Marina Zurkow: aiming at the bottom of the iceberg

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

Marina Zurkow’s work explores the relationship between nature, culture, and society, focusing on what she describes as “wicked problems,” those issues that reveal our abusive interactions with the natural environment and our difficulty to understand it beyond our human-centric, capitalist-driven views of the world around us.

A transdisciplinary artist, she works with experts from different fields to create a wide range of artistic practices that includes video art, installations, and public participatory projects. Currently, she is working on the tensions between maritime ecology and the ocean’s primary human use as a capitalist Pangea.

Her work has been exhibited at numerous international art museums, as well as galleries, including Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, bitforms gallery, NY, FACT, Liverpool, SF MoMA, Walker Art Center; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Wave Hill, NY, and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Zurkow is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and received grants from NYFA, NYSCA, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Creative Capital. She is represented by bitforms gallery, and a fellow for Fall 2022 at Princeton University.

Following the release of two new artworks commissioned by Niio, we spoke with the artist about her latest work and her commitment to raise environmental concerns through her art.

Marina Zurkow, OOzy#2: Like Oil and Water, 2022

Many of your artworks, including OOzy2 and OOzy3, specifically allude to water as the main protagonist, and particularly the sea, which you have described as a “capitalist Pangea”. Sea life is both fascinating and mostly unknown to us urbanites. How do you use representations of the sea and sea creatures to address concerns about environmental issues?

First of all, I would say that one can think of the ocean in two ways: as a surface, and as a volume. The surface, which is what we mostly encounter as humans, has two functions: on the one hand, it is a surface on which we play; and on the other, it is a surface on which we transport goods, and this is what turns the ocean into a capitalist Pangea. 

This is a diagram of the ocean shipping routes. When I first saw this, it became extremely clear to me that this surface is actually a very solid plane of transaction, namely capitalist transaction. So that’s where the phrase “Capitalist Pangea” came from. Billions of years ago, in the Mesozoic era, there was one sea, called Panthalassa, and the land was a single landmass called Pangea. 

The other slide I wanted to share, which relates to the idea of the “Capitalist Pangea” is one I made for a talk on oceans, showing all the ways in which we see the ocean. We are capable of holding all of these buckets in our minds at once, and they remain in their silos to a great extent. The differences between thinking of the ocean as a site of plastic pollution, our fantasies of adventure, and 10 hour recordings of ocean waves you can find on YouTube to relax— those are all simultaneous identities that we assign to the ocean. 

This is my last slide to share: it is an image created by Donella Meadows, the systems thinker who devoted her life to ecology and is one of the authors of the report The Limits to Growth that nobody wanted to pay attention to in the 1970s and 80s, and that clearly showed that the planet can’t take unlimited growth, which is the fundamental tenet of capitalism. She was interested in using systems thinking to look beneath the surface, and offered this iceberg model in order to talk about change-making. As you can see, what is visible (and therefore  above the surface is tiny. The hardest thing to change is at the very bottom, the mental models. That’s the hardest place to get to. And honestly, I feel like if we can’t have an emotional relationship to the material of our planet that is at great risk, we can’t change the way we think about the world. And so anything like “don’t take a plastic bag,” or “get an electric car,” all the moral imperatives that are put on us, if they don’t come from the heart, they’re not going to stick, they’ll just be gone in the next election cycle –at least, in the United States. 

And so what I am committed to do with my work is to create emotional connections to this material and the ocean. Why the ocean in particular? Because it is so important! It covers 80% of this planet. And just the fact that we’ve named this planet “Earth” tells you something about human self-centeredness. Really, we are a planet of water. And even if it is such a cliche, it is true that we are made of almost the exact same composition as the ocean itself.

“There are many roles that artists occupy in terms of addressing environmental atrocities. I don’t feel like any one tactic is any better than any other. It’s all crucial.”

How would you describe the role of the artist in raising important concerns about climate change and environmental atrocities? Do you see a difficulty in balancing severe global concerns and aesthetics?

