PST:LA/LA-Mundos Alternos

 

Mundos Alternos

Art and Science Fiction in the Americas

ARTSblock

September 16, 2017 – February 4, 2018

UCR ARTSblock presents Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas. A wide-ranging survey exhibition, it brings together contemporary artists from across the Americas who have tapped into science fiction’s capacity to imagine new realities, both utopian and dystopian. Science fiction offers a unique artistic landscape in which to explore the colonial enterprise that shaped the Americas and to present alternative perspectives speculating on the past and the future. In the works featured in the exhibition, most created in the last two decades, artists employ the imagery of science fiction to suggest diverse modes of existence and represent “alienating” ways of being in the world. Drawing on UCR’s strong faculty and collections in science fiction, the exhibition offers a groundbreaking account of the intersections among science fiction, techno-culture, and the visual arts.

Mundos Alternos brings together the work of international artists from across Latin America with Latino artists from throughout the United States:

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More than mere escapism, science ction can prompt

us to recognize and rethink the status quo by depicting

an alternate world, be it a parallel universe, distant future,

or revised past.

– Catherine S. Ramírez, “Afrofuturism/Chicanafuturism: Fictive Kin,” 2008

Mundos Alternos is the rst exhibition of contemporary art by Latino/a and Latin American artists who use science ctional themes. The rich histories of science ction literature and lm, espe- cially those of Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, inspired the exhibition. The two installations in this gallery represent those primary movements and provide context for

the artworks that make up Mundos Alternos.

Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) is the foundational cinematic work of Latino/a science ction. Set on the U.S.-Mexico border, the lm tells the story of Memo Cruz, a young Mexican

who dreams of coming to the United States. Physically crossing the border is impossible, however, so the protagonist migrates virtually instead. By me- chanically connecting his body to the internet, Memo performs labor in the United States, sending his work without sending his body.

Sleep Dealer screens every two hours during regular museum hours:

11:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 5:30pm, and 7:30pm.

Also installed in this gallery is a selec- tion of books and periodicals from The Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, part of Special Collections at UCR. Containing over 300,000

items, The Eaton Collection is a major resource for the study of speculative ction. It is the largest publicly-accessi- ble collection of science ction, fantasy, horror, and utopian ction in the world, and consists of books, pulp magazines, fanzines, lm and visual material, comic books, and ephemera. The selection displayed here includes publications dating from the 1940s to the present from Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Installation view, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, UCR ARTSblock, 2017-18. All installation photography by Nikolay Maslov.

By imagining alternate worlds, we unveil something true about our own. In this way, science ction allows us to understand our reality more deeply. Organized in thematic constellations, Mundos Alternos brings together artistic projects that speculate on the past and future, created by over thirty contemporary artists and groups working through- out the Americas. Brought togeth- er, these works engage science ction with an understanding of

the transnational and transcultural interconnections of “Latinidad”
as demonstrated through shared hemispheric exchanges and expe- riences in language, culture, and visual expression.

In recent years, scholars of liter- ature and cinema have begun de n-

ing a speci cally Latin American science ction, investigating the genre’s power to o er alternative perspectives on history. Building
on UCR’s status as a center of excellence for the study of science ction, Mundos Alternos extends that study to the visual arts, and expands the eld of Latin American science ction to include works made by Chicano/a and Latino/a artists as well. By exploring the colonial enterprise that has shaped our world, the projects on view here o er both utopian and dystopian visions. They address contempo- rary issues of nationhood, citizen- ship, and borders, and question the capacity of advanced technology to create radical change in the social order.

Robb Hernández, Tyler Stallings, and Joanna Szupinska-Myers Curators

 


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Beatriz Cortez’s Memory Insertion Capsule (2017) challenges viewers’ complicity in the disturbing history
of eugenics in California, the op- pressive imperialism of the United
Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International), and other instances of violent white supremacy in this country. The installation takes the form of a space capsule that brings together ref- erences to space travel, local construc- tion techniques, and Indigenous Maya architecture. The architectural shell features embellishments that evoke

the river rocks commonly used in the construction of contemporary homes throughout Southern California. A mesh metal dome sits atop the structure, evoking the camping tents used by ref- ugees and extending the conversation about immigration to the current hous- ing crisis. Furnished like a home—with replace, desk, and bookshelves—the interior contrasts comfort with uncom- fortable realities. By peering into a visor evoking at once the Mayan glyph for Zero and a machinic eye, the viewer

takes in archival material that illustrates the fraught history between the United States and the artist’s native Central America. The relationship between these two regions is just one thread that encompasses the sequence of seemingly disparate, though complexly interconnected, historical events that have collectively contributed toward white supremacy in this country.

