Paula Gaetano Adi
Assistant Professor, Rhode Island School of Design
Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“I am where i think,” Walter Mignolo
“El choque de un alma atrapado entre el mundo del espíritu y el mundo de la técnica a veces la deja entullada,” Gloria Anzaldúa
“Mestizo Technology” is a creative conceptual appropriation inspired by the legacy of two distant, and apparently unrelated occurrences: mestizaje  not as the study of mixed-race people, but as a creative and transformative practice and cultural theory of resistance; and technology, alongside the rising interest in hands-on and critical making practices. This special issue, thus, is a compilation made possible by the sustained growth of creative modes of working at the intersection of technoscience, art, and design, in coalescence with a need to reach beyond the Western canon in search of an epistemic democratization.
How is technology-based art produced within Latin America? How is technology embodied, appropriated, transformed, and assimilated in the region within the context of art and design? How do scientific ideas and technology migrate back and forth between El Norte and El Sur, and how are they degutted and assembled into new aesthetic discourses? Questioning the dominant model that assumes that scientific technical research is a domain reserved for the Global North, “Mestizo Technology” proffers arguments for recognizing the nature and value of ‘a world of sciences and arts’ by presenting a selection of scholarly essays that feature work produced by artists and designers living and working in Latin America.
Commonly perceived as a region of strong territorial identity with shared geography, history, and dominant languages, Latin America is, nevertheless, an enormously diverse and contradictory territory. It is not only an open unit linked to global flows of cultural hybridization, but also an intricate block with distinctive (and conflicting) local histories, practices, and cultures. For that reason, this issue was conceived with an emphasis on the “situatedness” of technoscience, convinced that even the widest networks are local at all points and that, in a globalized world, art, science, and technology inhabit the “contact zones.” 
Therefore, this special issue speaks about the creation of novel technologies as well as the effects of tinkering with existing ones, and portrays how creative and aesthetic practices are proving that technology is a contested arena with very complex local processes of reception, rejection, and adaptation. It is a critical reflection on technology and society through works that blend and extend the fields of design, contemporary art, and DIY/craft from the convoluted lens of mestizaje.  ‘Mestizo’—a conflicted and problematic term often used to describe a quest for homogenizing regional identity based on a history of essentialized and biologized racial ideas—is appropriated here to describe the processes of creative experimentation currently taking place in Latin America. “Mestizo Technology” is a kind of conceptual placeholder that allows us to speak about the impossibility of escaping the contradictions and dilemmas of Latin America’s multiple heritages. Mestizaje is not just hybridity, syncretism, or mélange, as those phenomena may not fully account for the various conflicts that mestizaje undertakes. While embodying heterogeneous juxtapositions and amalgamations aiming toward hybridity, mestizaje also acknowledges the intricate development of Westernization that began in the sixteenth century with colonization and persists today with current processes of globalization, in which modern technology plays a fundamental role.
Our original call aimed to present practices situated and operating in the frictional space between global technological frameworks and local histories and materialities, and also to challenge the ‘modern’ idea that technology speaks a universal language. Collectively, the essays in this volume address how technology and art/design function in the everyday push and pull of political, economic, social, and cultural affairs of Latin America, while describing how artists, designers, and local makers/developers are using different tactics to create innovative, sophisticated, experimental, humorous, and rebellious technology-based artworks.
We open the issue with an essay that discusses the emblematic works of two of the most relevant feminist video artists from Latin America: Brazilian artist Sonia Andrade and Mexican artist Pola Weiss—two conceptual artists that feminized the concept of mestizaje during the second half of the twentieth century. In their essay, Sarah Shamash and Gabriela Aceves Sepulveda situate the artists and their works in their geo-historical, sociopolitical, and cultural context and demonstrate how they cannibalized and embodied the manifestos of Oswald de Andrade and Jose Vasconcelos from a feminist perspective.
A hybrid journalistic report and a personal diary, “Travel Notes on Mestizaje and Technoscience,” is the second essay in this issue written by the Mexican cultural producer Tania Aedo. In her essay, Aedo attempts to demonstrate how knowledge can be produced through an aesthetic object and offers a critical reexamination of the key terms of mestizaje and technoscience proposed by this issue. While traveling and participating in different events related to the relationships between art, science, and technology, Aedo contextualizes contemporary practices in Latin America and sets up a fertile ground for all the essays to follow.
Diana Domingues and Eduardo Castillo, two leading practitioners working in different disciplines and utilizing radically different technologies, are the authors of the next two essays. Diana Dominguez is an internationally recognized artist-scholar and a pioneer developer of virtual reality (VR) and interactive technologies. For over 20 years, in her native country of Brazil, she has created immersive “ouroboric” experiences that link primitive ritualistic spaces with contemporary cutting-edge human-computer interaction (HCI) and immersive technologies. In her essay, Domingues outlines the contours of her artistic research and provides us with new insights about the paradoxical nature of her hybrid enactive systems. Chilean architect Eduardo Castillo, on the other end, presents a very different landscape; one stripped down to its bare essentials and comprised of wood, concrete, and metal. In a distinctive poetic tone that speaks to the quotidian and the canonical, Castillo presents his architectural oeuvre developed within Chile’s ‘rurality.’ It is a work attentive to issues of the environment and the everyday, and born out of profound preoccupation about materiality as a state of resistance.
Also with a focus in design practice, the duo Pedro Oliveira and Luiza Prado introduce their “decolonial artifacts” conceived for critical speculation. In their essay, they ask us to imagine possible futures through the language of social and digital media, and they encourage collaborative design methods for political literacy that may help overcome some of Latin America’s social inequalities.