I would like to unpack this and say, there are many roles that artists occupy in terms of addressing environmental atrocities, ecocide, grief, climate change, and environmental connection-making. These roles range from explicit activism—getting people charged up to make change, to the subtler concerns that I was talking about: changing affect, changing the way we feel, changing the paradigm and the values in which we live. So for instance, it may sound oblique, but thinking about kinship across species is such a radical paradigm shift for most people. And that, to me, is one of the fundamental motivators for caring for the earth. So there’s room for everyone at this table, to participate in connecting people to the world in which we are interwoven. And I don’t feel like any one tactic is any better than any other. It’s all crucial. 

Regarding the second part of that question, yes I see a tremendous difficulty in balancing severe global concerns and aesthetics. Because the same things that make visuality potent, also make visuality impotent. The brain wants to categorize what it receives and put in boxes and dismiss those ideas that seem dangerous, depressing or disturbingly radical. Presenting an audience with an impactful idea will attract their attention, but it may also lead them to reject the idea because it is too disturbing and just move on. Our brains want to take a nap, and have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty. Yet, what we have at present is the tremendous force of geoplanetary uncertainty that, in many ways, we have produced. In this context, is visual art the right tool? I think there’s a lot of room at the table for these experiments. And you would have to be out of your mind to think that you, as a single individual, can change anything. We all have to contribute to making incremental changes. And this is very hard, because artists, myself included, have a big ego and want to feel like “yes, I am a changemaker.” But instead, I have to say, I am committed to change making, and I want to participate in that in whatever little ways I can. 

“I see a tremendous difficulty in balancing severe global concerns and aesthetics. Because the same things that make visuality potent, also make visuality impotent.”

I have been working in audio more, I just finished collaborating on a 30 minute immersive audio piece about the ocean, that is a radically different kind of experience. The audio sneaks into your psyche. And because nowadays we are used to audio guides, I can use this technique to pretty great effect. This has been an instructive piece for me to think about other ways to invite people into these complex, difficult conversations and to go places where the human body can’t go, like deep into the ocean, or doing things that are impossible for us, such as dissolving into little bits and getting eaten by a whale.

As an artist working in many different mediums from new media art to performance to collage, how do you see the role of video artworks differing from other artistic practices?

I would add that I also work with food, for instance, that asks you to put things in your body as a way of experiencing the world. Each encounter between public and material can be thought of as “ways of knowing” (or epistemologies), and my job as a collaborator, thinker, and maker is to work with people who understand their own media like technology or cooking in such ways that we can do the most we can with those media to connect people to concepts and experiences.

Marina Zurkow, Making the Best of It: Jellyfish (2016)

As for video art works, the way to connect with the audience is obviously through the visual (and aural) quality of the piece, its scale and its context. The images produce all kinds of relations that your brain is trying to make sense of. Some images remind you of others, or spark certain feelings. All of this process is happening neurologically, and because we’re such visual creatures and pattern recognizers, the invitation of looking is built in and seductive. In that sense I am particularly interested in the humorous, the quirky, because it disarms the viewer. The viewer leaves their defenses behind when they see something really enchanting, or funny. So in my animated films I often use elements that are somewhat funny or seem naïve, but they point to issues that are not funny at all.

“I am particularly interested in the humorous, the quirky, because it disarms the viewer.”

Another aspect that is important for me in connecting with people happens when the artwork lives in people’s homes. I like work that people live with, and get to spend long times with. Some of my works are really long, they go on for hundreds of hours, sometimes unfolding over the course of a year, so that when someone has the artwork at home they can spend a lot of time with them and see how they change. Even if the work is not very long, about three minutes, I think about the density and add many layers, so that the story is told in depth and not in length. 

Marina Zurkow, OOzy #3, 2022

Do you think that people react better to something they’re more actively involved in, or can they also have a profound experience of a visual artwork that they see at a certain distance?

