Media @ McGill

Erandy Vergara-Vargas | Re-orienting and Disorienting Interaction: Movement, Technology and Background in Installations by Latin American Artists

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With the advent of digital technologies new ways of interaction among humans and between humans and machines have emerged, as well as new systems of communication such as social media. Much of the early literature on interactivity has focused on its democratizing potential and utopian discourses of democracy, electronic connectivity and social participation. In contrast, postcolonial scholars have argued that despite these utopian claims, new media reproduce power structures historically rooted in material experiences that continue marginalizing certain bodies and identities (Fernández; Nakamura). Further, the trend towards innovation in media arts has favored high-technological works produced in metropolitan countries. My objective is thus two-fold: First, to trace the history of interactivity in inquiries for a new language including movement, space, time, and the beholder as investigated in the Avant-Garde Movements of the twenty century. Second, to focus on works by Latin American artists in an attempt to rethink interactivity in a larger context of production beyond Western art practices. Given Latin America's strong tradition of audience involvement in art installations, both actual and virtual, it is highly relevant to ask why Latin America remains outside the timeline of Western histories of interactive art? My thesis argues that a critical history of interactive arts cannot be written without including non-electronic works and marginal histories of art, such as those produced in Latin America.

By looking at contemporary interactive installations in parallel with recent theories of movement, my dissertation aims to re-orient the question of interactivity through a methodology articulating orientation and disorientation in relation to three concepts: movement, technology and background. My dissertation focuses on six case studies engaging two kinds of phenomenological claims: “I can” (interactions where one can move and reach), as well as “I cannot” (interactions where one cannot move or one cannot reach even if one moves).[1] Also, my case studies have mobile elements and at the same time they incite the observer’s movement. My argument is that in the criss-cross of these two motions, in the encounter between “I cans” and “I cannots,” becomes possible to situate the movements and orientations of interactive installations in a larger history of human interactions and art history, as well as to re-orient dominant narratives of mobility, technology and society.




[1] Here I draw from Ahmed’s formulation of a phenomenology of stopping; according to her Frantz Fanon’s phenomenology of the black body could be “expressed in the bodily and social experience of restriction, uncertainty, and blockage, or perhaps even in terms of despair of the utterance ‘I cannot.’” My case studies engage one or both of these claims. Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006) 139.