Notes on the Art, Science & Technology scene in South America

Pro Helvetia South America, Art+

Note : Cet article n’est disponible qu’en anglais.

Director of the Immersive Arts Space at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), Chris Salter wrote a diary of his research trip through Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay

In the early months of 2023, as warm summer waves covered the southern hemisphere, Chris Salter set off to South America on a research trip. Director of the Immersive Arts Space at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK), the American-born, Zurich-based artist and professor had previously been in touch with a few Latin artists and institutions, but was interested in connecting more with the Art, Science and Technology scene in the region.

Travelling through São Paulo (Brazil), Santiago (Chile), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay), he visited a series of spaces and institutions, met with cultural practitioners and envisioned future collaborations. Salter also took part in the first edition of « Intersections of the Future: Artificial Intelligence in Cultural Ecosystems » in Buenos Aires, where he was interviewed by art historian, curator and researcher Jazmín Adler on the topic “Can artificial intelligence transform the art world?”.

After his journey, accompanied by his partner, the German literary translator Anke Burger, he wrote a diary of this trip. Describing a variety of artists, cultural practitioners and institutions, Salter gives an account of the diverse scene in South America.


São Paulo (Brazil)

19-25 January

My first destination was São Paulo, one of the largest cities on the planet with a metropolitan population of around 20 million. My coach here is Livia Benedetti, a well-known digital artist who runs an online platform called aarea.co. She has sent me a list of venues, artists, and curators to track down while I’m in town.

Day 1

As my first appointment was not until Saturday afternoon, we spent Friday wandering around Avenue Paulista, the central artery of São Paulo, with many of the main cultural centres. We visited Masp (São Paulo Museum of Art), one of the largest museums in Latin America, where a huge travelling show on Indigenous Art is taking place. I found out later that the visual art world in Brazil has gone the way of the US and Canada, with mainly a focus on artists from marginalized contexts. We also visited Itaú Cultural and Fiesp as well as an ORLAN show at the Sesc Paulista’s high-story building. The Sesc system, which I had been introduced to the first time I was in Brazil in 2015, is certainly one of the most interesting cultural organizations internationally. It is a non-profit foundation created by the Brazilian Commerce, Goods, Services and Tourism segments in the 1940s to support the general welfare of the citizenry and is exclusively funded by trade taxes. Independent of the government, it’s the largest institution for arts financing in the country, and there are numerous branches throughout mainly Southeastern Brazil. Each function like a cross between an international cultural centre and a local community centre, all framed by interesting architectural buildings.

Modular room with wooden floor
Modular space at Sesc Avenida Paulista © Pedro Vannucchi

Day 2

I met Livia in a café in Pinheiros, one of the touristy hip areas of the city. We discussed the Brazilian art and technology scene, which is quite vibrant. Afterwards, I encountered my friend Marcos Bastos, a curator and professor in media arts at the PUC-SP (Catholic University of São Paulo), and later Sergio Basbaum, a researcher at USP (São Paulo’s University), and musician Dino Vicente. I had met Sergio before in 2015, and he remembered a talk I gave about our research/artistic work “Haptic Field”, where we combined an immersive installation with research into the anthropology of the senses; something that Sergio is interested in.

After that, I went to see Paula Perissinotto, a long-time digital arts curator and founder/director of both the FILE festival and NOVA Bienal Rio. It was pouring down rain and first we met in a café and then walked over to her apartment. Paula said the situation for both festivals is usually precarious, particularly since the Brazilian government under Lula is restarting the Ministry of Culture, which was dissolved under the Bolsonaro administration, and things are unstable.

That evening, the meetings continued – a quite hilarious dinner with Marcos and his partner Simone, the well-known visual artist Regina Silveira, Demetrio Portugal, an AV curator working on different initiatives, and Marcos Cuzziol, the long-time director of the Multimedia Innovation Lab at Itaú Cultural; he is now working at USP on an AI-based initiative. The dinner was in a Japanese restaurant in Liberdade, the old Japanese neighbourhood, and was quite strange, as one dish comes randomly after the other, and Karaoke starts in the main dining area.

