Latin American Media Art Temporary Library, at ISEA2017, Manizales, Colombia
Interview with Alessandro Ludovico and Andrés Burbano
By Pat Badani
Introduction by Pat Badani
The Latin American Media Art Temporary Library co-organized by Alessandro Ludovico and Andrés Burbano was a scholarly, participatory intervention, that took the form of a large book display installed at the “Teatro de Fundadores” (Manizales, Colombia), the main venue for two media art events: ISEA2017 and 16th Festival International de la Imágen, held concurrently from June 11 to 18, 2017. Attendees were encouraged to browse through the collection and also add to the existing archive by donating and depositing pertinent publications on the display unit – with the surrounding space becoming a ‘hub’ for conversation and exchange. I participated both as browser and as contributor by donating a copy of “Mestizo Technology: Art, Design, and Technoscience in Latin America” guest edited by Paula Gaetano Adi and Gustavo Crembil, with Pat Badani as chief editor, and published by Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus (V.12 N.01). At the end of the Symposium and Festival the book display unit was overflowing with new additions, and I thought I would engage a conversation about the origin and destiny of this great collection with co-organizers Alessandro Ludovico (director of Neural magazine and Associate Professor in Art, Design and Media at the Winchester School of Art, UK) and Andrés Burbano (Assistant Professor, School of Architecture and Design, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia).
Conversation between Pat Badani, Andrés Burbano and Alessandro Ludovico (August-Septembre 2017)
Pat Badani: How did the idea of the ‘Temporary Library of Latin American Media Art’ come about?
Andrés Burbano: Two years ago in the graduate course on The Future of Publishing at Universidad de los Andes, in Bogota, Colombia, we decided to invite Alessandro Ludovico to share his views on the topic with us, especially because his book “Post-Digital Print” has been very influential world wide when re thinking the role of contemporary publishing.
Alessandro spent a week in Colombia presenting some ideas based on his multiple experiences in the field, as editor of the Neural magazine, as a curator of exhibitions on experimental digital publishing at Jeu de Paume in Paris, France, and as author of books such as “Post-Digital Print.” The discussion with students was enriching; many innovative thoughts on how to embrace several of the different processes of publishing were explored, from conception to design, from distribution to exhibition.
One of the ideas considered was the format of book exhibition, which combines elements of a library but also a curatorial process likened to exhibition design. At that time Alessandro was working on the idea of creating these temporary libraries that would operate as interventions in venues where the collection of publications might be relevant because of the aim to expose as sets, collection of books, magazines, and exhibition catalogues that were not conceived as such.
Alessandro Ludovico: After an initial very fruitful exchange I had with Andrés about a possible embodiment of a temporary library of Latin America media art, we started to develop ideas in the context of ISEA2017 in Manizales. We had a lucky chance to meet again in October 2016 and started enthusiastically to sketch a plan, and then the project took off in the few months before the international ISEA event.
The main concept behind a ‘Temporary Library’ comes from my work as member of the Archaeologies of Media and Technology (AMT) research group at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. It builds upon the practice of ‘mobile’ libraries, a scheme developed since the early 20th Century by local institutional libraries to carrying a relevant and enjoyable selection of books to rural areas through some mean of transportation, bringing their services where it was mostly needed. In the same spirit, I thought that the misrepresentation of new media art and culture in traditional libraries had to be addressed with an active and positive practice by the same international community who has developed it for so many years.
So, the idea of a ‘Temporary Library’ starts from reconsidering libraries as dynamic and independent forms of knowledge collecting that can be created, contributed to, and shared. After consulting with an expert in the specific investigated area (in this case Andrés Burbano) to co-curate the selection, we asked publishers and individuals to donate specific printed publications in order to organize a dedicated space during an international event ---in this case ISEA2017--- where a specific shared space with tables and chairs was created, inviting people not only to browse through the selection but especially to comment on the books and to propose connections between them.
PB: During ISEA2017 and 16th Festival International de la Image, the book display unit functioned as a showcase for print books, journals, and catalogues already in the collection, and also as a repository for donations from event attendees. Why the emphasis on print publications? Can you estimate the number of books added to the existing collection? What is the grand total in the collection?
AB: In principle, the attention to print publications is due to the fact that books, magazines, and exhibition catalogues ---given their physicality--- don’t travel as easily as digital publications. Another important point is that despite there being several interesting and important publications on the topic of Latin American media art, due to distribution limitations in Latin America, the publications are usually not well known outside of their countries of origin. The books usually travel with the authors and are not frequently part of the commercial distribution networks, with most of the publications not circulating beyond their nation of origin. Consequently, there is an incredible opportunity to do something about this situation and we decided to go for a cost-effective system based on a crowd source strategy to bring these publications together.
Logistically the process was relatively simple; it was based on the trust of the community. Most of the authors sent the publications to Colombia in advance of ISEA2017, or brought the publications with them when coming to the event in Manizales. There were some funds contributed by the University of Southampton to partially cover the mail submissions ---because snail mail in Latin America tends to be either unreliable or very expensive.
AL: Actually, the intention was for the book display to be made up of solicited book donations ‘only’. Some of them were personally delivered by event attendees, and for those editions that were not originally solicited, we were very happy to include them in the collection. That said the majority of the publications were solicited. We gathered more than 130 publications that now form a publicly accessible ‘special collection’ on Latin American media art hosted and managed at the Universidad de Caldas’ Imagoteca library. It’s a great collection in my humble opinion and it has been possible thanks to the generosity of artists and academics, sometimes donating their last copies of seminal books or catalogues.