These experiences are really different, and can be memorable for an audience in different ways. The food projects can suffer from exactly the same problems as the visual projects, which is the production of spectacle. I have only really been able to do one very successful public food project that was not elitist in costliness: a jellyfish jerky pop up shack on the UCLA campus that attracted 300 people to eat and talk. We provided a night market stall atmosphere, where people could sit and eat, and we interviewed many eaters in what was a really rich, two way exchange. For us as artists— my collaborators Henry Fisher, Anna Rose Hopkins and myself— this was a chance to have a real-time exchange and to create an offering that condensed into a snack some of the components of the tremendous risk of sea level rise. The video work does not have the same kind of immediacy: I don’t know what is happening with the work in terms of people’s reception. It’s a much more distanced experience for me. And at this point, I hesitate to understand what is so compelling about the work, or if the work really does move the mind at all. I really don’t know.

Your extensive career, among many other things includes your teachings as faculty member of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Could you elaborate on your views of the artist as educator?

I don’t think you have to educate inside of academic institutions, I think you can educate in many ways, which goes back to my statement about “ways of knowing.” Art is always political, and it is also always educational. What I mean is that art will be teaching you something whether it intends to or not: it might be teaching you that art is decorative, it might be teaching you that art has cultural vitality, it might be teaching you that the oceans are polluted. Art is always engaged in communication, and communication is, essentially, the transfer of information. This information accumulates and sometimes opens up a new way people can think about things. And that itself is a form of pedagogy. I teach that way. I was lucky to teach in a program that was very “anti-lecture,” very participatory and dialogic. This methodology pushes you to think about ways in which you teach and how to facilitate hands-on, engaged learning.

“Art is always political, and it is also always educational”

Your commissioned works show a tension in the relationship between the natural world and humanity with a specific focus on consumer culture and technological advancements. Do your works also suggest a solution for this probing question?

I don’t have any solutions. The first thing you learn in systems thinking is, there’s no such thing as a solution, because the solution will only beget further problems. When you think you’ve solved something you go to sleep, you don’t worry about that anymore. So I’d rather have the opposite: opening up new ways of thinking about these difficult entanglements and producing more questions rather than answers. Questions persist in your brain, they haunt you a little bit. And then maybe they drive your inquiries into the everyday. So what if making people conscious is the most I can do? What happens then? I have been going through tremendous doubt of the efficacy of artmaking in the  last couple of years, and I am not on the other side of that yet, but I’ve been thinking a lot more about modest offerings of what change looks like and ways in which we can open up the world. A world of more inclusive ethics that would drive us to make better ecological and interpersonal decisions. 

“I can only claim to do a small bit and then it is up to everyone to change their mindsets and act.”

Still, as an environmental artist, you are expected to solve things. There’s a group of artists and scientists who say, “If we don’t make work that addresses really tangible ways of changing things, we are useless. How do you measure that? We don’t want to talk about metaphors. We don’t want to talk about mindsets, we want to make change, we’re in a crisis.” But I would also say, sometimes you have to slow down to move fast. Interestingly, the Rising Seas Jellyfish Jerky Snack Shack showed me the contradictions in this way of thinking about solutions. People who participated and thought of themselves as environmentally active students, who were doing environmental studies, still went downstairs to the vending machine and bought single serve plastic wrap snacks. It was like the snacks were a blind spot in their whole system of thinking about the world. So I can only claim to do a small bit and then it is up to everyone to change their mindsets and act. 

Andreas Nicolas Fischer’s Ambient Art

Roxanne Vardi

Andreas Nicolas Fischer is a multidisciplinary artist from Berlin. Fischer started his artistic career as a traditional artist working mainly with painting and drawing, but became interested in generative art upon his visit to artist Casey ReasProcess/Drawing exhibition in 2005 at DAM Gallery in Berlin. 

At the time he discovered Reas’ work, Fischer was interning at ART+COM, founded by Joachim Sauter, who also later became a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts. Fischer learnt Processing from the very first people who worked on the creative coding environment conceived and developed by Casey Reas and Ben Fry in 2001. While he did not have a background in computing, Fischer was motivated to teach himself code and started creating animations with Processing. He also worked briefly with fabrication and sculpture to adapt to the demands of the market at a time when the interest in digital art was not yet mainstream. However, he considers himself a purist and likes to create systems that operate autonomously, something that he can achieve by working with generative algorithms. 

In the following interview, that took place on the occasion of the artist’s solo artcast The Art of Hypnosis on Niio, Andreas Nicolas Fischer unfolds the motivations and techniques behind his work.