José-Carlos Mariátegui’s contribution explores developing patterns around transdisciplinary models and practices for techno-social transformations in the Andean region of South America. He presents the case of Escuelab, an emblematic experimental hub in Lima, Peru that offered a new model of institutional structure and fostered community networking as well as alternative modes of knowledge production.
Far from the dominant web-influenced discourses of Post-Internet Art or the New Aesthetic, Heber Rodriguez examines new creative practices that react critically to the language and symbolism of the Net in the formation of a new type of digital subaltern. Through the analysis of the work of the Uruguayan artist Brian Mackern, the Chilean duo Chimbalab, and the Mexican collective Astrovandalistas, Rogriguez speaks about alternative ways in which art can serve as a place to challenge and replace the embedded power dynamics of the Internet with more egalitarian ones.
From the view of another neighboring discipline, Luis Fernando Medina Cardona traces different examples of cultural grass-roots activism in Colombia arising from the political camp of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). Emphasizing the importance of libre software, Medina Cardona traces some of the ethics and values of the open software cultural movement to pre-Columbian practices, which fit seamlessly with the idea of open communicative processes and sharing.
Claudia Costa Pederson’s essay reflects on the significance of video game studies as a site of negotiation. In her writing, she focuses on the work of developers Gonzalo Frasca and Rafael Fajardo and demonstrates their tactics for conscientização (“consciousness-raising”). Two of the most well known figures in the field of social games, they appropriate and reroute a medium typically used to buttress imperialist and commodity culture, to empower players’ learning and trigger personal and social change.
Finally, we conclude this special issue with two visual essays featuring rich, diverse, and powerful contemporary artworks that connect technology back to our physical and material world. Victoria Messi analyzes a series of projects and interventions developed by artists who creatively explore the use of technology to rethink the relationship between technical progress and urban development. Referencing the work of Arcángelo Constantini, Ivan Puig, Rodrigo Derteano, Leonello Zambón, and Gilberto Esparza, Messi describes projects that deal with some of the most alienating, unsustainable, and contradictory aspects of Latin America’s megalopoli. From another perspective, Jasmín Adler illuminates new directions in Argentine electronic arts that seem to continue Argentina’s long history of art/technology. Adler portrays four installations whose formal, aesthetic, and conceptual premises seem to disdain the great absence of sustainable institutional support and the lack of criticality among local institutions in approaching technology as cultural progress.
“Mestizo Technology: Art, Design, and Technoscience in Latin America” is not intended as the last word in this discussion; on the contrary, it is an introduction and a snapshot of some promising and provocative work taking place in Latin America. As such, this volume deepens our knowledge of the richness of media practices, brings new conceptual approaches for thinking through technology-based art and design, and opens up a new arena for debate. Just as mestizaje is a practice of continued contestation, we see this series of papers as incitement for further examinations into the meanings, histories, futures, and critical potential of a “mestizo technology” that emphasizes formal and informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning practices. For us, as guest editors, this issue is a perfect context to create experimental spaces for a radical “delinking” , one that is at once epistemic, technological, and aesthetic.
- For readings on critical mestizaje see scholars like Gloria Anzaldúa, George Yudice, Serge Gruzinksi, Walter Mignolo and Rafael Pérez-Torrez.
- Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession 91 (1991): 33-40.
- Delinking is understood here as a de-colonial epistemic shift that leads to different alternative narratives to the Western foundation of modernity, and brings to the foreground other epistemologies and principles of knowledge and understanding. For further reading consult Walter D.Mignolo, “Delinking”, Cultural Studies, 21:2, 449 – 514.
Paula Gaetano-Adi (b. Argentina) is Assistant Professor of Foundation & Experimental Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. An artist and scholar working in sculpture, performance, interactive installation, and robotic agents, she has exhibited her works extensively in both solo and group shows in locales such as Beijing, Stockholm, Madrid, New York, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, and Tasmania, among others. She received awards for her work such as the First Prize VIDA 9.0 (Telefónica Foundation Spain); the First Prize LimbØ (Museum of Modern Art Buenos Aires), Argentina’s National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; the RISD Bridge Grant; and the Incentive Grant for Ibero-American artists awarded by VIDA 14.0 Art & Artificial Life. She earned an MFA in Art & Technology from The Ohio State University, and a BA in Audiovisual Communication from the University Blas Pascal in Argentina. Visiting scholar at REMAP / UCLA, professor at UNTREF Electronic Arts program in Buenos Aires, and artist-in-residence at EMPAC Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she has lectured in conferences and art schools worldwide, contributing actively to the field of new media art with papers and publications.
Gustavo Crembil (b. Argentina) draws from the fields of design, architecture, craft, performance art, communication, and political activism. He holds a Master of Architecture from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a professional Architect Diploma from the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina. A Fulbright scholar, he has received several grants and awards such as UNESCO-Aschberg, Argentina’s Fondo Nacional de las Artes and Fundación Antorchas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Browns Travelling Fellowship, Acadia/Flatcut, VIDA 14.0 Art & Artificial Life (Fundación Telefónica, Spain), and The Rotch Studio Grant. Among his residencies are appointments at the Hypermedia Studio/UCLA, European Ceramic Work Centre (The Netherlands), and the Creative Glass Center of America/Wheaton Arts (Milville, NJ). His work has been exhibited internationally at Museum Caraffa (Argentina), Museum of Modern Art and PS1 (New York), Dutch Design Week, RE-New Festival (Copenhagen), Transitio_MX (Mexico), and Disruption / ISEA (Vancouver). In 2004 he was guest architect-in-residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art. He was a founding partner of THEM: Lynch + Crembil, a practice recognized as an emergent architectural voice by the Museum of Modern Art and by ACSA/JAE (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture/ Journal of Architectural Education) for its contribution to “design as scholarship.” Currently he is Associate Professor of Architecture at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He lives and works in Troy, NY.