As Andrés fittingly pointed out, printed media has a specific role for preserving culture. For example, there are countless ephemeral artworks, including net.art pieces, whose documentation is only (or mostly) on printed books and catalogues. Furthermore, when publications are shared in a specific public area, they create a shared space of knowledge where their cultural potential can be effectively triggered through the exchange among attendees.
PB: What are the aims of the Latin American Media Art Temporary Library? What gaps does it fill? Who will it serve? How does it function after its ‘temporal’ manifestation during ISEA2017 & 16th Festival International de la Image? Will it be on display elsewhere? Indexed in a permanent library system? Available on loan? How will readers/scholars know of the collection?
AB: The aim of the Latin American Media Art Temporary Library is to fill the gap of information about print publications on the interactions between art, science and technology in the Latin American context. This is accomplished by spreading information about the publications and especially about the contents of these publications. There is the misconception that in Latin America the topics of art, science, and technology have been poorly discussed. On the contrary, this emergent collection is evidence that these discussions have been taking place for decades and that embracing those discussions today always means that we need to refer to works, authors, research, publications, and exhibitions from the past.
AL: Once I had the chance to finally see in person some of the publications, I personally was even more impressed about the richness and quality of artistic practice and theory production in the areas of art, science and technology in Latin American over the years. This ‘Temporary Library’ is potentially available on loan for events, and the entity requesting the temporary loan would need to enter into negotiation with the Imagoteca library to find out how it could financially and logistically happen. At the moment there’s an open negotiation to bring the collection to another conference in 2018, and I strongly hope it’ll happen. The collection is going to be indexed in the permanent library system by the Imagoteca librarian, so the existence of all these publications will come up through the libraries’ information and standard search system. I should add that the Universidad de Caldas publicly announced that it’s an important resource for them and that they are committed to taking care of the collection over time.
PB: Is it a curated archive, or does the collection grow organically via donation? Where can donors send book copies, or propose additions to the collection? How do you see this new library evolve over time?
AB: Currently the curation of the Latin American Media Art Temporary Library has been handed over to the Imagoteca librarians, so they’ll eventually accept more donations if they judge them as consistent with the topic and aim of the collection.
One important related initiative is called BATMAL and comes from Peru where José Carlos Mariátegui and Elisa Arca are putting together another on-line repository of information about publications on Latin American media art and other complementary material. Also, this on-line repository is based on library classification standards relevant to preserving good quality data about the publications.
AL: Potential donors should get in touch with Adriana Gómez at the Imagoteca library in the Universidad de Caldas: (http://www.disenovisual.com/adriana-gomez/). Finally, I’d like to add that the Latin America Media Art Temporary Library is one of several, different, “Temporary Libraries” I’m developing in different places such as Berlin, Lisbon, Trondheim and Bangalore, and Wroclaw, all curated with different local expert colleagues. For more information about these ‘Temporary Libraries’ in different sites, please contact me via Neural magazine. The aim is that they’ll build knowledge-sharing networks and especially, that they’ll inspire a shared social and cultural practice.
PB: The idea of creating ‘Temporary Libraries of (print) Media Arts’ in and about different cultural contexts is innovative and exciting Alessandro, especially because – as you mentioned earlier – there is misrepresentation of new media art and culture in traditional libraries. It’s equally exciting that Andrés should have joined forces in the creation of a Latin American Media Art Temporary Library. As you know, I’m invested in this particular cultural context and your venture really fills the gap that I discussed in my 2009 essay Foreignness as context: Interculturality and Digital Art in Latin America (“Extranjeros en la Tecnología y en la Cultura”, Ed. Néstor García Canclini, Fundación Telefónica). In said essay I stated the need to further develop a historiography of digital art in/from Latin America at a time when a handful of organizations had already begun to assemble digital collections with the aim of establishing a purely Latin American media art historiography: Leonardo/ISAST; Experimenta-Mesh 19; UNESCO Digit-Arts Portal Project; Daniel Langlois Foundation; Netartreview; Media Art History, to name a few projects attempting to establish these archives - a daunting task - and they were often fragmented or discontinued. It’s encouraging to know that José Carlos Mariátegui (Peru) is already working in a project that is a direct continuation of these efforts, past and present. In my essay, I also stated: “Personally, I would be very interested in re-thinking the methods behind research, documentation, and curation that would bring together digital media authors and artists connected by certain cultural affinities who are also very different from each other.” (p.79) Aligned with my thinking back then, the ‘Temporary Library’ introduces a new model that re-thinks methods of curating, documenting, and sharing print publications, the latter building upon the practice of ‘mobile’ library. It’s inspiring to see how you managed to create the right set up at ISEA2017 for a public space in which symposium attendees could contribute physical copies of books, journals, and magazines; also creating a space where new connections between the publications were the basis for conversations. That the University of Caldas’s Imagoteca library will preserve, lend, and ensure the collection’s continuity is significant, and I encourage readers to spread the word so that the Latin American Media Art Temporary Library may continue to grow organically and be shared in public places during temporary events distributed in time and space.
HUB Guest Post by Pat Badani
Pat Badani is past Editor-in-Chief of Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus (2010-2016) and NMC Executive Board Member. Currently she is lead editor of Artelogie, Vol. 11, EHESS, Paris, France; and ISEA International board member.