How would you describe your art practice today?

My practice is mostly generative pure abstraction. I do some narrative 3D animation philosophizing about the end of the world, but my main focus is generative systems and aesthetics and abstractions; developing these systems over time and translating them into different means. My personal preference is to create art that is self-contained, and doesn’t take data from the outside. I used to work as an art director to make a living, making 3D animation as this was a bigger market, but I didn’t want to be part of that career where artists need to receive grants. I always wanted to have a hard skill, with a foot in the industry, but I like my work to be more dynamic where I learn something and then apply it. This is what I did for ten years, but then I started to receive commissions, until at some point my art practice and commercial practice merged. Today I don’t work for agencies and I don’t work as a freelance artist. I do my own work. My main focus is generative systems and aesthetics and abstractions, developing these systems over time and translating them into different means.

My main focus is generative systems and aesthetics and abstractions, developing these systems over time and translating them into different means

Andreas Nicolas Fischer, Nethervoid 07 L 2180, 2022

You have described some of your latest works as ‘Ambient Art’. Could you please elaborate on this concept?

I have been doing more real-time work in the past few years, I like to call it ambient art, it’s not narrative and it’s not super intrusive. You don’t need to pay attention to the work all day, but it’s a small intricate development with its own pace. I really like when you get drawn into the work. In this way I like to see my work as hypnosis, I hypnotize people through the work in a sense. I do this for myself, because I like the process of viewing my own work, but I have also observed that in my audience, some people tell me that they get lost in the work. And that’s what I like, changing people’s state, changing their psychological state. We all have a perceptual system, but you can influence that. I like changing someone’s state of mind with my art overtime. It’s an introspective process, there are no demands, it’s more subtle. In a sense I am not saying anything. I make my work for myself but also for other people.

Many of your latest series such as Nethervoid and Infinite Void also contain a sound element that feels crucial to the works. Is this another way for you to influence your audience’s perceptual system?

There are sound frequencies that you can use to influence one’s perceptual state, which I started looking into. I create some of the sounds with other artists, while others I find and modify myself using generative code. Composers hear so much more than we do, that’s the beauty, to be able to collaborate with sound designers because it enriches the artwork and we learn from each other.

On one of my works, I worked with a friend of mine, David Kamp, a composer and sound designer. I had sent him a rough cut for this work and I literally almost cried when I got it back from him. There are not many things that move me, but when I got that [sound design] back it was very powerful, it was so subtle. It was like listening to 70’s progressive rock on a good sound system, there is just so much there. 

Andreas Nicolas Fischer, Feeder-01-2160p, 2022

I like changing someone’s state of mind with my art overtime. It’s an introspective process, there are no demands, it’s more subtle.

Can you tell us more about your involvement with creating video sound installations which make the work immersive and create a dialogue with an environment such as The Origin of Quantum Dot, established in collaboration with Samsung?

That was a unique and special project. I co art directed it and created the content for those screens, but the sculpture was made by Christopher M. Bauder and Schnelle Bunte Bilder, a studio of visual art in Berlin. But this is not something that you can do every day.

In 2021 we were commissioned to create an installation in Washington DC.  It was such a powerful experience as the end result resembled an animated James Turrell, playing with light, where the sensation of the room completely changed according to the light.

What is it that draws you into creating digital art or software-born art created with code?

What I like a lot about the process is creating something from nothing, just from text and code. Of course the whole programming environment and the libraries were created by someone so it’s not nothing-nothing, but what I like is that you have something that is a pure instruction and you can create something new from it that has so much depth and richness . This  is so powerful. I love 3D animation and coloring and shading, but 3D animation is an insane amount of work. What I like about software is the leverage that you have, making systems autonomously while you are running the code, it’s also a flexible medium. With AI and generative systems you have a lot of leverage and you can control these machines to do something, I appreciate that on a conceptual level.

You start with pure instruction and you can create something new from it that has so much depth and richness. This is so powerful!

When you use found data in your generative artworks, how important is it for you that people know the origin of the source material? 

