Aesthetic and Design of Latin American Technology

History of technology is a relatively young field in Latin America and thus the engagement with Latin American technological aesthetics and design has received scant scholarly attention. Scholarship on the history of technology in Latin America has largely focused on the embrace or rejection and/or appropriation and domestication of imported and native technologies through a textual reading of sources, leaving aesthetic rendering of these processes outside historical inquiry. This working group, in preparation of an edited volume, begins to correct this by bringing together perspectives examining the tensions between technology, design and aesthetics by analyzing state modernization projects for the urban and rural environments and individual users who reimagined or reconfigured the aesthetics of technological devices as these were domesticated in their context of use.  By combining these two scales, the scholars in the working group will not only contribute to current discussions on the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries but also (1) explore how they informed and are informed by the politics of design and aesthetics (2) underline the way these imaginaries are not only textual but visual and aural, (3) and, how users altered and reinvented the aesthetics/design of technological devices to meet their cultural and personal values, needs and desires.

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Upcoming Meetings

  • Thursday, December 8, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST
    • Presenter 1: Diana Montaño, Washington University in St. Louis, "Set-in-Stone Technologies: Metate & Gender in Twentieth Century Mexico"
    • Presenter 2: Yovanna Pineda, University of Central Florida, "The techno-aesthetics of gender, farm machine repair, and climate in rural Argentina, 19th & 20th centuries"
    • Moderator: Mikael Wolfe, Stanford University

  • Thursday, January 12, 2023 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST
    • Presenter 1: Francisco G. Tijerina Martínez, Washington University at St. Louis, "From the Cosmopolitan to the Planetary: Ecological Aesthetics in Contemporary Mexican Haikus"
    • Summary: In the context of the intersection between our current climate crisis and late capitalism, I explore the cultural significance of minimalist poetry, specifically haikus, in the Mexican context of the last century. Drawing from Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s Otro día… (poemas sintéticos), a contemporary response to José Juan Tablada’s Un día… (poemas sintéticos), I seek out how ongoing aesthetic practices use digital tools, such as search engines and the images sent on the Voyager in the 70s, as a methodology to critique the trinomial globalization-capitalism-anthropocentrism. By analyzing both texts side by side, I aim to shed light on the social anxieties that inspired the publication of each book. On the one hand, we have José Juan Tablada as a key actor of cosmopolitanism who imported the haiku as a software update that reinvented poetry written in Spanish. While he was an already well-known member of the Mexican intelligentsia due to his participation in the Modernismo movement, this contribution helped consolidate him as a prominent figure of the Mexican avant-garde. On the other hand, we have Verónica Gerber Bicecci and her rewriting of Tablada’s text as a response not only to the myths of globalization and progress, but to the centrality of men and humans as the structural axis of our daily practices. By resignifying Tablada’s effort, which was linked to the goals of Latin American avant-garde movements and intellectuals, Gerber Bicecci manages to point not to a global perspective but to a planetary approach on literature and its cultural referents. The stress she puts onto these categories is, as Susan Stanford Friedman states, a work that encompasses “multitudes on a global grid of relational networks”, including those who have been obscured by the binary dichotomies like human/non-human and men/women.

     

