Dr. Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda (b. 1973 Guadalajara, Mexico) is an interdisciplinary media artist and cultural historian with a research focus in Latin American media art history. She is Assistant Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University where she leads critical MediaArtsStudio (cMAS). cMAS is an interdisciplinary research studio that produces work that interrogates how old and new technologies have and continue to shape our sense of self through a theoretical lens informed by media archaeology and feminist, postcolonial and decolonial theory.
She has published articles on Latin American feminist media in Media-N: The Journal of the
New Media Caucus, Platform: Journal of Media and Communication, and Artelogie: Recherches sur les arts, le patrimoine et la littérature de l’Amérique latine. Her award-winning research on the role of feminism(s) in the development of Mexico’s mediascapes after 1968 is forthcoming with University of Nebraska Press. Her multimedia installations combining video and performance have been exhibited in Canada, Mexico, India, and Chile. Currently, she is researching the impact of digital technologies on the archival practices of female activists and artists across the Americas, and investigating the practices of women working at the intersections of art and technology in Latin America with a specific interest in interactive art and electroacoustic music.
1. Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.
I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico to a family of artists. My mother is a visual artist and sculptor and had a studio in our home, and my father is an architect. I began to develop an art practice in sculpture, printmaking, and metalsmithing in my mother’s studio at a very young age, but rather than getting into an art program I enrolled into a graphic design program. While pursuing my design degree, I participated in several group shows and national art contests and had a solo show in Mexico. At that time, I produced mixed-media installations and sculptural jewelry that explored the formal and ephemeral qualities of materials as metaphors of the natural rhythms of the female body. I was also interested in how the female body was the focus of public policy that dictated normative gendered roles. My work responded to policies that attempted to regulate and control proper female behavior in public and the public media debates that ensued as a result. Soon, I found the art environment in Guadalajara to be extremely nationalist and sexist and hence not receptive of the kind of practice I was developing. I decided to apply to graduate school abroad and had the opportunity to select Canada over other countries.
As an MFA student at York University in Toronto, I began to experiment with video, a medium that I’ve been using ever since. My work became more introspective and also historical. Historical research about female archetypes in Mexican history and female artists became an essential aspect of my art practice. Since then I began to explore my sense of self through an experience of migration and more broadly the human body as a site of cultural, gender and bio-political inscriptions through video, performance, and sculptural installations.
My dual interest in practice and historical research led me to pursue first an MA in art history and then a Ph.D. in history both at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. My MA research centered on understanding the economic, political, and social mechanisms that led to the globalization of Mexican contemporary art in the mid-1990s. I was interested in understanding the ruptures and continuities that had driven a new generation of curators and artists to shed the nationalist aesthetic of Mexican art and embrace new mediums and forms that spoke to global markets but that unfortunately still kept the patriarchal and centralist workings of the Mexican art world. This work led to my Ph.D. research that focuses on recovering the work of feminist media artists and activist working in post-1968 Mexico and which will be published by University of Nebraska Press in 2019.
2. What are some of your main influences?
I am always influenced by my colleagues, family, and friends, but regarding artists, the work of Eva Hesse and Ana Mendieta were an early and vital influence in my work. Through their work, I began to understand and experiment with materials that are ephemeral and to think about the temporal rhythms of matter as metaphors of the body. Most importantly, their lives and struggles in the artworld resonated with many of the issues that I have continued to explore throughout my practice. Later on, the work of Mónica Mayer, Maris Bustamante, Rosa Martha Fernández, Pola Weiss, Ana Victoria Jiménez, Magali Lara, María Izquierdo, Lygia Clark, Adriana Verejão, Sonia Andrade, Shigeko Kubota, and Pipilotti Rist became and continue to be key influences in my work. The writings and research agendas of Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, Gloria Anzaldúa, Karen Cordero, Alejandra Bronfman and William E. French have been key to my development as a scholar. I am currently a member of art/mamas, a group of Vancouver-based artist mothers, whose discussions have centered on motherhood and art practice and the intersections between reproductive and artistic labor. All its members including Matilda Aslizadeh, Robyn Laba, Natasha McHardy, Maria Anna Parolin, Heather Passmore, Sarah Shamash, prOphecy sun, and Damla Tamer, are also a significant influence in my work.
Photo Credit: Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda, Untitled 1 and 3 (from mama series, writing with dehydrated
placenta grounds), digital prints on paper, dehydrated placenta grounds and glue, 2017.
3. New Media is …….
A continuous entanglement of technologies, institutions, protocols, social and cultural practices, that mediate our daily lives, and co-shape our sense of self.
4. What is your typical day like?
I don’t have a typical day, but usually, the mornings are quite chaotic as I try to get my family out the door on time to get to school and work. I have a one-hour commute to work. I usually teach, meet students and have meetings all week but I try to reserve one day to do research and make art. At night, I try to spend as much time with my daughter as possible.
5. What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
I am working on two art projects. One is a collaboration with Freya Zinovieff, prOphecy Sun and Steve Di Paola entitled Mothering Bacteria which consists of a live performance and a durational three-channel video installation. The work explores the mothering body as a site of co-becoming through the interactions between a custom-built AI and the sonification of bacteria that resides on our skin. The other project is a mixed media installation that explores the agential potential of family heirlooms as carriers of memory, tradition, power and re-invention. I am also co-organizing with Freya Zinovieff an academic track in the media art conference RE:SOUND that will take place in August 2019 that explores the intersections between Gender, Sound, and Technology. This panel builds on my new research project on the histories of female Latin American composers working at the intersections of visual and sound art to suggest an alternative history of electronic music and twentieth-century avant-gardes.
6. Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?
I want to continue to experiment with living organisms, sonification techniques, and AI as a way to speculate about possible futures. We are currently working on finalizing Mothering Bacteria, and my hope is that this project will lead to further collaborations with other artists and scholars working in bio-art, AI, sound and multispecies discourses.
7. What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?
I am experimenting with sound field recorders, object-based coding and data sonification techniques for the projects I am currently working on.