It depends, in the past I would use found images to create some of my works, but now I generate my own procedural compositions. I like both but I am not interested in where it came from, and visually it’s far enough removed from the original image that I don’t feel guilty about it. The machines give you power to create some things that you cannot create by hand.

Andreas Nicolas Fischer, Infinite Void 13A L 2098, 2022

You have also experimented with AI. What is your take on working with generative adversarial networks?

I had a brief and romantic relationship with AI. People talk about the end times of machines and the domination of AI. There are reasons to be concerned about that. I received a few DALL·E invites which I intentionally gave out to people who are not versed visually, but what I found is that if you don’t have good taste or that trained eye, what you produce with the AI is not going to be that interesting. This is what I concluded from my sample experiment. These tools on the one hand are very helpful for certain things, but also very biased because as soon as you get specific about things, what it hasn’t seen, then it gets harder. In the beginning when I got it I was completely sucked in, I sat there for a couple of days and hit the ‘dopamine button’. 

As an artist everything you do is a dopamine loop, that warm fuzzy feeling is something I am trying to reproduce. But the thing is once you have an image prompting machine to create things that are visually pleasing, things one can do without a huge effort, your receptors shut down, and the satisfaction is that you don’t feel good or accomplished with yourself. It’s like TikTok, after half an hour of scrolling if I would ask you what you remember about it, it wouldn’t be very much. I see AI going where you can turn yourself and other people into dopamine junkies, it’s visual stimulation on steroids. The thing with all of technology is that it’s only going to get stronger, sowe need to find a way to deal with it.’. Today I mostly use AI tools to up-res all of my older videos by adding more detail to them. To me, this is the beauty about it, to increase the fidelity of the content.

I see AI going where you can turn yourself and other people into dopamine junkies, it’s visual stimulation on steroids.

Can you dive deeper into your use of the term ‘void’ in describing or naming your works?

Using the term void is intentional, coming back to wanting to hypnotize or affect people’s mental state through the works. The void is more of a meditative void, a mental void. Of course it’s visually very full, but for me meditation is hard, I don’t have a solid practice but sometimes my work can help me with it by producing that mental void.

Digital Storytelling: an interview with Kineret Noam

Roxanne Vardi and Pau Waelder

This interview is part of a series of three editorial articles that dive deeper into the different software, technicalities, and processes that go into creating digital artworks, in order to offer our readers a deeper understanding of digital art as a medium. 

We speak to Kineret Noam as part of a collaboration with Render Studio, a collective creative experimentation for a digital reality. Render Studio is inspired by art, design, nature and technology and aims to explore dimensions of virtuality, interactivity and motion. Kineret Noam’s series Three Rooms and The Whispering Reed are both featured on Niio this summer, and were both created for Render Studio. 

Kineret Noam, The Whispering Reed, 2022

For the creation of this series you made use of two different digital art practices. Could you expand on the difference between these two practices and how you integrated each towards the creation of the final artworks?

In the creation of these series I used two techniques. First I paint on my Ipad using Procreate and Photoshop, which allow me to create digital illustrations that feel like they are painted with a brush. I create the sketch with Procreate to get an understanding of the composition. I choose the brushes that feel like the real thing,  the process is really cool. Secondly, I build every layer with all the text and the colors. For example when I illustrate a tree, I make the whole tree in one layer, and then I open up a new layer and make the mountain. In one minute of the final video we have about fifteen layers. Once I’ve created the individual elements in Procreate I arrange all the layers in Photoshop. This can amount to about sixty layers. Then in the final composition I decide which elements are moving and which stay still.  In this way, I can focus on time and on depth of the composition. 

Once I have the different elements of a scene set in different layers in Photoshop, I think about the mise-en-scene and what I want to say using these elements.

The second technique is Frame-by-Frame animation. Once I have the different elements of a scene set in different layers in Photoshop, I think about the camera, the cinematic view, the mise-en-scène and what I want to say using these elements. The camera can take the vantage point of the spectators which is a more static and passive angle. For example, I am now working on a series about Genesis. What I am trying to convey with this series is the historical importance of the Genesis story, which we all know of and which my children will know of as well. So the camera, or the vantage point, in this series is always static. But, sometimes I want to say something about time and about feelings. There is a famous song in Hebrew by singer Rona Kenan titled “My Prison by the Sea” in which the artist says ‘every time I turn away I seem to miss a train’. So sometimes I want to portray the feeling that something happened emotionally but that it is moving on, like we all do in life. So in that way I decide what to do with the camera, what needs to move and what needs to stay static in order to convey the meanings and feelings I am looking for. 