Day 3

I made phone contact with Rafael Steinhauser, the Institutional Relations director of MITsp, one of the largest theatre festivals in Brazil. He had just returned from the Santiago Theatre Festival (Santiago a Mil), where he was with theatre artist Janaina Laite. Rafael is connected to new multimedia forms of theatre, and I described to him our “Animate” XR theatre project and the IASpace. It was intriguing enough to have him arrange a meeting with himself and Antonio Araujo, the festival’s artistic director and a professor of theatre at USP.

In the evening, I once again met Marcos and another older acquaintance, the artist and curator Fernando Velázquez, and Camille Laurent, a visual artist working mainly with light installations. Fernando has been long in the scene, collaborating with media artist Lucas Bambozzi. Camille showed me documentation of a light and sound performance that she did at Sesc Paulista while Fernando presented me some recent projects he’s been doing with AI focused on climate change. His work is quite interesting since it mixes political, aesthetic and social themes within architectural-type installations. He suggested to come to Switzerland for a period to work on something.

‘Composições Imprevistas’, Camille Laurent’s performance series at Sesc Paulista

Day 4

On Sunday, Anke and I went to exhibitions and performances at two Sesc’s – the large 24 de Maio in the old centre of the city where we took in the well-known VideoBrasil video art festival and then travelled to Sesc Ipiranga, where we watched a performance by the mixed discipline queer performance group Mexa. We unfortunately left half way because of our lack of Portuguese.

Day 5

After lunch, I went downtown to visit the MITsp offices, where I met Antonio Araujo and Rafael Steinhauser. We discussed potential collaboration as they are very interested in the relationship between theatre and technology. I show them “Animate” and a clip from the “Zangezi” prototype we staged for the REFRESH festival. When I mention “Zangezi” and Khlebnikov (Velimir, author of the Cubo-Futurist poem/play), Antonio smiles as he actually knows the work and they are both intrigued enough to suggest a potential collaboration between the IASpace and the festival – something I would definitely like to pursue. While many independent initiatives seem to struggle for funding, MITsp (like many theatre festivals) appears to have a wide international collection of performances and seeks a broader representation between theatre and new technologies.

Stage with big screen in the background showing people with legs crossed and three smaller screens in the front showing faces
‘Zangezi’, directed by Chris Salter

Day 6

First, I met with Chico Dub, who runs Novas Frequências, one of the central sound festivals in Rio, and curates various other projects. He repeats what other cultural workers have told me: curating his festival is increasingly exhausting because of the uncertainty of funding.

Next, I met theatre artist Janaina Leite, with whom Rafael Steinhauser is working. Moving between English and French, Leite described several projects that she completed, including a piece about pornography and the current project “Deeper” (which just showed in a prototype version in Santiago), a mixed VR/Live performance where people witness various “limit experiences” such as BDSM, torture, exhibitionism and the like. She explains a project she wants to do based on a famous plane crash in the Colombian Amazon where the only survivors were four children who wandered for days through the jungle. What Leite finds most fascinating is that an Indigenous shaman was employed by the rescue teams. The night before, this shaman, El Rubio, drunk ayahuasca and met the children in his dream, interpreting it as a divine sign. I find this a highly interesting proposition for a kind of theatre scenario, and we discussed the possibility of a collaboration between the IASpace and MITsp to realize it.

Afterwards, I meet João Paulo Quintella, programme manager for Pro Helvetia in Brazil, and we discuss the scene in the country and the various people I have met. He mentions another artist (who was not in town): Igi Lọ́lá Ayedun. She runs HOA, a gallery dedicated to decolonizing the Brazilian art scene and who is interested in using AI as an artistic decolonizing tool. Finally, I headed to Oscar Niemeyer’s enormous Copan building to visit the gallery Pivô (and buy a Copan T-Shirt) and meet with the excellent and very nice curator Sylvia Monasterios, who showed us around the entire two-floor complex of exhibition spaces mixed into the building’s architecture. The international residency program is very competitive, having hundreds of applications each year for around 20 places. While dominated mainly by the visual arts, there have been media-related projects. Sylvia explains the structure of the residencies, particularly how Pivô aims to integrate residents from abroad into the larger cultural scene in São Paulo. The visit is thus a fitting end to the city’s adventure inside Niemeyer’s amazing building.

street , building and people standing
Pivô in Copan building, São Paulo ©Julia Thompson

Santiago (Chile)

27 January – 3 February

Nestled in between the Andes and the Pacific, Santiago is sprawling and modern. Unlike the focus on the visual arts I had experienced in São Paulo, my coach here, Isidora Cabezón, is more networked to the digital industries and creatives scene. Upon meeting artists, digital creatives and organizations, my overall impression was that of a vibrant metropolis somewhat cut off from the rest of South America. In fact, I saw two distinct groups of practitioners: those who had travelled internationally and were networked outside of Chile; and those who didn’t and had a different perspective.

