SIGGRAPH 2017: Unsettled Artifacts: Technological Speculations from Latin America


Art Papers Chair(s):

  • Ruth West -
    • University of North Texas
    • xREZ Art+Science lab


Los Angeles, California


July 30th-August 3rd, 2017


The beauty of artifacts is that they take on themselves the contradictory wishes or needs of humans and non-humans.
—Bruno Latour

Artifacts are the objects that we (humans) make and use. ey are products of human activity, yet they continuously shape us. ey frame the ways we act in the world, as well as the ways we think about the world. But technological artifacts have another property: they illuminate possible worlds. They not only can describe our “real and constructed” present (and past), but also allow us to speculate about our future, while embodying the anxieties of our own human, nonhuman, and post-human existence. Particularly, when in the hands of artists and designers, technology has been the ultimate ingredient for materializing our deepest utopian and dystopian dreams; it has always been the element that initiated debates and thoughtful re ections about the worlds we might wish to inhabit—or elude.

For the past 35 years, the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery has presented technological and scienti c artifacts produced by artists from around the world and has witnessed the evolution of technological development and the transformation of cultural production that it has in uenced. Since the early 1980s, SIGGRAPH has been one of the few venues to consistently exhibit speculative artifacts for critical inquiry brought about computer technology. So, one could argue that a historical analysis of the Art Gallery can indeed expose the anticipatory nature of art in helping us to imagine new worlds.

The motivation for the 2017 Art Gallery was, in fact, not only to examine the current state of art, science, and technology, but also to return a sense of “agency” to these technological artifacts and to help us recognize that we all make the choices that create the future. Therefore, convinced of the power of the poetics of technological speculation, and with the intention of mapping the ground on which we can imagine alternative futures, the Art Gallery traveled south in order to exhibit works of art produced outside the traditional centers of industrial and technological development, by artists living and working in Latin America.

Uncertain. Agitated. Discontented. Disobedient. Unstable. Troubled. The Latin American “artifact” has been, above all, an “unsettled” object of study: other, minor, peripheral, mestizo, hybrid, magic, anthropophagic, syncretic, cosmic, postcolonial, decolonial, and so on. It is enough to see its various characterizations in recent decades to prove the impossibility of reducing the Latin American artifact to a single, homogeneous identity—simply because the idea of Latin America as a geohistoric category is in itself an “unsettled” concept [1]. However, and despite the contradictions that the idea of Latin America embodies, it allows us to consider technology-based artistic practices that have been underrepresented, excluded, or ignored in the hegemonic narratives of technological development and to share new knowledge and ideas about how Latin American artists create, adapt, and use technology within a rich cultural context shaped by long histories of imperialism, colonization, and the asymmetries of globalization [2].

Unsettled Artifacts: Technological Speculations from Latin America is, then, an attempt to recognize the value of a plural world of arts and sciences and to reclaim art’s longing for new social narratives, new forms of sociability, and new images of the possible at a time in which the so-called “global” technologies play a central role. Shifting our focus to the non-Western world in the context of the largest international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques is a way to acknowledge that technology “acts” and “speaks” [3], and that it remains a contested and performative arena used by artists to critically engage our everyday lives.

The works selected for the Art Gallery represent only a small sample of the vast and diverse creative practices developed in Latin America. They do not pretend to be a survey but a focused critical consideration of 10 contemporary artworks using a disparate array of digital technologies and computational media, from bioart and robotics, to software simulation and VR; from performance and screen-based work, to sound installations and 3D-printed sculptures.

Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza has created a hybrid music synthesizer and sound device that cleans polluted water. e BioSoNot 1.2 makes use of microbial fuel cell technology to produce electricity, generate sound, and improve the quality of water. is bio-instrument is part of Esparza’s longstanding trajectory using recycled electronics and microbial life to create symbiotic systems that propose alternative forms of energy while questioning the impact of humans upon the environment. Likewise, Milpa Polímera, by Mexican artists Marcela Armas and Arcángelo Constantini, is also a hybrid of sorts; but unlike Esparza’s work, this installation presents an arti cial and futile crop-growing system in which life will never be able to grow. Part seeding machine, part 3D printer, this work is inspired by the con icting relationship between the market-driven economy of corn and its deep symbolic and cultural values in Mexico. e installation consists of a tractor that swivels in a closed cycle while repeatedly 3D-printing infertile maize seeds made out of PLA, a thermoplastic derived mostly from genetically modi ed maize starch. e Andean Pavilion, by Ecuadorian artist Paul Rosero Contreras, also uses 3D printing technology to create a series of geologically inspired sculptures that capture the vibrations of four active volcanoes in South America. Working as a eld geologist, the artist used custom software and hardware to interpret the immaterial seismic activity of the volcanoes into three-dimensional matter in order to poetically re ect on the vital power of material forms and the ability of natural nonhuman forces to shape the anthropocene.