Kineret Noam, The Whispering Reed: Cleansing, 2022

So if the different elements are animated individually, we can say that you act as a stage director, setting up the stage and placing the actors. Right? 

Exactly, yes. I think about the  stage, in which the elements intervene like a cast. Sometimes I want to tell the story not from the point of view of a distanced viewer, but getting in the middle of the action. For instance, in The Whispering Reed, King Midas was alone, so I imagined following him with the camera and I tried to capture his emotions in that situation, to understand him and his loneliness in this tragic story. So, I thought about myself as a child walking around a valley near my childhood home, which also gave me the inspiration for the background and nature in this series.

I always ask myself: What is the mission of the artist today, now that we have digital tools?

As part of your work process you have stated that you first approach your works with more traditional art practices such as drawing, and then proceed to applying different softwares to create the final digital versions. What is the role of the digital in your artistic practice?

First, I will answer on a technical level. When I draw in my studio with a pencil I need to fix the work, so it takes a lot of time to work on every detail of each element and to create the composition. If I want to change something about the character I need to change the composition. When I do this digitally it’s much easier to fix things. Secondly, from a philosophical viewpoint, the great traditional artists had to draw from their memory, from just one image. But our memory works differently, we need a few frames if we want to build something. For example when you think of a childhood event, you don’t imagine it in one frame but in several frames. I always try to think how we can keep an image dramatic, like the great artists did, but still succeed in spreading the memory in a broad way. Today, it’s more convenient to create several frames, but it’s also the conflict between traditional art and digital art. I always ask myself, “what is the mission of the artist today, now that we have digital tools?”. When the camera was invented, artists encountered a conflict, because if they could capture something with a camera why would they need to draw or paint it? We need to ask ourselves: What is our mission today?

Kineret Noam, Three Rooms, 2022

How do today’s different available softwares help in reconstructing ancient narratives and philosophies while bringing attention to and questioning the world we live in today?

When you read a story, for example, ancient Greek mythology, you can imagine a few timelines together: the refuge, the character, which register in your head like a collage. When you create this and put it on a timeline, you block or omit things from your mind. So I try to ask myself how I can keep these hidden instances within the timeline, taking into consideration that we cannot see everything. Areas where you look again and again and suddenly you see something. I leave some illustrations not very clear on purpose. 

Do you also feel that it helps you to add a personal layer to such a well-known narrative? Taking into account that the inspiration for scenery comes from the valley next to your childhood home. 

What is great about my work is that I can choose subjects that I am connected to, so in all of my series I choose subjects that I feel that I can give more layers to from my personal perspective. For example, there is a scene in The Whispering Reed where the character is drying his laundry. There is a special prayer in one of the Jewish holidays where it says that God will take our sins and clean them like white laundry. Comparing the atonement to washing, I might have done that unconsciously as I thought of this prayer which I was used to repeating as a child.

Kineret Noam, Three Rooms, 2022

You have also created NFTs as part of your collection of the Three Rooms series. Could you please elaborate on your experience in this new Art Space and expand on your expectations for this new medium?

I am a bit suspicious and afraid of this space: we live in this Instagram society, we just have a few seconds to view an NFT square and cannot dive deeper into it. Thinking about NFTs as one more layer in the history of art, I find this layer hard for me to understand. When comparing NFTs to the introduction of the camera I feel that I need to find a way to do things like Cardi B is doing. The pop star is able to take the medium she is working with, pop music which is vastly spread through out society and highly accessible to all, with all the industry around it and the expectations of her fans, and turns it around to take a very personal and extreme position that is unique to her in a way critiquing society and destabilizing social foundations.