I also got the sense that due to funding and support, there were many younger artists and collectives in the “immersive arts scene” but producing work that looked more like something one would see in Montreal or Europe: somewhat polished but rather standard in appearance light, laser and projection-mapping projects. Besides, I learned that artist collectives, centres and even government-sponsored organizations were working on commercial events as well, providing concept-design-production services. This was a far cry from my previous experience in Montreal and Canada, in general, where strict separation (at least at the funding level) between artistic production and commercial creative industry projects exists. In this sense, what I saw in the city displayed artistic projects strongly influenced from market-driven work and thus, not particularly engaged in a critical manner with technologies. This was very different than what I would experience in Buenos Aires and what I saw at a more institutional level in São Paulo.

Day1

I was already at an advantage by having not only Isidora as a coach but also knowing Jennifer McColl Crozier, director of the NAVE Centro de Creación y Residencia, a central venue for residencies and production focused on the performing and media arts. Well-connected in the Santiago scene, Jennifer had visited the IASpace as part of a Pro Helvetia research initiative in 2023, and soon after this, we collaborated on developing a successful project for Pro Helvetia’s Synergies call (“Bodies-Machines-Publics”).

White building on a street corner
NAVE Centro de Creación y Residencia

On this first day in Santiago, Jennifer organized an event at NAVE with a range of key players, including Enrique Rivera, director of the MiM (Mirador Interactive Museum), Fernanda Fábrega, responsible for new media and visual arts at the Goethe Institut Santiago, and a group of younger artists, curators and academics from the fine arts faculty at the University of Chile. I gave a rather lengthy public presentation about the IASpace followed by a discussion about interdisciplinarity, the politics of technology-art projects and other topics. We continued this informal meeting at a group dinner near NAVE, in the historic Yungay area of the city.

Later in the evening, we attended the Küze Fulldome Exhibition, the third edition of a festival of seven international 360 video/computer-generated works designed explicitly for the University of Chile’s planetarium. While the planetarium — especially the Zeiss Digital projection system consisting of 8 Velvet video projectors, with a specialized audio system — was extremely impressive, the artistic works were like many similar Full Dome productions I had seen internationally. However, the evening continued into the wee hours of the night, thanks to the presence of Rivera and an entourage of local and international artists.

Day 2

On Saturday (a scorcher as the temperature shot up to 36ºC), we visited the MiM, a space built in the 2000s as an interactive science museum for children and set in a very large, eleven-hectare park. Over lunch in the museum’s employee cafeteria, Enrique Rivera described his new vision of updating the museum exhibition spaces. Astoundingly, as we later toured the large spaces (designed by the Chilean architect Juan Baixas), there was not a single computer screen to be found – a conscious strategy on the part of Rivera to remove such ubiquitous digital distractions and allow for a more contemplative and focused experience for the visitors.

Concrete building during daylight
MiM (Museo Interactivo Mirador) in Santiago, Chile

Furthermore, Rivera is interested in reorganizing the mathematics and neuroscience part of the exhibition to focus on homegrown concepts of autopoiesis and cybernetics as formulated by the great Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela; concepts that would lead to an exhibition on data science through the lens of the Latin American version of cybernetics. In fact, at the same time of our visit, there was a show at the La Moneda Cultural Centre (a large government-sponsored museum situated directly below the presidential palace) focused on design during the end of Salvador Allende’s reign in the late 1960s-early 1970s with a special reconstruction of Cybersyn, a mythical technology project utilized between 1970-1973 (going into operation about the same time as the military coup). Cyber Syn’s aims was to create a distributed decision support system to aid in the management of the national economy and based on concepts developed by the British cybernetician Stafford Beer. Rivera even had a reconstruction of one of the CyberSyn chairs in his office. We discussed potential collaboration from a research standpoint and other potential connections.