    • Presenter 2-Yohad Zacarias, University of Texas. Austin, "The aesthetics of lighting and electrical substations and the unequal extension of technology in urban space. Santiago de Chile. 1900-1930"
    • Summary: This article will present the technological and urban consequences of the insertion of the first lighting and electrical substations in Santiago de Chile between 1900 and 1930. Based on the information provided by newspapers, technical documents (Instituto de Ingenieros de Chile), municipal and business documents (Actas de la Municipalidad de Santiago), and through an interdisciplinary dialogue between the history of urban technologies and environmental history, the article will investigate how the construction and development of lighting and electrical substations presented a series of material and aesthetic inequalities in the city.
    • For this, the article will have two parts and a conclusion. The first part will delve into public lighting in the city center, and the second about the electrical substations in the urban periphery. The first part will mention how, in the urban center, the electrification of public buildings and the installation of lighting, with a modern decorative aesthetic purpose, were chosen. In this first part, European and North American electrical transfers are evidenced in the urban space, showing a model of European extension but with North American touches in its materiality in the city.
      The second part will mention how the electrical substations that fed the urban center were installed in the periphery, spaces that only had gas or kerosene, evidencing a technological coexistence for the users. This expansion of technology also led to an expansion of the urban radius in areas previously considered peripheral and the beginning of the first techno-electrical experiences by the inhabitants of Santiago in public spaces. Depending on the location of their places of residence and how far - or not - from the center they were in, they experienced electricity in lighting and electrical substations in different ways. Finally, electrical supply networks, such as substations, exemplify that the inhabitants of sectors far from the urban radius did not have access to this electricity in their environment but did cohabit with electrical elements. In order to graph these two technological processes in the different spaces chosen, the center and the periphery of Santiago, I will make two or three maps that exemplify the process of the extension of technology in the city. In this sense, my project's significance is evidence of the conformation of urban spaces with the extension of technology and its aesthetics in Santiago.  Finally, beyond the notions of progress and modernization associated with the insertion of electricity in cities, the article seeks to exemplify the specificities -and inequalities- of the urban ramification of this energy in Santiago and thus compare it with other Latin American capitals.

     


  • Thursday, February 9, 2023 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST
    • Presenter 1: Dafne Cruz Porchini, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), “The artist Fermín Revueltas and the Visual Imaginaries of Technology in Mexico: the mural Allegory of Productivity (1934)”
    • Summary: This essay will discuss the visual imaginaries of technology, developed by Fermín Revueltas (1901–35) in one of his last works, 1934 fresco mural Allegory of Productivity, commissioned by the Banco Nacional Hipotecario y de Obras Públicas de México (formerly Banobras). This commission presented the uneven developments between the emergent transformation of urban Mexico. Revueltas--who had participated very actively in the estridentista movement--not only transferred the aesthetic and visual program of modernity into the mural, but he also wanted to include content aimed at fostering a better exploitation of natural resources. The main "character" in this fresco is an engine or dynamo, an artifact also linked to labor. Similarly, the landscape appears populated by electrical cables, towers and chimneys. Revueltas had taken photographs of the industrial and rural environment of Mexico from where he surely took several models that, eventually, inspired some mural sections. In analyzing this large-format work in detail, I provide evidence on how Revueltas evokes a technological and industrial utopia in total correspondence with Mexico's post-revolutionary nationalist project at the time. The essay structure is the following: a) The artist and the mural in the context of postrevolutionary Mexico; b) The machinery aesthetics. A depiction; c) The possible visual models. 
    • Presenter 2: Pete Soland

  • Thursday, March 9, 2023 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST
    • Presenter: Mónica Salas Landa, Lafayette College, "A Postcard View of Progress: Pemex Propaganda Apparatus and the Aesthetics of Mexico’s Technological Nationalism"
    • Summary. This chapter looks at the effort of the Mexican post-revolutionary state to invest materially and ideologically in oil’s critical infrastructure by midcentury. Although the state’s policies shifted in the aftermath of the nationalization of the oil industry from the radical redistribution of the 1930s under Cárdenas to the “import-substitution industrialization” of the 1940s–1960s, the post-revolutionary state went on to showcase oil wells, pipes, tanks, and refineries as visible symbols and conduits of revolutionary achievement: emblems of national progress, modernity, and prosperity. In order to determine how this techno-political regime of visibility was established, I examine a series of postcards of the oil city of Poza Rica produced by the Compañía México Fotografico that featured oil infrastructures prominently and that epitomize moments of industrial boom in the 1950s. Looking at this particular form of technological propaganda, therefore, allows me to reveal the terms in which oil modernity (and its alleged benefits to the nation as whole) was “sold” not just to readers in Mexico City but also those who lived and worked in Poza Rica.
       