I want to take the NFT square and say something extreme about our digital world, and about our way of looking and understanding art

I am still not sure how to do this, but when I create a square NFT I want to do it in an extreme way. Using the negative aspects of society and ridicules because in a sense we are consuming this. I want to take the NFT square and say something extreme about our digital world, and about our way of looking and understanding art. I want to question, and to create something that addresses the way we use NFTs and the way we use our phones and social media.

Creativity and paralysis: the digital art scene in Argentina

Cristian Reynaga is a curator of new media art based in Buenos Aires (Argentina). With a background in electronic arts and cultural industries, he has developed numerous curatorial projects in Argentina and Colombia and has led governmental initiatives focused on science, technology, and society, as well as commercial projects for brands such as Nike, Pepsi and Unilever. In 2015 he founded +CODE Cultura Digital, an independent cultural organization promoting an international festival on digital culture.

As part of a collaboration between Niio and +CODE, Reynaga has curated the artcast Post-Production, within the series +SUR, focusing on artists from Latin America. In this exclusive three-question interview, he draws a general picture of the digital art scene in Argentina.

Still from Observation Machine 1(2021) by Julian Brangold

1. How would you describe the digital art scene in Argentina?

The digital art scene in Argentina is located in what I would define as cultural periphery: it develops independently, not only facing the economic crises that already identify us as a country, but also the precariousness of cultural institutions in general, and specifically the lack of development of the digital art ecosystem: there are no cultural spaces, galleries, or specialized collectors and there is an absence of managers and public or private officials who are interested in reliably promoting artistic projects linked to digital culture. 

However, talented artists have been dealing with this scene for decades, accustomed to creating without a budget, to experimenting with limited access to technologies and to the lack of spaces that encourage collaboration or the dynamization of the sector, which is necessary to stimulate the emergence of new artists and new projects. In addition to this great effort from the artistic sector, it is worth highlighting the sustained interest of research groups that have accompanied this diagnosis from different study centers.

The crypto art and marketplace boom has had a great impact on the artistic community: for many it has become the main source of income, for others it has meant the first experience of economic retribution for their artistic work in their entire lives, and for others, an acceleration in their artistic projection. Some of them have begun to be exhibited in international galleries and museums while in Argentina they’ve had no opportunities to enter the art scene. This has generated an asymmetry between trajectory and relevance that is very interesting to analyze: it reveals both the dynamics and paralysis of our particular art scene. It can be said that Argentina is, at the same time, scorched earth and also a very fertile soil with enormous talent that should be taken into account for the insertion of new modalities of creation or international collaboration.

Online distribution is creating new audiences with a specific interest in digital art and allows creators to project themselves as artists within a circuit that supports them.

2. Are there networks of collaboration between Latin American countries in the field of digital art?

There are collaborative networks, but they are informal and based on voluntarism, which is a word that has been a recurring theme in discussions over the last few decades as a vector that explains why regional communities of digital artists and alternative institutions or organizations have not disappeared. The desire to share experiences and sustain bonds of interest and professional affection continues to overcome the social context.

At the Latin American level, possible alliances fail to develop due to a lack of interest in sustaining them at the institutional level, both public and private. There are exceptions, such as the governments of Chile and Colombia, which, from their respective governmental organizations, have carried out internationalization actions in relation to digital culture, but which do not prosper due to the lack of collaboration from their peers in other countries, as is the case of Argentina. Our country does not respond in the same way to attempts at internationalization and collaboration. However, there are certain contributions from European countries (Spain, France and the United Kingdom) that manage to deploy certain initiatives but with little real impact, or at least little real impact on Argentinean soil. I believe that this is due to the lack of interlocutors capable of managing the Argentinean scenario.

Still from delta (2021) by Mateo Amaral

3. The pandemic has led us to connect more to our screens. Do you think that online distribution has benefited Latin American artists?

Without a doubt it has given artists something basic and fundamental: interest in their production. The paralysis of the local and national scene, strengthened by decades of precarious actions, has become even more visible when compared to the new online markets: a growing number of platforms have appeared that favor circulation and provide artists with the opportunity to become part of global communities. Online distribution is creating new audiences with a specific interest in digital art and allows creators to project themselves as artists within a circuit that supports them.