Day 4

The fourth day (Day 3 was Sunday) was spent moving around the city, meeting emerging artists and visiting spaces. In the morning, I encountered Carla Redlich and her artistic partner Jean Didier, a duo with the name Matar a un Panda working between media and performance and with a strong political interest, at the GAM (Centro Gabriel Mistral) – one of the central government-sponsored cultural centres in the city. They showed me some early documentation of a work they were preparing to show in one of the abandoned mining towns in the Atacama Desert; a place that served as prison for political enemies during the Pinochet era. Focused on what they described as “reincorporating the digital into the physical world,” the two were using quite simple means – projecting into multiple layers of gauze and scrim and using chroma-keyed video in site-specific contexts – to focus on potent issues of political disappearance and oppression.

I then travelled to a more industrial « barrio » to visit the oddly named Espacio Checoeslovaquia. This “Creative Factory” hosts international and local artists, presents live performances, conducts a strong educational program, offers programs and classes (such as yoga and gardening) for the neighborhood and also contracts its expertise out to the local live events industry. For example, its managing director Sebastián de la Cuesta, who toured me around the facility, explained they had recently designed and implemented the opening ceremony for the Pan American Games, in 2023. The centre had hired/subcontracted out almost 100 extra artists and creators to complete the task. As I would find out, Checoeslovaquia was cooperating and collaborating with other arts centres in Santiago (such as NAVE) and given minimal funding resources at a local level; it was designing its own low-cost theatre equipment (for example, custom-built winches to raise and lower theatre electrics in their black box space). What was clear was that lack of resources and funding had catalyzed distinct types of collaboration with partners from the commercial sector on the one hand and local arts and cultural organizations on the other hand — something that would be quite unusual in European and US/Canadian contexts where barely collaboration even in university departments exists, let alone between commercial and non-commercial arts contexts.

Picture of houses
Espacio Checoeslovaquia in Santiago, Chile

Finally, returning to GAM, I met with artist Pablo Mois, an actor who is combing new media with scenography for live theatre. We discussed some key works in media art history (Pablo was exploring video and computer-based feedback, and I suggested he look at Steina and Woody Vasulka’s work) as well as a theme that arose with other artists: the need to be more connected artistically and intellectually with the larger international digital arts scene.

Day 5

I travelled to the Movistar Arena where Isidora’s organization CRTIC (Centro Revolución Tecnológica en Indústrias Creativas) had its main office. Funded by CORFO, the Chilean economic development agency, CRTIC is a hybrid between a lab and a school and, as Isidora explained, aims to serve as a technological centre, strengthen the “techno-creative” economy in Chile and create transversal value across the artistic, design and commercial digital media sectors. At this point, it has three areas of concentration: technical training in immersive sound (Dolby Atmos), virtual production (Unreal engine), XR (a partnership with Meta for training), as well as support of immersive media development through their onsite lab — which contained a Dolby Atmos mixing studio and a Green Screen room to do video compositing and post-production together with several XSense IMU-based motion capture suits.

According to Isidora, CRTIC is engaged in software training in animation/virtual production tools, incubation residencies and producing media for the live event industry (for example, for the last Congreso Futuro, the centre produced a six-minute opening within the crazy timeline of less than three months). Part of the goal of such industry projects was to help build a creative ecosystem, providing work for younger creatives. In this sense, I gathered that a blurring was taking place between digital art and digital creativity – this tension reminded me of battles between organizations in Montreal that aimed to distinguish digital art from commercial projects using digital technologies, like many of the emerging “immersive experience” spaces. It seemed evident that such distinctions were more fluid in Santiago and that some artists (particularly those associated with CRTIC) did not bother to make a difference. This was very different from the artists I encountered in São Paulo, who, backed up by a substantial institutional apparatus for both production and presentation, were far from commercial positioning. In Santiago, such a distinction was not so evident, at least in some of the collectives I was exposed to.

‘SinfonIA Digital’, work by Denise Rosenthal for Congreso Futuro’s opening

Day 6

I ventured out to the fine arts faculty at the renowned Universidad de Chile where I met up with Javier Jaimovich, a professor of sound, Francisca Morand, a choreographer and dance professor, and Mónica Bate, a professor of visual arts. Over lunch, we talked about a recent collaborative artistic project of theirs entitled “Fragile Intersections”, which merges performance and installation, reflecting on the contemporary body that emerges from the intersection and interaction of its biology with technology. I described some common issues with such interactive works and traded knowledge about integrating students into research-creation (the word used in Canada) initiatives as well as general literature and critical methods. Later, we met up with Fernanda Fábrega, Goethe Institut’s new media programmer, and Cecilia Checa, a young curator who worked at NAVE as a programmer before she moved to a new position at the university’s visual arts gallery, in a popular bar that was so loud that we could barely hear each other speak! Outside, it was even louder. Summer in Santiago!