Blurring the boundaries between human, animal, and machine, the Echolocalizator, by Colombian artist Hamilton Mestizo, is a device created to transcend our human modes of perception and to become part of a cybernetic-hybrid system. e Echolocalizator is a wearable sonar headset that deprives the users of sight while forcing them to experience a virtualized reality guided by sound waves and echoes. Octópodos Sisí cos (Sisyphean Octopods), by Argentine artists Mariela Yeregui and Miguel Grassi, is a series of six “futile” robots whose only goal is to carry small screens that reveal their own technological animality. Essentially passive, these robots are not able to detect the environment or to immediately react to it; they merely crawl around the gallery space, calling into question the nature of their existence, and with that, our own expectations of an “intelligent” machine.

Brazilian duo Gisela Motta and Leandro Lima created Anti-Horário (Counterclockwise), a digital wall clock that attempts to express the anxieties engendered by the experience of time and duration. A disorienting video, the clock’s face represents the earth, while its hands are humanized—a child represents the minutes, an adult couple the hour. An endless loop and a philosophical proposition on the passage of time, the cycle of life, and our brief duration on earth.

Cuban artist Rodolfo Peraza takes a similar poetic license to create a paradoxical immersive environment inside di erent architectures of control. His work is an online virtual reality environment in which the viewer is able to navigate the abandoned Cuban Presidio Modelo, constructed as the ultimate panopticon prison for disciplinary surveillance. A tactical intervention using the internet’s inherent monitoring technology and videogames’ potential to create highly realistic ctional worlds, submerges us in a provocative and sti ing embodied experience generated by modern artifacts utilized for social control and engineering.

Chilean artist Christian Oyarzún creates a different sort of immersive sensorial experience, one shaped by the signal transduction of sound into light. His drumCircle[] is a set of eight autonomous machines, each consisting of a den-den pellet drum and an impact floodlight reflector, that trigger an aleatory behavior of loud and rhythmic shadows and sounds. In Dispersiones (Dispersions), Argentine artist Leo Nuñez also uses makeshift technical devices to transform the gallery into an immersive environment comprised of about 400 relays distributed in the space. e work is a sonic interactive matrix that utilizes the simple binary behavior of these electromagnetic switches to generate a complex system activated by the presence of the viewer.

Lastly, the Astrovandalistas transnational collective (Leslie García, Rodrigo Frenk, iago Hersen, and Andrés Padilla Domene) will open an office in the Art Gallery where they will engrave “futureglyphs” into rocks and debris collected from the Greater Los Angeles area. In a new iteration of their ongoing project Imaginario Inverso (Reverse Imaginary), the artists will exhibit their disruptive laser machine and collaborate with SIGGRAPH attendees in writing predictions about the future of LA, SIGGRAPH, the geopolitics of technology development, and other speculative micronarratives.

The history of digital and media art in Latin America is as long as that of the United States and Europe. erefore, as a supplement to this introduction, we have included an essay by art historian and scholar María Fernández, who briefly traces this history, providing some points of entry to better understand the interrelations of Latin American art and modern technologies. In and of itself, Unsettled Artifacts: Technological Speculations from Latin America is only a provisional crack in the history of the SIGGRAPH conference. It isn’t a comprehensive synthesis or theoretical overview, but an invitation to consider technology as an artifact for critical inquiry. It is an attempt to reconsider the conditions and forms of making beyond the canon; uncover multiple global narratives; analyze other omissions; reimagine possible worlds; and catalyze new and productive conversations across the Americas.