      The discourses and imaginaries that informed these representations of oil infrastructures are, however, juxtaposed with local’s actual experiences living among oil wells, pipelines, and refineries, which I was able to extract from articles, opinion pieces, and notas-rojas found in the less-censored but widely read regional and local historical newspapers. It is by attending to this domain of experience that I am able to demonstrate how residents’ everyday encounters with the oil infrastructures that surrounded them often rupture the technological regime of perceptibility engineered by the post-revolutionary state and represented in these postcards, rendering visible, in turn, the risk, toxicity, corruption and neglect to which they have been exposed and which Pemex persistently attempted to conceal.
       
      In this chapter, I will use the term “aesthetics of technology” to refer to two different things. On one level, the term will be used to refer to a series of movable and reproducible aesthetic objects: postcards by which oil infrastructures were represented or pictured. At another level, I will use “aesthetics” in this chapter, following Jacques Ranciere, to refer to “the systems of self-evident facts of sense perception,” which determine what is visible or not in a common space at a particular moment intime. “The aesthetics of technology,” then, is a term that will stand for the processes through which technological objects, or their visual representations, work to establish a governing mode of perception.

  • Thursday, April 13, 2023 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT
    • Vanessa Freije, University of Washington, "UFO, Aliens, and other Imaginaries of Satellite Technology in Hidalgo, Mexico”
    • Summary. In 1985, Mexico became the ninth country in the world to put a satellite into orbit. Launched nearly three decades after the so-called global space race began, government officials heralded a new era of “information sovereignty.” Not only would the country presumably be freed from imperialist control over communications, some described the satellite system as “rescuing [rural people] from marginality” by connecting far-flung communities seemingly overnight.[1] The rapid development of communications technology over the previous decades had raised pressing questions about the role that information should play in society: In whose hands was information safe? What did it mean to democratize information and whom did it benefit? These were questions that were debated in elite Mexican newspapers, academic circles, and halls of power. But the meanings and consequences of these new technologies were also acutely experienced and contested locally.
    • In this paper, I will examine how local imaginaries of technology, modernization, and communication were shaped by the space satellite. Nearly two decades prior to Mexico’s satellite launch, the first satellite earth station was installed in Tulancingo, Hidalgo, just north of the Federal District. This station formed part of a broader government effort to increase the country’s broadcasting potential for the 1968 summer Olympics. The earth station would enable the Olympic Games, hosted by Mexico, to be broadcast live around the world for the first time.
    • The presence of a satellite earth station in Tulancingo raised concerns about the community’s relationship with technology and prompted speculation about alien life. In the late 1960s, Tulancingo and surrounding communities increasingly reported sightings of extraterrestrials and unidentified foreign objects. Rather than dismissing these sightings as rumor or invention, national and local newspapers often reported them as fact and posed existential questions about the nature of life on earth. This paper examines official documents from the Ministry of Communications and Transport (responsible for the installation of the earth station) and the Hidalgo State Archives, alongside news and spy reports to examine local reactions to new communications technologies.

    [1] “SCT: el Morelos I rescatará de la marginación a los mexicanos,” El Universal, December 8, 1986.

     


  • Thursday, May 11, 2023 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT
    • Presenter: Leida Fernandez
    • Presenter: Sonia Robles
    • Discussant: Mónica Salas Landa
    • Moderator: Diana Montaño


Past Meetings

  • November 10, 2022

    Update: Owed to Hurricane Nicole arriving to central Florida on 11/10, Yovanna's talk will be rescheduled to December 8 and will present together with Diana Montaño. 