‘Fragile Intersections’

Day 7

I returned to CRTIC for two events: first, to meet artist and NYU adjunct professor of creative writing and dramaturgy Alejandro Moreno, and to attend a series of presentations from “techno-creatives” who were about to take part in CRTIC’s first residency-incubation program. Moreno had just returned to Santiago after working in the Atacama Desert as an assistant to the French artist Pierre Huyghe and showed me some of his own work that was shot in the desert’s ghost towns. I also briefly met the director of Stereopsia Chile, a French-Belgian film producer who was about to leave Chile and return to Europe.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up with attending the “techno-creatives” presentations. They ran a wide range from more research-oriented projects (such as a pilot company using VR in therapeutic applications) to artworks to more commercial immersive collectives, such as Oktupus (Ricardo Tapio) or Omni Sound Lab (whom I would visit on my last day). I asked the group about the biggest challenges in Chile for successfully combining art and digital technology. One was scale. The second was lack of networking opportunities outside of the country. At the same time, perhaps critically, I observed a certain standardization of media approaches in the direction of “immersive arts”. Lots of spectacle-like stuff but little that was very penetrating or critical of such technologies. This feeling was confirmed by some curators I spoke with, who had distanced themselves from the emerging commercial scene in Chile. Later, we had the pleasure to meet Ximena Moreno Maira, who is the head of curatorial programming at the Centro Cultural la Moneda and, before this, worked in the Chilean Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage. We discussed her need for more inter-South American collaborations as well as different directions for art, science, and technology initiatives.

Day 8

On the last day in Santiago, I met up with David Maulen de los Reyes, a professor of design theory at the Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM) and an expert on the histories of cybernetics and design in Latin America. Maulen has studied both the Bauhaus in Latin America and the histories of cybernetics, particularly in Chile. He showed me a huge poster which not only traces the genealogies of design but also the electronic and digital arts across Latin America from the early 1940s to the present. Finally, I stopped by the studios of Omni Sound Lab, where I talked with their director Christopher Manhey. Formerly a music producer and Grammy award winner, he was collaborating with colleagues from Berlin at Monom-4Sound, an immersive audio infrastructure with whom I also have worked in the past. Manhey described the role of Omni Sound in Santiago’s techno-cultural ecology. Housed in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Barrio Italia, sharing the space with other studios, they are active in promoting local and more high-profile events having to do with immersive sound and media. Manhey showed me the space he built for immersive audio (7.1 system) and played various things, including a new spatialized recording of the legendary Chilean progrock band Los Jaivas’ famous album “Alturas de Macchu Picchu” (recorded in Paris! – far from Machu Pichu or Chile) and some recordings for an upcoming exhibition at the famous Pre-Columbian Museum in Santiago. Sponsored by Genelec, the high-end Finnish loudspeaker company, Omni Sound also has a branch in Berlin, and Manhey discussed the collective attempts to straddle two cities, benefitting from each.

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

3-10 February

The third leg of the trip took place in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires. My coach was Sebastián Verea, a multi-disciplinary musician and sound-visual artist who directs the Expanded Music program at the School of Art and Heritage of the National University of San Martín. I had already met Sebastian during a research trip he undertook to Switzerland in 2023, supported by Pro Helvetia, when he visited the IASpace. Then I was a bit familiar with the overlapping of music/sound/digital art scenes — still, Sebastián was extremely organized. Here, my schedule had a cross-sectional perspective of different artists/organization practices, ranging from the visual and performing arts, new forms of music-theatre-performance-scenography, electronic arts, music and digital culture and also some peaks into university-based research in computer science and applied AI at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

