Membership Spotlight: Sara Garzon

Interview with Sara Garzón by Constanza Salazar, Interim Chair of Communications Committee

Sara Garzón is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History and Visual Studies at Cornell University. She specializes in modern and contemporary Latin American art focusing specifically on issues relating to decoloniality, temporality, and indigenous ecocriticism. Sara was recently awarded the Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the year 2020–2021. Before that, Sara worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the Lifchez-Stronach Curatorial Intern, at the Brooklyn Museum as Audience Engagement Associate, and before that was Executive Director of the Sacramento Art History Consortium (SAHC) in California.

Sara’s writings have appeared in Hemisphere: Visual Cultures of the Americas, Anamesa: An Interdisciplinary Journal, DASartes Magazine, Ocula Magazine, and Hyperallergic. Her editorial project “Worldmaking Practices: A Take on the Future” was published by the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, and the article “Manuel Amaru Cholango: Decolonizing Technology and the Construction of Indigenous Futures,” was included in a special issue of Arts on decolonizing contemporary Latin American art (December 2019). That article was also awarded Best Essay in Visual Culture Studies 2020 by the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).

Sara has been invited as curator in residence at Casa GIAP, a residency geared toward the topic of “Creative Ecologies and Decolonial Futurities,” (Chiapas, Mexico 2019); the Emerging Curators’ Workshop at Para Site in Hong Kong (2019), and was part of the Science and Technology Society at the Delfina Foundation in London (2020). Sara is also a founding member of Collective Rewilding –a research initiative, which investigates the intersection between ecology, care, and curation. 

Illustration by Edson Ikê, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

1. Your research touches upon various threads of discourse especially pertinent today like racial justice, acknowledgement of climate change, and a continued search for an ethics of technology. How do they come together in your paper: “Manuel Amaru Cholango: Decolonizing Technologies and the Construction of Indigenous Futures” (2019)?

In the paper, racial and social justice, indigenous ecocriticism, and the ethics of technology came together as a result of looking at the intertwined relationship between environmental violence, colonialism, and western technology. In that regard, the paper tackled the complex issue of ecology by problematizing the definition of technology that was advanced by Martin Heidegger. Taking Heidegger’s detailed explanation of the technological as  one that responds to a capitalist logic that inherently foregrounds the exploitation of the earth and other human beings, it became imperative to demonstrate that in order to articulate a multisystemic environmental critique we also needed to deploy alternative definitions of the technological. 

More importantly, the paper underscored that indigenous definitions of technology already exist and that these are completely different from those that abide by the premises of extraction, distribution, and accumulation inscribed in western technology. Indigenous technology as explained by the anthropologist Alexander Herrera Wassilosky, therefore, proposes different orientations towards both the world, and towards worldmaking practices at large. I’m making reference here to the capacity of indigenous technologies to bring the world into being through other paradigms of existence, being, becoming, and reality outside of those promulgated by western (modern) ontologies. 

This also pertains to what the philosopher Huk Hui describes as a technodiversification. This, however, does not mean its expansion or acceleration, but rather an openness towards its absolute diversification. A techno-diversification that strives towards new and alternative meanings beyond those stipulated by western (modern) technology. More importantly, this attention to the already existing plurality of the technological is one that aims towards an earth-based thinking that can only be achieved by rethinking the technological ideologies that have separated us from nature in the first place. (Hui 2020) 

2. In your work, you also talk about “poeticizing technology.” How can we rethink technology or the “technological”? 

The Kitchwa artist Manuel Amaru Cholango, whose artworks I discuss in my paper, invites us to “poeticizing technology.” This provocation elucidates a decolonizing of technology by how it foregrounds an expression of technopoetics. A poetics that seeks, on the one hand, to dismantle the idea that western science and technology are the only legitimate and objective forms of knowing, while on the other, it establishes relational epistemologies as modes of being and existing in and with nature(s). 

Connecting with the question above, poeticizing or decolonizing technology, I argue, also relates to what Hui also calls “Cosmotechnics.” This entails a diversity of the technological that is in turn related to a plural definition of nature towards the idea of a multiplicity of natures. This again coincides with an indigenous approach to technology in which an “environmentalist” project cannot exist precisely because there is no recognition of the nature and culture divide nor a definition of nature as an entity outside or external to humans. In that regard, the diversification of plural natures already foregrounds a new poetic or ethics of ecological relationality that are paradigmatically different from the logics of exploitation inherent to modern technology, but that also, on top of that, challenges the alleged universality or self-proclaimed neutrality of modern technology.

Cholango, Cochasquí, 2014. Cybernetic installation, variable dimensions. Casa de la Cultura de Quito, Ecuador. Image courtesy of the artist. 

3. How do Indigenous futurities intersect with other discourses like Afrofuturism’s take on technology, science fiction, and aesthetics?

