For the first time in its history, SIGGRAPH focuses on Latin American artists working with digital technologies. This is momentous, as this subject has seldom been explored—neither in the history of new media art nor in the entire history of art—despite the tremendous growth of these fields in the last 20 years. The insufficiency of study in this area has to do in part with the historical tension between digital art and the art world, and with totalizing stereotypes of Latin American underdevelopment that perpetuate the marginalization of the region from modernity . While the SIGGRAPH 2017 Art Gallery critically advances these histories, a multiplicity of inventive engagements of Latin American artists with a variety of modern technologies precedes it. Hence the exhibition is both unique and in conversation with a long tradition.
European technological media, such as books and printed images, have been integrated into Latin American art and society through the processes of colonization, Christianization, and exchange since the 16th century. Prints were used to train artists in the techniques of European representation and were particularly effective for disseminating ideas among those who could not read. In some territories, such as Peru and Bolivia, as well as in 16th-century Mexico, the confluence and convergence of indigenous and European imagery generated distinctive regional visual cultures. In the 19th century, and more frequently in the 20th, some artists employed modern technologies in their work while others used traditional media to depict visions involving technologies real and imaginary. Many artists traveled abroad and actively participated in international networks, which makes it difficult to disassociate Latin American art from international artistic developments.
In 1920s Mexico, the estridentistas, recognized as Latin America's first vanguard movement, were presciently conscious of the changes that modern technologies presented to society. Estridentista visual and literary works bustle with the images and sounds of streets, shops, corners, advertisements, radiators, airplanes, cinema, jazz, radio, telegraphs, automobiles, locomotives, factories, and strikes. Their work was partially a response to the irreversible technological and social changes that Mexico underwent during the period of reconstruction that followed the devastation of the Mexican revolution .
Subsequently, renowned Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco painted images of technologies including electric light, airplanes, microscopes, telescopes, x-ray machines, and fictional cyborgian creatures to communicate hopes, fears, and imaginations for the future . Such images include Rivera's famous—and now destroyed—1933 mural in Rockefeller Center in New York City; Portrait of the Bourgeoisie at the Electrician's Syndicate in Mexico City, by Siqueiros, Josep Renau, and the Team of Plastic Artists (1939–1940); and Orozco's murals at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara (1928–1939).
During the 1940s and 1950s, Latin American artists began to investigate new media. In Argentina, Gyulia Kocise and Lucio Fontana created neon sculptures that preceded the development of neon art in the United States . In Brazil, Abraham Palatnik exhibited his first kinechromatic work at the São Paulo Biennial in 1951. It consisted of a backlit plastic screen onto which colors and forms were projected using lights of varying voltages, colored electric wires, [End Page 414] electronically controlled rotating cylinders, time switches, special lenses, and a prism. The result was a "painting" of light in continuous transformation . Later in France, Nicholas Schöffer of Hungary and Frank Malina from the United States would independently create backlit devices with similar purposes.
After the Second World War, the art world witnessed a surge of artistic production using new media and technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of Paris-based Latin American artists, including Argentines Julio Le Parc and Martha Boto, created innovative kinetic and electronic participatory sculptures and installations. Le Parc, along with compatriot Horacio García-Rossi, was a member of GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel), an influential group of artists that challenged the traditional model of the artist as genius by adopting a model of collective, and even anonymous, authorship based on scientific research. GRAV drew inspiration from cybernetics and information theory, and sought to incorporate the audience's responses into the work of art. They did...