Day 1

I met Cristian Reynaga, a young artist and interactive media designer, digital arts curator and professor at the Universidad de San Andrés. Cristian is the founder and co-curator of +CODE Electronic Art Festival, an annual gathering for artists, researchers, and other specialists working at the intersection of art and technology that takes place at the university. We met at Arthaus, a private museum/gallery based inside a now bankrupt bank founded by Andrés Buhar, a successful real estate developer and musician. Such a model of private versus public institutions and their varying levels of stability was a common theme in Argentina. We discussed (as would become common over the next week) the recent political changes with the election of the populist Javier Milei and how this might affect the general cultural scene. In general, Cristian was a bit sober on the development of the digital arts scene in Argentina. First, he said that almost 50% of students move away to Europe to find work opportunities. At the same time, while Buenos Aires was filled with museums and galleries, most curators were trained in traditional art history, thus exhibitions tended towards historical approaches as opposed to more conceptual work. Another complication Cristian described was the lack of proper venues to show contemporary digital work. “There is a profusion of talent and skills, but artists have difficulty finishing projects due to the lack of resources and funding.”

Immediately after, I had a rendezvous with Marie Therese Constantini, Arthaus’ visual arts curator. Our discussion was a bit difficult because Marie-Therese spoke no English and we had to speak in French (not an easy task for me). I showed her and Cristian the keynote slideshow I had made on my phone about the IASpace as well as some of my own artistic work before moving to Switzerland. We toured the two-floor exhibition space, looking at photographic work as well as paintings.

View of skylight of building lobby
ArtHaus in Buenos Aires

Day 2

After a visit to state supported motion capture lab Tecnópolis was canceled, I took a Cabify up to the strangely labeled Zero + Infinite Pavilion at a separate campus of UBA, where I visited the Discrete Event Simulation Lab, a new facility with a large projection-based display system for the modeling of complex systems. There, I met the director, Rodrigo Castro, an assistant professor in computer science, as well as Pablo Riera, a physicist and computer musician who is a postdoctoral researcher in AI affiliated with the lab and the Laboratório de Inteligéncia Artificial Aplicada at UBA.

There was good synergy between all of us, especially since Pablo is working on spiking neural networks as a compositional tool and Rodrigo is an expert in complex systems modelling. Rodrigo was interested in a collaboration with the IASpace, particularly due to the lab’s interest in courses involving students from design and architecture in UBA. As Rodrigo worked at the ETH as a postdoc, we discussed different possibilities for funding collaboration between the IASpace and CONICET (the country’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research – a structure which has recently come under pressure from the government in terms of budget cuts). It was also interesting to see the Zero + Infinite Pavilion, a quite new, large-scale research and teaching facility which appeared to be something more akin to a Silicon Valley or Stanford facility.

Zero + Infinite Pavilion

Day 3

I visited a very interesting art centre called cheLA, located in a lower working-class neighborhood in the south of the city. Based on an old industrial factory with over 7,000 m² of space for residencies and exhibitions, cheLA was certainly one of the largest and most active spaces dedicated to multiple forms of art production that I encountered in South America. Here I met the director, Fabián Wagmister, as well as the executive director, Santiago Martín Núñez, and Miguel Galperín, a cultural manager and director of AtlanticX, a privately supported organization dedicated to creating new forms of opera and music theatre.

Even with a skeleton staff of less than ten people, it was clear that this centre was a vibrant and well-known site for incubating and exhibiting artistic work across all genres. Like many of the centres I encountered in Santiago, cheLA was dedicated to the local community as well as the broader Buenos Aires and the international community. Fabián himself was an interesting example of this, since he spends most of the year as a professor in the school of theatre, film and television at UCLA where he also founded the Centre for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP). As he explained, his core interest is using interactive technologies to enable what he called “alternative technological modes for collective creativity.” My visit consisted of a tour through the facilities, which appeared to go on and on – both enormous factory spaces that were used for all kinds of exhibitions and performances, as well as shop facilities and residency apartments and labs (one particular one focused on bicycles and physical computing technologies). It was clear that cheLA is a labour of love from its founders and staff. Fabián described the more absurd situation of receiving funding from organizations for specific high-tech items – like a Steinway Grand Piano and a relatively large CNC machine housed in the shop – while not being able to fund staff positions.