    • Presenter: Yovanna Pineda, University of Central Florida, "The Techno-aesthetics of rural men, farm machine repair, and climate in modern Argentina"
    • Discussant & Moderator: Diana J. Montano
    • Summary:  Rural men constructed different masculinities according to available physical, ecological, and social resources in the Argentine pampas region. During the twentieth century, the pampas was fertile land for crop farming, but was also prone to drought, excessive rains, and locust invasions. Different types of rural crises threatened men’s sense of masculinity as providers of the family farm, but it also offered opportunities to reshape and create new male identities. Farm communities developed an alternative narrative of rural spaces through the use, repair, and design of heavy farm machinery, in particular the combine harvester in the breadbasket region of Santa Fe province. Regardless of the task, men, engaged in manual labor on a farm or skilled in operating, designing or repairing machinery, were considered honorable men that could weather the adversities of the region’s challenging ecology. Drawing from archives, interviews, material culture, media studies, and ethnography, this proposed paper examines the intersection of ecology, repair, and masculine identity. The case study is from the communities in and near San Vicente, Santa Fe Province. It suggests that the town celebrated the harvester as a provider of family and became central to local male identity.
    • Related topic of the paper - https://repair.uni.lu/blog/spaces-of-design-repair-in-twentieth-century-...

  • October 13, 2022

    Thursday, 10/13/22, 1:00pm-2:30pm EDT 

    • Presenter--Lucas Erichsen, Instituto Nacional da Mata Atlântica - Brasil. Places for a first and last look: slaughterhouses, aesthetics, and technology in 19th Brazil.
    • Moderator: Yovanna Pineda 

    Abstract: 
    Eating animal meat is an act inseparable from human history, topologically dispersed, immersed in different historicity, and by a multitude of things: evolutionary, biological, gustatory, cultural, technological, aesthetic, economic, ecological, ethical, and perceptual elements. It was throughout the 19th century that public slaughterhouses emerged, places built by the State where killing animals for human consumption was regulated and conducted. Public slaughterhouses were also environments of constant interaction with the biophysical world and spaces constituted by the insertion and development of technologies, techniques, and gradual recognition of aesthetic elements that combined, aligned with the production and distribution of meat in Rio de Janeiro. 
    My essay explores three public slaughterhouses in Rio de Janeiro between 1854 and 1882. It was during this period that Rio de Janeiro underwent intense transformations and where we can find three public slaughterhouses in operation. Analyzing this junction illuminates how the State, conceptions of modernity, technology, and aesthetics played a significant role in the history of one of the activities most rooted in Brazilian culture and still neglected in Brazilian historiography, in the history of technology and the history of Brazil."    
     


  • September 8, 2022

    September 8, 2022 - First Round 

    • Presenter: Daniel Rebouças, Federal University of Bahia, Electric paths: chapters on the representations and social revolts of the electric tram (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; 1897-1930)
    • Moderator: Yovanna Pineda

     
    Daniel Rebouças, Federal University of Bahia
    Short Bio: Daniel Rebouças is doctor of history at the Federal University of Bahia. He is a group member of "History of Humour in Brazil (1989-1930)/ University of São Paulo, Brazil" and authored The City of Bahia and the Electricity: A political, economic, human and cultural approach, from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century (Salvador: Caramurê Publishing house, 2018).
    Presentation title: Electric paths: chapters on the representations and social revolts of the electric tram (Salvador, Bahia, Brazil; 1897-1930)     
    Abstract: This essay examines the social and political relations between part of the population of Salvador, capital of the State of Bahia, and one of the greatest electrical inventions of the late 19th century: the electric streetcar. From the immense initial expectations around the new means of transport, the article shows how this invention came to be seen – and represented – as a synonym of violence, social oppression and a symbol of the nationalist struggle, in the 1930s. For this, I will mainly use series of photographs deposited in the Siemens Museum Archive, in Berlin, in the Neoenergia Archive, an electric energy company in Bahia and in the Public Archive of the State of Bahia.
     
    Documents are posted via our Google Drive. Please join the group to receive the link to the papers. If you have joined the group and still have not received the link, please email Yovanna Pineda at ypineda@ucf.edu to receive the link and/or paper. Thank you for your interest in our group! 
     