Additional Information:


  1. See W. Mignolo, e Idea of Latin America (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005). On Latin American contemporary art, see L. Camnitzer, On Art, Artists, Latin America and Other Utopias, R. Weiss, ed. (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2009); G. Mosquera, “Against Latin American Art,” in Contemporary Art in Latin America (London: Black Dog, 2010) pp. 12–22.
  2. For an excellent study on these conditions, see E. Median, I. Marques, and C. Holmes, Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014).
  3. For more on the politics of technological artifacts, see variously B. Latour, “Where Are the Missing Masses? e Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts,” in W.E. Bijker and J. Law, eds., Shaping Technology/Building Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992); P. Verbeek and P. Vermaas, “Technological Artifacts,” in J.K. Olsen, S. Pedersen, and V. Hendricks, eds., A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009); L. Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” in e Whale and the Reactor (Chicago, Ill./London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986).


It has been extremely gratifying to work on this exhibition, and I extend my sincere appreciation to all of the artists for their vision and inspiring work; to María Fernández for the signi cant contribution of her essay; to subcommittee member Alejandro Borsani; to the SIGGRAPH 2017 Conference team; and to Jerome Solomon for his continued support and trust. I would also like to thank the teams that made the exhibition and publication possible: SmithBucklin, Freeman, Q LTD, and the Leonardo team. The combined collaboration of all of these people has been instrumental in producing this unique edition of the annual SIGGRAPH Art Gallery.

Exhibition Artworks:

Exhibition Writings and Presentations:

    Title: The Interactive Image: A Media Archaeology Approach
    Writing Type: Paper
    Abstract Summary:

    This paper examines the history of the influential Interactive Image computer graphics showcase, which took place at museum and conference venues from 1987 to 1988. The authors present a preliminary exploration of the historical contexts that led to the creation of this exhibition by the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL), which included the integrated efforts of both artists and computer scientists. In addition to providing historical details about this event, the authors introduce a media archaeology approach for examining the cultural and technological contexts in which this event is situated.

    Title: Transforming the Commonplace through Machine Perception: Light Field Synthesis and Audio Feature Extraction in the Rover Project
    Writing Type: Paper
    Abstract Summary:

    Rover is a mechatronic imaging device inserted into quotidian space, transforming the sights and sounds of the everyday through its peculiar modes of machine perception. Using computational light field photography and machine listening, it creates a kind of cinema following the logic of dreams: suspended but mobile, familiar yet infinitely variable in detail. Rover draws on diverse traditions of robotic exploration, landscape and still-life depiction, and audio field recording to create a hybrid form between photography
    and cinema. This paper describes the mechatronic, machine perception, and audio-visual synthesis techniques developed for the piece.

    Title: Lenticular Waterwheels: Simultaneous Kinetic and Embedded Animation
    Writing Type: Paper
    Abstract Summary:

    After decades as a novelty, lenticular technology has resurfaced in compelling large-scale projects. Without any required energy, the medium offers stereography without glasses and frame animation without electronics. A kinetic artwork installed in a remote river in the French mountains broke from the technology’s previous restrictions of static and flat display, recalculated the print mathematics for a curved surface, and explored narrative structures for a moving image on a moving display. This paper documents how the sculpture used custom steel fabrication, site-specific energy, and revised lens calculation to present a previously unexplored hybrid of animation.

    Title: Avoid Setup: Insights and Implications of Generative Cinema
    Writing Type: Paper
    Abstract Summary:

    Generative artists engage the poetic and expressive potentials of film playfully and efficiently, with explicit or implicit critique of cinema in a broader cultural context. This paper looks at the incentives, insights, and implications of generative cinema, which significantly expands the creative realm for artists working with film, but also incites critical assessment of the business-oriented algorithmic strategies in the film industry. The poetic divergence, technical fluency, and conceptual cogency of generative cinema successfully demonstrate that authorship evolves toward ever more abstract reflection and cognition which equally treat existing creative achievements as inspirations, sources of knowledge, and tools.

    Title: Autoencoding Blade Runner: Reconstructing Films with Artificial Neural Networks
    Writing Type: Paper
    Abstract Summary:

    In this paper, the authors explain how they created Blade Runner—Autoencoded, a film made by training an autoencoder—a type of generative neural network—to recreate frames from the film Blade Runner. The autoencoder is made to reinterpret every individual frame, reconstructing it based on its memory of the film. The result is a hazy, dreamlike version of the original film. The authors discuss how the project explores the aesthetic qualities of the disembodied gaze of the neural network and describe how the autoencoder is also capable of reinterpreting films it has not been trained on, transferring the visual style it has learned from watching Blade Runner (1982).