Wearhouse with works of art
cheLA centre in Buenos Aires

Afterwards, Miguel Galperin and I drove to Palermo and had a coffee at one of the hip cafes (where I drank a strange Cold Brew cola) and discussed his organization AtlanticX. Miguel was the long-time director of experimental projects at the Teatro Colón, perhaps the most famous theatre in South America. AtlanticX is a new initiative funded (like many things in Buenos Aires) bt a private foundation, Fundación Williams, focused on education, art, and technology. The aim, Miguel explained, is to mentor and support emerging Latin American artists working in new genres, including music theatre, opera and cross-over projects involving performance, new media technology, sound and installation-based practices. Involving an international roster of experienced artists (Marina Rosenfeld and Heiner Goebbels were mentioned), the program consists of an international call, an incubation period for projects (which Miguel described as “quite rigorous and academic, which is difficult for younger artists”), mentoring sessions and then a festival of the works in progress, to be held at cheLA. We discussed potential collaboration, from me mentoring the artists to developing a co-production scheme where IASpace could help incubate elements of a project during its development phase.

Day 4

The main activity was the open conversation between me and the well-known new media art curator and contemporary art historian Jazmin Adler, part of Artlab’s event “Intersecciones del Futuro: Inteligencia Artificial en los Ecosistemas Culturales” (Intersections of the Future: AI in Cultural Ecosystems), and the place was packed with people – it felt like a media/music festival in Montreal. Artlab is a creative platform focused on contemporary artistic practices that use technology as a medium, support or theme. Originally based in the Centro Cultural Kirchner (CCK) where they developed the digital creativity lab, Artlab has a black box space adjacent to Palermo. They organize educational workshops (this time in collaboration with the creative platform FuturX), events (such as producing the 2022 Buenos Aires edition of MUTEK) and are clearly networked with the local and international experimental music and new media scenes.

Two people siting in front of screen during panel
Jazmín Adler interviewing Chris Salter © @giuliansik

In addition to Jazmin’s and my opening discussion, the evening involved a panel on AI and Music moderated by Nicolás Madoery (who runs FuturX) and featuring, among others, my coach Sebastián, who presented a performance. The event also held an exhibition of quite intense AI-generated images by Argentinian artist Tomás García entitled « Todo Mi Ruido” (All of My Noise). Flashing by on a large screen in the lobby of Artlab, Garcia’s work, generated in Stable Diffusion, easily surpassed most of the generative AI-based image work that I’ve been seeing, combining apocalyptic scenes of what appeared to be flooded mud streets in a non-descript Southeast Asian city (later we were told these photographs were taken from poorer parts of Buenos Aires!) mixed in with Hello Kitty sculptures, images of armed soldiers (both real and toy) and other weird assortments of images. What was striking about these images was how convincingly the incongruous elements were embedded into the mud-strewn streets and favela scenes, making them appear genuinely part of the environment.

‘Todo Mi Ruido’ (All of My Noise), by Tomás García

Cristián Reygada, who I met earlier in the week, explained Tomás’ process and sent me links to an essay that he (Cristian) had written on Tomás’ work. I briefly talked with Artlab director Gonzalo Solimano, who described Artlab’s programming and their various activities. In attendance was also curator Julieta Agriano, who had visited the IASpace in 2022 on a similar Pro Helvetia sponsored research trip.

Afterwards, a group of us were treated to the special deep dish Argentinian pizza with a kind of chickpea cake placed on top called « fainá » — certainly an acquired taste!

Day 5

On the final day in Buenos Aires, I had three interesting and contrasting encounters. First, I travelled to the Belgrano area to the L-ISA Auditoria – a facility for immersive sound sponsored by the French audio company L-Acoustics and directed by MESS360, a company dedicated to audio and media. There, I met with Sebastián and the directors of the space, Damasia Sanares and Marina Bello. It was interesting since the two women also represent Yamaha in the city and had intimate knowledge of the Dante multi-channel sound hardware processing setup (which the IASpace also has). We discussed the possibility of replacing the IASpace’s complicated Max/MSP/SPAT-based spatialization system with the L-ISA software. Both Damasia and Marina were keen to collaborate with the IASpace, particularly since this could help open new academic partnerships and markets for them as well.

After lunch with Sebastián (the notorious Choripán which was slathered with chimichurri and delicious), I ventured 40 minutes back to downtown, where I visited CASo – Centro de Arte Sonoro, a gallery and platform dedicated to sound art and experimental music. There I met the general coordinator, Javier Areal Velez, and the director, Florencia Curci, who showed me around. With an entire floor in a government cultural centre called Casa del Bicentenario, CASo is strongly networked to the Latin American and international sound art community and produces a quite impressive range of projects in their space as well as annual festival at the CCK. Florencia, Javier and I discussed many friends in common and the craziness of the Argentinian political scene, which they said makes planning for events with foreign artists increasingly difficult.

