Art has always faced the struggles of medium, technique, place and context. An art’s outcome has always been unsure from the moment it leaves the fingers of its creator. Its future always used to be in the hands of people who commission the work. But today, things have changed for the better. The materials used and the presence of a digital world play a huge role in determining the survival of an art. 

Adrian StClair  |  Ed Kiran Sajan  | 9 November 2020

© Courtesy of the artist.
throwback Janet 40 (220) © Courtesy of the artist and Janet40

Janet40 founder Patricia Siller and [Anti]Materia director Doreen A. Rios are two curators who have pioneered in the use of technology in art. For the latest session of Agora Digital talks, Siller and Rios will discuss their background and walk us through their experience as curators and researchers of Digital Art and Design. 

Janet40 is a platform/gallery dedicated to the materialisation of digital works, while [Anti]Materia is an online platform committed to the research and exhibition of Latin-American Digital Art. As the director of [Anti]Materia, Rios promotes Digital Art on her website and writes weekly articles on the use of technology in art.  She also works behind exhibitions that brilliantly combine physical and digital spaces to host art.

[Anti]Materia creates a vibrant sense of nowness paired with a touch of ephemerality. The site hosts profiles of past exhibitions and artists with whom they have worked with. A key characteristic of the large community of their art practitioners is how they collaborate and support each other. It stands tall as an example of the positive role a curator could have in their sector. In fact, Janet40 and [Anti]Materia serve as bridges for everyone interested in Digital Art.

un proyecto de #ZeYXLab en colaboración con #EmmanuelMartínez@salvador_herrera_art@joek.estrada#LuisadelaRosa@ucct_space#OscarAMontiel@neurocolor, EL TEMPLO DE OBSIDIANA © Courtesy of the artists – via ANTI-MATERIA.

Both Janet40 and [Anti]Materia were created in Mexico. The evolution of modern and contemporary art in Mexico is explored in great detail in a book Rios shared with us — (ready) media: Towards an archaeology of media and invention in Mexico. It is a great collection of essays that chronologically explores the history of art in the Latin American country. Like how an archaeologist adventures into unknown ruins of the past, the book helps us explore the archives of Mexico’s forgotten riches. 

Today, we deal with many new issues that artists of the past could not even imagine, but makers still have to consider the context in which their works are set in. The nature of social media, for example, has turned all work posted there into a semi-public piece. In many ways, this is similar to the purpose of a mural. These parallels come from the continuous nature of postmodern art where we no longer can ignore the preceding trends of art.  There is only building and working on top of what was there before.

Lista la expo de AR ✨ powered by @pequodco ➕ @laaa_mx © Courtesy of the artists – via Janet40.

One of the best kinds of inspiration is the one derived from learning. We can trace back inspirations in our art world to the greats of the past in order to continue the story. From today’s public internet culture, we can jump back to the days of public murals, from there we could go to religious artwork and keep going back. At least, for now, the dedicated look will be into the muralist tradition of Mexico.

The essays in the book Rios shared are keyholes to the wonderful Mexican artistic culture, from which we deeply resonate with digital art as a theme. An underlying concept of the whole piece is the price of progress. It is pointed in the essays post 19th Century, especially in the piece by Natalia De La Rosa on the muralist David Alfaro Siquieros and his mural for the IPN (Instituto Politécnico Nacional)  titled El Hombre como amo y no esclavo de la técnica (Man as commander and not slave of technique).

Mexican muralism has always intended to be an intrinsic part of the culture and image Mexico would have for itself and its future, mostly promoted by the post-revolutionary government. Most of the recognisable works were made between 1920 and 1970. Among these the most famous are the Diego Rivera murals at the Palacio Nacional, which showcase the complex history of the country up to the day they were painted.

Proyecto colaborativo a distancia entre @reginaceii (AV / performer – BsAs) y Giselle Angeles a.k.a @fragmatista (artista 3d y dir creativa – Lima) © Courtesy of the artists – via ANTI-MATERIA.

Alongside Rivera, there are two other members of the group known as ‘Los tres grandes’, the three greats of muralism. Also deserving a mention are Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros. Unlike Rivera, Siquieros’ work looks to the future of the country and of mankind, the uncertainties of the time, the power of technology, atomic energy and progress. The history behind the creation of this mural offers a thoughtful tale. Muralism was conceived as public art and carried out in that manner, in a similar way as a mural has its place. So does all art posted on the Internet, reaching a wide public audience. Interestingly all art published online today has terms of service to which it has to abide by, not too different from having a government dictate what gets through to the walls. 

At least there is always hope. Art both online and offline has the power to shape and push the boundaries of our reality. When Siquieros conceived his work, he had the intention of the mural existing in a concave wall which would envelop the passing-by viewers and draw them to the central figure. Sure enough, after convincing the architect of the IBN, it was possible to bring the vision to fruition. Today, we rarely see digital art shape the Internet as a whole, but it undoubtedly has the power to shape smaller spaces and exist in the best possible way. 

@wednesdaykimm y @giuliana_rosso @virginiabianchigallery, THE ANTEATER’S TRANSMUTATION (2020) © Courtesy of ANTI-MATERIA and the artists.

Muralism as a whole still exists, alive in the graffiti community among others. This kind of public Art has always had this undoubted power to be viewed and to influence. However, it has also evolved into new forms — projection art can be seen as an ephemeral mural which can also move and be tweaked with. 

A special shoutout goes to the work Île from 2018 by Jaime Lobato who presented an installation of projected video alongside an island of hardened resin. Similar to a mural, the work exists in a large surface of a room, involving the spectator on its concept; the piece serves to represent the idea of progress and dominance of technique sought after in the works we have looked at before, both (ready) media with its collection of essays and Siquiero’s mural. For the promotion of these ideals and the artists behind them, we have to thank Patricia and Doreen for their amazing work as professionals and community leaders in the art world.

As a conclusion, we understand that the struggles of Siquieros’s work are still ongoing. But we, nevertheless,  are still arguing with the machine to get what we need, thinking about it and exploring the community of artists that [Anti]Materia and Janet40 have created.  It is great to see a collective of digital artists pushing the boundaries of how beauty can exist in our world. 

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