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. They are products of human activity, yet they continuously shape us. They 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 reflections about the worlds we might wish to inhabit—or elude.
For the past 35 years, the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery has presented technological and scientific 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 influenced. 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 . 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 . [End Page 410] 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" , 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.
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