to the work interesting because those same conditions are found in the urban area bordering polluted rivers and their inhabitants are exposed to them all the time.

Thanks Gilberto!

And now for the spanish version of the interview:

¿De dónde provienen las bacterias que se alimentan de electricidad? Ya existían en el agua contaminada? O lo habías introducido desde otra parte? ¿Son las mismas bacterias en Plantas nómadas?

Las bacterias provienen de los ríos de donde sacan las muestras, una de las bacterias que es muy común en donde se presentan desechos orgánicos es la Geobacter con las que se han estado haciendo diversos estudios para la generación de energía a través de celdas de combustible microbianas. Es el mismo sistema que utiliza Plantas Nómadas.

¿Se podría llevar a gran escala el sistema? Yendo solo así de la escala de una instalación de arte en una sala de exposiciones a un sistema totalmente funcional utilizada para toda una zona de la ciudad?

Sí, todos los centros de investigación que están trabajando con esta tecnología tienen presente esa posibilidad. La idea es implementar el uso de las celdas microbianas en las plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales para disminuir el consumo de energía que la planta requiere.

¿El sistema requiere mucha atención, mantenimiento? ¿O más o menos se maneja por sí mismo sin ninguna ayuda de usted o de los científicos?

La instalación tiene una electrónica análoga y múltiples censores que autorregulan el funcionamiento de la instalación, el único mantenimiento es proveerle de aguas residuales cada que termine el ciclo de biodegradación.

En el vídeo, se explica que le "tomó agua de diversas partes de la ciudad y que cada zona de la ciudad tiene su propio nivel y tipo de contaminación. ¿Podría explicar un poco más? ¿Cómo se traduce en la instalación? ¿Los distintos tipos de aguas contaminadas requieren diferentes bacterias? produce diferentes tipos de energía o la intensidad?

Depende de la zona en donde se tomaron las muestras, se presentas distintos contaminantes por ejemplo en las zonas industriales se presentan mas desechos tóxicos que algunas veces inhiben a las bacterias. En otros sectores de la cuidad, se presentan más materia orgánica por desechos domésticos, en esas aguas las bacterias se alimentas de estos desechos y producen más energía y esta energía se manifiesta en la instalación como destellos de luz más intensos que hacen que las plantas acuáticas que habitan en el núcleo realicen mejor sus procesos fotosintéticos.

En el video, vemos a los visitantes que entran en la habitación de las Plantas autofotosintéticas con una máscara. ¿Es porque la instalación tiene un mal olor? ¿O es peligroso para respirar?

La instalación despide malos olores y representa un foco de infección para los espectadores, por eso se decidió protegerlos. Esta aproximación a la obra me interesa porque esas mismas condiciones se encuentran en las zona urbanas que colindan con los ríos contaminados y que sus habitantes están expuestos todo el tiempo.

¡Muchas gracias Gilberto!

Facta – Gambiologia magazine #3. Hacker poetics

0s1revista8433_n.jpg

The third edition of the magazine Facta - Revista de Gambiologia is out. As usual, the texts are in Portuguese and English and the content is brilliant.

Facta is an experimental publication orchestrated by Fred Paulino and the Gambiologia group. The first issue of Facta addressed the 'science of Apocalypse', the next one looked at people who accumulate, collect and re-purpose. This issue is all about the hacker culture, poetics and ethics in all their guises and deeds.

I'm waiting from my paper copy to arrive from Belo Horizonte but in the meantime i had a quick look at the online edition of the magazine. It's already available on ISSUU. As are Gambiologia's previous publications. Hurray!

0a1poetica05215hacker983_n.jpg

So what's inside? Things you don't expect and things you expected, only approached from a new angle.

Some of the articles explore hacking very directly. With a history of society's perception of hacker. Up to today and what Brett Scott calls 'the gentrification of hacking' (meaning that pretty much anyone likes to call themselves a hacker, especially people busy making money in Silicon Valley.)

Or with a portrait of/homage to Aaron Swartz, the hacktivist and computer programmer who believed that knowledge should be available to all. His Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is also featured in the magazine.

I also liked the little tour of hackerspaces around the world: Bogohack in Bogota, Hacker Space Palestine in Gaza, Ihub in Nairobi, Raul Hacker Club in Salvador Brazil, Xinchejian in Shanghai, MadLab in Manchester, etc.

I discovered the existence of Kids Hack Day in Facta. KHD, which ethos is summed up in School is dead, learning is not, is a one-day hackathon in which children are invited to open up everyday objects and rebuild, re-purpose, reinvent them. The experiment started in Stockholm and rapidly spread to other cities.

0aaslackerspa9.jpg
Inside Facta #3

0abaogohacks9.jpg
Inside Facta #3

However, many of the articles put hacking into a broader context. Dispelling any misconceptions we might still have about hacking/hackers, looking at how the hacker ethic can be applied to all areas of life and calling for hacker culture that would focus more on social and ecological processes, rather than just technology.

Brett Scott wrote Hacking the future of money. Setting up a financial hackspace in which he explains why he is setting up The London School of Financial Arts, a space where creative minds apply the hacker philosophy to the financial system.
By the way, Brett Scott's book Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money is still up for download.

Maria Ptqk has a witty article about reality hacking that goes from Yes Men's stunts to patterns of open sources technologies.

There's also an essay about Steganography. The Art of Writing Hidden Posts. Steganography is the art of hiding message into message, image or objects. So it is a bit like cryptography. Only sneakier because you will probably never know there is a crypted message somewhere in front of you. Unless you look for it. Apparently, it's one of Al Qaeda's preferred mode of communication.

There's an essay on Houdini, 'Sense deprogrammer and supernatural debunker' who was also working as a spy for US and UK secret services.

And i learnt about MSST, Movimento dos Sem Satélite (Movement of Peoples without Satelites.)

Of course, Facta also contains some great little tutorials. One shows how to resurrect and transform a burnt out bulb (a project by Thomas LEDison). Another explains how to make homemade hydrogen to inflate balloons.

We need more mags like Facta. It's critical, smart and passionate. And it's made by doers who are not afraid to dip their toes into theory, history and the social dimensions of technology.

0acodesnsosu9.jpg
Inside Facta #3

0aathomasledo4.jpg
Inside Facta #3

0acotidioano89389.jpg
Inside Facta #3. Fernando Rabelo, HQML. Algoritmo Cotidiano

0Nicolas-Larmessin-Costumes-Grotesques-Habit-metier-52.jpg
Nicolas Larmessin, Habit d'orlogeur, circa 1700 (image)

0houdini-robot.jpg
Houdini (image)

This way to buy a paper copy.

Previouslyy: Gambiologia, the Brazilian art and science of kludging and Magazines: Facta (the Gambiologia magazine), Neural and Aksioma brochures.