by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
The Ars Electronica Festival began in Linz, Austria, over four decades ago - in 1979. Since then, the annual festival has brought together artists, researchers and scientists from across the world into one united hive. Ars Electronica creates a space which opens up to a hybrid audience of art and technology lovers both, while exploring radical new concepts and advancements in both fields. This year, Ars leverages this space to uplift the Latin American artist community. In an inaugural event, Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation launched their debut collaboration with Ars to present five Latin American artists who have been commissioned works, which are on view at the Ars Festival this September. Sergio Fontanella, the Director of Operations & Collections at CIFO, and part of the selection committee for the CIFO-Ars Electronica Awards, speaks with STIR about why such awards are necessary for the empowerment of all communities.
The CIFO-Ars Electronica Awards received over 160 applications, but the final awards were presented to only five. For this edition, all the finalists happen to be female artists. The recipients who received commissions are Dora Bartilotti (Mexico), Electrobiota Collective (Argentina/Mexico), Thessia Machado (Brazil), Amor Muñoz (Mexico) and Ana Elena Tejera (Panama). The visual artists’ final works reveal a wide range of media, exploring electronic textile, sound, light and artificial intelligence. With no unifying conceptual overhead, the canvas was open to individual interpretation, inviting complete creative freedom. When asked which artist stands out from the rest, Fontanella says, “How could I put one of these eye-opening and defiant projects, whose birth I was fortunate enough to witness, above another? When exhibited together they make such a wonderful display of sensibility, intelligence, humanity and talent. The whole group, although they are not intrinsically connected with each other, share a common understanding and appreciation for our present world, with its beauty and challenges.”
The influence of culture on our perception of reality is immense. Conditioning builds the framework of how we view the world. To build systems which are resilient, we must embrace the diversity of world views our contemporary culture is blessed with. For a simple example, consider how South-East Asians have innovated using bamboo, as a result of its abundance. A European architect would benefit from the community’s shared knowledge, having little exposure to the material themselves. The combined skill set and experience is greater than the sum of its parts. In a society where much of the global markets are structured to advantage Euro-centric ideals, creating space for all communities to thrive is an essential task if we are to build towards true progress. With the increased threat of climate crisis, there is no better time to work hand-in-hand with one another.
Fontanella continues, "CIFO is committed to supporting Latin American artists because of the important work they are creating in the face of pressing socio-economic issues and the leftover impacts of centuries of colonialism in the region. The artists in Latin America have been experimenting with technologies in contemporary art since the 1940s. Nevertheless, in many cases, their work still lacks the widespread visibility and commercial success that comes with recognition from major gallerists and art collectors.” CIFO works to engage underserved areas of the arts. The organisation recognises that artists working with technology are creating incredibly promising and relevant works which tackle issues such as the climate crisis and cultural heritage preservation. CIFO has been functioning in this capacity for 20 years and has awarded over two million dollars to more than 150 Latin-American artists, published over 20 bilingual (English/Spanish) art books and curated over 40 exhibitions.
For the CIFO-Ars awards, all the commissioned artists are showcasing their work at A Parallel (R)evolution - Digital Art in Latin America, which will be a part of the 2022 Ars Electronica Festival. Of the five art installations on view, Amor Mūnoz presents the most visually curious showcase. The artist presents Chimera, Expanded Bodies, a series of bio-sculptures which explore biological systems of breathing and circulation, synthesising these ideas into biotechnical sculptures which are, on a certain level, 'alive'. Muñoz’s practice manipulates sound, textile, performance and experimental electronics to peer deeper into the relationship between technology and human interactions, material forms and social discourse. The Mexican artist’s practice even employs ancient craft techniques, in combination with new technologies to create experimental installations. Her works, although conceptual in nature, are an avant-garde examination of the application of these new technologies in our day-to-day.
On the other hand, The Electrobiota Collective roots firmly into the visible and existing issues in our physical environment. Their video work Cenizas del Paraná is based on a forensic investigation of diminishing wetland areas and their endangered native plant species, with a specific focus on Isla Puente in Paraná and Entre Rios in Argentina. The installation advocates for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of these wetlands. Other works include a sound and light installation by Thessia Machado which is also a musical instrument; an AI programme by Ana Elena Tejera and an interactive, electronic art piece by Dora Bartilotti which shines light on female trafficking in Mexico. All five artworks display a distinct approach and focus, highlighting the artist’s individual passions. In a combined showcase, they display a wide range of media, concept and messaging.