Leonardo Aranda

Artist, Philosopher, Programmer

Research statement

In general terms, for me the practice of artistic research is an activity that occurs as a result of an intensive dialogue between theory and practice, where both activities are regarded as valid forms of knowledge production, which are complementary in every aspect. In new media this binding becomes an imperative, caused by the cryptic nature of current technology. More specifically, I understand artistic research as a critical principle in the face of the real, but even more, in a radical sense, as a methodology to produce new realities. I am interested in this regard to recover the Situationist premise of finding a fusion between art and life in the search for a possible social transformation.

The process of my resent artistic and research work has led me to seek the links between art, technology and society. From my point of view, the most important aspect of new media art is the ability to establish a critical relationship within the current technological horizon, allowing a new understanding and approach to the present. If the technology determines and transforms every aspect of contemporary life, it seems necessary that art questions its relationship with technics in general, as well as the role of artists in social transformation and the possibilities of it through current technologies. In this context, art appears as a relatively autonomous social space (in the sense stated by Bourdieu) where it is possible to re-imagine our relationship with technology, while creating new devices that invent new models of communication, social relationships, and production.

For me, new media art has come to a maturity in terms of language and technology that makes even more valuable to build critical frameworks that allows us to address some of the most key problems of our present, from a space of freedom and imagination. My present interest is into finding ways to tackle social problems through the combination of art and technology.

The starting point of my current research is linked to ‘technological appropriation’ concept as a theoretical framework. This concept, of Marxist origin, positions critically from those who argue that technology is developed through a neutrality inherent from its own logic and needs, and states that this development is very much linked to the economic interests of the industry agendas. This concept departs from the premise that ensures ‘technology is the driving force of social transformations’: this is where the social space (Lefebvre) and social time arises, and this is where social practices manage their reproduction. In other words, it is technology that introduces permanent changes in society, as it changes the way we produce, communicate, consume and distribute the results of our practices.

The main precedent of the concept of ‘technological appropriation’ is Marx's early writings, where, on the one hand, he defines historically different stages of the appropriation of man over nature and natural resources, and on the other hand, the objective is set to revolutionize society through the transformation of technical means. In this sense, he criticizes the form of appropriation of capitalism in the industrial era, where through a process of accumulation, capital has appropriated the means of production, and with them the knowledge that underlies social practices. Thus a tradition of thought is established, whereby man ceases to use technological tools as instruments, but sees himself instrumentalized by technology, a process in which, due to the transformation of working conditions, workers lose skills that allow them to be free in their activities, as well as owning the product of their work. This tradition is the keystone of the critique of technology by Adorno and Marcuse. The result of this process is the impoverishment of men in terms of skills and knowledge that make them merely operators of technical instruments with a monolithic task and isolates them from the whole economic process of production. At the same time, the capitalist strengthens his place of privilege, to become the rallying point of this process.

From the other side of the balance, Marx also thinks technology in its potentiality for social transformation. For him, a true social change would have to go hand in hand with the transformation of technological means, and thus, of the totality of social relations that exist around them. This same spirit will be found in Lewis Mumford, for whom it was necessary to introduce new values in the development of technology to mitigate the large consequences that it has had in relation to the deterioration of the environment and men’s life conditions. Also, more recently, Andrew Feenberg proposes a new notion of progress, much more focused on the man, where what is sought is the welfare of people, the transformation of labor conditions in order to recover skills and knowledge, the recovery of symbolic capital of nature and technology, and a less harmful relationship with environment. In sum, appropriate is to take control over the technical means and knowledge to achieve empowerment against coercive aspects of government and industry, but appropriate is also to reorient the overall objectives of the current technology.

In his later writings, Vilém Flusser claims that artists have to be those whom appropriate the technology, to make it a creative and dialogic space. For him, new technologies are a space of opportunity in which the choice arises between enhance digital technology dialogic and horizontal communication capacities, or enable the development of their surveillance, control and privacy violation capacities. In this sense, Flusser makes a distinction between 'employees' and 'programmers': the first are users of technology, only able to upgrade the functions of a device to allow updating their pre-programmed tasks. The latter are those able to redirect the system through its ability to transform the codes embedded in technological devices. For Flusser, artists must be the new programmers. Thus, for me the true realization of the premise of merging art and life, should be through a reconciliation with the technique, through which art can operate profound changes in society. Finally, it is precisely the autonomy of art that allows artists to appropriate technology from a space of freedom, independent of the imperatives of the industry, allowing them to create a horizon from which to rethink our current relationship with technology, and further, speculate on new horizons for it, more centered in man, his social relations, and his relationship to the environment.

Generally speaking, the main problem facing the theory of Technological Appropriation is adapting to new forms of post-industrial production, where some general assumptions in connection with the technology in the industrial age have changed, thanks to the widespread use of digital technologies and the revalorization of data. The general problem isn’t anymore the access to the technical means, but instead the access to knowledge, the production of meaning, and the articulation of community, as well as the vulnerability is in terms of privacy. Finally, the point is to denature current technology, showing critically how it is the result of a design driven by industrial agendas, and how we can deal with those interests through new technological alternatives. There are already partial examples of technological appropriation in expressions inside the hacker culture, or even in the maker fashion, however, especially in the latter, we need to rethink the assumptions that determine their political agendas.

From this series of theoretical premises and problems, my current research seeks two main objectives: first, to deepen the conceptual horizon of technological appropriation, trying to shore up the characteristics of it, in the context of the current forms of production and economy, linked to digital technologies. On the other hand, I want to move this set of theoretical principles to a practical artistic level, trying to tackle some concrete social problems. In this sense, I’ll be trying to investigate critical design and speculative design methodologies of Anthony Dunne y Fiona Raby as ways to question the functional, formal and symbolic level of current technology and its promises for the future, as well as a way to focus the formal problems in the conceptual process of design, more than in the concrete results. Also, I'm interested in investigating pedagogic strategies, linked to social engage art practices, as a way of bringing together wider communities within those processes of design and development. Finally, I am interested in investigating ways to insert such technologies in the social sphere, in dialogue with today's urban technology infrastructure, following some paths set by the work of Mark Shepard, with the objective of articulating communities based on new ways to generate and share knowledge, create dialogue and address some of the 21st century city problems.

In sum, the questions leading this project are: Can art, in its relationship with technology, propose new ways of relating to the technique, and through that, lead to social transformation? Can technology design counteract the effects of current technology? Can new social agents, linked to specific problems, be part of the technological design, to counter the current top-down logic of technological development? Can new forms of community be articulated based on the design of new technologies? How this type of technology is inserted into the current technological ecosystem characterized by its ubiquitously in urban areas?

Currently I have already begun the process of this research in theoretical terms with the support of the National Center of the Arts of Mexico. At the same time, I have begun to implement different forms of experimental pedagogy, through a medialab from which I am part, in the creation of workshops focused on communities of practice and in marginalized communities in Mexico City. However, I have great interest in the opportunity to continue this research in an academic field, especially in the search for a critical dialogue and interdisciplinary enconter, that enables the project to mature and grow in scope.

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