  • June 23, 2022

    October 13, 2022

    •  
    • Presenter #1-Yohad Zacarias, University of Texas. Austin. The aesthetics of lighting and electrical substations and the unequal extension of technology in urban space. Santiago de Chile. 1900-1930.
    • Presenter #2-Lucas Erichsen. Places for a first and last look: slaughterhouses, aesthetics, and technology in 19th Brazil

     


  • May 26, 2022

    Leida Fernandez-Prieto, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales - Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, “Mute Witnesses:  Mapping the Meanings of the Images on the History of Cuban Agriculture”
     
     
    To be rescheduled for Fall 2022. David Pretel (on parental leave, sp22), Pompeu Fabra University, “Green Gold Modernity: Machines, Peonage and Henequen in Yucatan’s Gilded Age”
     
     


  • March 24, 2022

    #1-Lisa Munro, Independent Scholar. "Collecting Souvenirs Close to Home: The Politics of the Machine Production of Authentic Indigenous Aesthetics for Mass Consumption." She has published some of her work at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17530350.2021.1977677
    #2-Peter Soland, Southeast Missouri State University, "Aerial Shots and Bomber Jackets: The Role of Aviation, Celebrity, and Cinema in Re-Imagining Latin America."

     


  • February 24, 2022

    #1-Fabián Prieto-Nanez, Virginia Tech, “The Invastion of Satellite Antennas. Autoconstruction and the Routes of Popular Electronics in Latin America"
    #2-Sonia Robles, University of Delaware, "Aural and material obstructions to technological development in Mexico"
     
     


  • January 27, 2022

    #1-David Dalton, UNC Charlotte, “Eduardo Urzaiz's novel, Eugenia and the Interface of aesthetics and science in constructing eugenics in postrevolutionary Mexico”
     
    #2-Lucas Izquierdo, Independent Scholar, “Analogue Technologies: the novel genre’s virtualization of Peru in Arguedas, Vargas Llosa & Roncagliolo”
     


  • October 28, 2021

    Diana Montaño, Washington University in St. Louis, "Development is Modernity + Rural Electrification: The Aesthetic of Latin American Electricscapes"
     
    Daniel Rebouças, Universidade Federal da Bahia Brasil, “Aesthetics of Electricity in Bahia”


  • September 23, 2021

    Presenters

    • Yovanna Pineda, University of Central Florida, "Gendered spaces/representations of machine design and repair in Argentina, 20th Century"
    • Dafne Cruz Porchini, Researcher, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, “Fermín Revueltas fresco Alegoría de la productividad (1934)”

     
    Agenda (updated 9/5/21)

    • 1:00pm-1:15pm  -   Introductions
    • 1:15pm-1:20pm  -   Race & Tech. Announcement
    • 1:20pm-1:50pm  -  Speaker (Yovanna) presentation + QA/comments 
    • 1:50pm 2:20pm  -  Speaker (Dafne) presentation + QA/comments
    • 2:20pm-2:30pm -  Discussion: "What is your idea of aesthetics and design?"

     


Group Conveners

  • Dmontano's picture

    Diana J. Montaño

    Diana J. Montaño is Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Her teaching and research interests broadly include the construction of modern Latin American societies with a focus on technology and its relationship to nationalism, everyday life, and domesticity. Her first book Electrifying Mexico looks at how "electrifying agents" (businessmen, salespersons, inventors, doctors, housewives, maids, and domestic advisors) used electricity, both symbolically and physically, in the construction of a modern nation. Taking a user-based perspective, Dr. Montaño reconstructs how electricity was lived, consumed, rejected, and shaped in everyday life (https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/montano-electrifying-mexico). For her articles on the intersection of humor and class in streetcar accidents see History of Technology (https://tinyurl.com/5cr7r6hu -) and  Technology's Stories (https://tinyurl.com/p4ucsmns). For her HAHR article on power theft in turn-of-the-century Mexico see https://tinyurl.com/9chy8s8v
     
     

     

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