Like Afrofuturism and Chicano Futurism, indigenous futurities in Latin America also propose critical imaginaries for decolonizing histories bringing to bear testimonies of survival and resilience. 

Also, in these strands of futurity more than mere escapism, science fiction prompts us to recognize and rethink the status quo by depicting alternative worlds, be it in a parallel universe, a distant future, or a revisited past. However, recognizing colonial subjugation as being corollary to land dispossession, indigenous futurity tends to question more forcefully the promises that science and technology have had for people of color, especially when employed in science fiction narratives or visual scenarios. Especially because this seeks to directly dismantle new frontier colonialism and rhetoric of outer space conquest, that while entangled in the creative potentiality of science fiction to create other worlds, can reassert the myth of the robot or alien invasion that historically has been used to justify fear of the other. I talked about this in greater depth at the Independent Curators International and would love to invite readers to go deeper into this topic by listening to my talk with Ecuadorian artist Oscar Santillan. 

In elaborating a proposal for indigenous futurity in Latin America my research looked at indigenous artists’ capacities to create the possibility of the future by enabling what the Zapatistas called for, which is “a world where many worlds can fit.” This calling for a pluriverse as a site of the future entails, on one hand, dismantling the one-world logic that was cemented since the sixteenth century with the conquest of America, and on the other, moving away from the regimes of modern time, empty time, or the time of now. The future is not as a place prescribed by linear or empty time, but an outside to the modern colonial world system. 

In addition, besides advancing the anti-colonial critique that is shared across other strands of futurity, indigenous futurity foregrounds a horizon of multi-species flourishing. In that sense indigenous futurity in Latin America addresses two main questions, how can new ways of worldmaking yield forms of re-existence that counter the many defuturing narratives that surround us especially as that pertains to the end of the one world-system? And two, how can we foster relationships of allyship, kinship, solidarity, and reciprocity to connect among the various worlds, human and nonhuman, that we already inhabit?

4. What spurred an interest in new media art? Can you tell us a bit about your research and travels working with artists on technology in Latin America?

My specialty and research interest have lied in issues relating to Latin American art history, indigenous artistic practices, and decolonial theory. My path through digital and new media art started when I realized that artists like the Kitchwa Manuel Amaru Cholango and the Nahua Fernando Palma both started building robots and other cybernetic projects to counter the ontological connotations of historically characterizing the event of 1492  as a “Discovery.” 

The scientific connotation of discovery was so forcefully reasserted in 1992 so that the invasion of Abya Yala and the genocide of indigenous peoples were once again rendered as the mere consequence of scientific progress and enlightenment thinking. This characterization not only was a testament of historical erasures but also continues to dangerously position Latin Americans, and more specifically its indigenous communities, as the perennial objects of scientific inquiry and never as the precursors of science and technology. 

Thanks to my extensive travel throughout Latin America I also have had the opportunity to meet and interview important artists who are today at the forefront of new media practices. This first-hand experience has also transformed my understanding and appreciation for artists working on technology. However, seeing the fascinating new approaches that indigenous artists were developing in 1992, got me to pay closer attention to the aforementioned relationship between technology and the histories of colonialism. 

Adrián Balseca, Jardín I, preparatory sketch (Plantasia Oil Co.), 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

5. Can you tell us about your numerous projects with Collective Rewilding and the Collección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros? How have they informed the way you see the future?

With the multiple crises and end of the world scenarios that we face today, there is nothing really in my research and work that is not geared towards enabling the possibility of the future. The question of the future invoked throughout my research and curatorial projects is dedicated to understanding how we might get to reimagine ourselves once again existing and flourishing in the future. This future, however, means not an idealized tomorrow, but a place outside the modern-colonial world system. 

With the support of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, I was able to initiate a long-overdue conversation about futurity in Latin America. The provocations contributed to the editorial project World Making Practices a Take on the Future by artists and curators in Latin America, were helpful in allowing us to think about the role that contemporary art plays in enabling the pluriverse as the site of the future. 

The founding of the curatorial laboratory Collective Rewilding, on the other hand, was a direct response to the cancellation of a show that I was co-curating with Ameli Klein and Sabina Oroshio titled The Cartographic Impulse. Given the multiplying sanitary, environmental, and social crises, it became impossible, as for most people, to continue to think about curatorial work without thinking more carefully about what it means to curate for and in a broken world. Broken-world-thinking, in that sense, led us to understand how repair, sustainability, and care needed to be at the center of everything we do and write about if we wanted to insist on the possibility of the future. Here, however, the future is foregrounded by care, meaning systems of accountability, multi-species flourishing, mutuality, collectivity, and co-adaptation. 

Overall, these projects have become laboratories for developing the strategies needed to tackle the many defuturing narratives that surround us and to combat presentism, and the evermore amplification of violence today.