As a final and certainly most surreal event, we went to Piso 29, an artist collective unexpectedly situated in an abandoned two floor office floor on the 29th story of a residential apartment building in Belgrano and with incredible views over the entire sprawling urban cluster of the city. It’s organized by Iris Saladino, an artist, cultural manager, coder and networker in the independent Buenos Aires art scene. Many of the artists working in the collective described a range of projects through short presentations lasting almost two hours. While the quality of the work widely varied, from amateurish to sophisticated (among the more interesting was Magdalena Molinari, who had also collaborated with my Montreal colleague Erin Gee), it was very good to get an overview of artists working in the cross-media scene. After the rather long list of presentations, we toured around the two floors, looking at how the different offices for different creators were set up and taking in the stormy view of Buenos Aires.

Other artistic venues

In addition to the appointments, Anke and I had the chance to visit several museums, among them the impressive Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMBA), which had several very large shows of strictly Argentine artists, including a wide-ranging exhibition entitled “El Arte, Ese Río Interminable” [Art, That Endless River] with core contributions from ecological artist Nicolás García Uriburu (who, with his famous green river projects in the 1970s, certainly must have influenced Olafur EIliasson). Another impressive exhibition was one by Argentinian Eduardo Basualdo, whose strange sketches, drawings and sculptures focus on a kind of trip into the recesses of the eye and human mind. We also visited the private Fundación PROA, situated in the harbour in the quite touristy area of La Boca Alas, with a small exhibition of the late video artist and professor Carlos Trilnick. Our attempt to visit MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art, on our final day unfortunately failed due to a broken water main , thus we visited the largest museum in in the city, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. There, we explored an extensive collection of Pre-Columbian art, as well as rooms of Latin American and Argentinian modernism from the 20th century – an appropriate end to our Buenos Aires visit.

Exhibition room with big dark sculpture resembling rocks and drawings hanging on the walls
‘Pupila’, Eduardo Basualdo’s exhibition at MAMBA in Buenos Aires

Montevideo (Uruguay)

10-12 February

Although Uruguay was originally not scheduled on the journey (the official research trip ended on February 10), I took a brief sojourn to Montevideo to witness the Uruguayan carnival — employing the traditional African Candombe music and dance practice, brought to the country by enslaved Africans. While there, I also re-contacted an old acquaintance, Lukas Kühne, a sculptor, sound artist and Associate Professor of the Experimental Sound Art Workshop, Coordinator of the multidisciplinary academic unit and Director of the Music Institute at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Uruguay in Montevideo. Originally from Germany, Kühne has lived in Montevideo since 2005 and, in addition to his university work, has acted as a professional artist in sound art internationally and led various sound and radio art festivals in Uruguay (for example, Forma y Sonido) and internationally. While I didn’t have the chance to visit the actual university (everything was closed due to carnival), Kühne and I talked about the interdisciplinary mix of students at the school (sound, anthropology, electronic arts, visual and performing arts) and Uruguay’s long-term interest (as exemplified by students of architecture, who are sent during their last year on an around the world trip) in exchanges with European art schools.

Then a few days of vacation at Punta del Este – certainly the most expensive city in Latin America which reminded me of Miami. An appropriate conclusion to a mind opening trip.

Biography

Chris Salter is Professor for Immersive Arts and Director of the Immersive Arts Space at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). He is also Professor Emeritus, Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and former Co-Director of the Hexagram network for research-creation in arts, cultures and technology and Co-Founder of the Milieux Institute at Concordia. He studied philosophy and economics and completed his PhD in theatre studies with research in computer music Stanford University. His artistic work has been seen all over the world at such venues as the Venice Architecture Biennale, Barbican Centre, Berliner Festspiele, Wiener Festwochen, ZKM, Kunstfest Weimar, Musée d’art Contemporain, EMPAC, Muffathalle, EXIT Festival and Place des Arts-Montreal, among many others. He regularly presents at national and international conferences, has given invited talks at universities, museums, cultural centres and festivals worldwide and has sat on numerous juries including NIME, ISEA and the Prix Ars Electronica. He is the author of “Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance” (2010), “Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making” (2015) and “Sensing Machines” (2022), all from MIT Press.