By watching the video, viewers are implanted with “memories” related
to immigration, racism, and science through the history of the United Fruit Company, which is notorious for its cor- porate colonization of Central America.

Two brothers hailing from Altadena are at the center of this story. Frederick Wilson Popenoe (1892–1975) served as the chief agronomist for the company beginning in 1925, while his brother Paul Bowman Popenoe (1888–1979) was secretary of the Human Betterment Foundation, an American eugenics organization promoting forced steriliza- tion programs, and the founder of The American Institute for Family Relations, a family therapy organization that he used as a platform to further his white supremacist agenda. Later in life, Paul became a marriage counselor, running advice columns and radio programs, and hosting a reality television show. Challenging the conventional concep- tion of time travel as utopian fantasy, Cortez instead asks us to reconsider the di cult reality of these histories, collapsing the past into the present so that we may look to the future.


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Hector Hernandez reference popular culture while speculating “alienation” within a rapidly gentrifying East Austin.

The title Bulca (2015) is a play on the word “Vulcan,” a species in the world of Star Trek. Sound of Winter (2015) alludes to the transporter pads often seen on the television program, where characters are “beamed” from one place to another.


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Mundo Meza, was a Chicano artist based in East Los Angeles. He was a window dresser, painter, and performance artist, and was part of
an artistic circle that included the important Chicano/a art collective Asco. Meza, who carried an AIDS diagnosis and died of related causes, began showing the cancerous lesions of Kaposi’s Sarcoma on his body in the early 1980s. It was at this time that he and his partner Jef Huereque retreated to a loft in the Brewery Art Colony. For a

1983 Halloween party held at the trendy West Hollywood nightclub Palette, they worked together to design a costume that would compete in the fashion show, where it won rst prize. By cov- ering every inch of Meza’s body, it also served to hide his lesions, allowing him temporary freedom from social alien- ation by virtue of his alien garb.

 


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Clarissa Tossin’s Transplanted (VW Brasilia) (2011) evokes Brazil’s dual his- tories of inclusion in mass production on a global scale, and the exploitation of their rubber assets. The sculpture is a rubber cast of a Volkswagen Brasilia, a car model produced speci cally for the domestic market in Brazil starting in 1973. The name refers to the city Brasília which was inaugurated as the country’s capital in 1960. Designed

in the spirit of a modernist utopia by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012), futuristic buildings were organized around wide streets meant for cars rather than pedestrians. The artist uses rubber to evoke the historic plundering of Brazil’s natural resources in the service of global industry.


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Rubén Ortiz Torres’s Alien Toy (La Ran a Cósmica) (1997) is a kinetic sculpture inspired by the customiz-
ing aesthetics of Chicano lowriders. Modifying a white Nissan pickup truck, a model commonly used by U.S. border

patrol, and echoing the graphics of the

border patrol logo, the vehicle is labeled “Unidenti ed Cruising Object” and “Space Patrol,” linking it to the space

travel genre within science ction. The remote-controlled car can split open into absurdly spinning parts, driving home the discourses of immigration, street culture, and science Fiction.


 

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Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) is the foundational cinematic work of Latino/a science ction. Set on the U.S.-Mexico border, the lm tells the story of Memo Cruz, a young Mexican

who dreams of coming to the United States. Physically crossing the border is impossible, however, so the protagonist migrates virtually instead. By me- chanically connecting his body to the internet, Memo performs labor in the United States, sending his work without sending his body.


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Rigo23 Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program (2009-ongoing) was created in collaboration with Zapatista artists and artisans in Chiapas, Mexico. The immersive planetarium of Zapatista iconography, hand-woven baskets, and large wooden corn-shaped space-
ship presents an image of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) in a future where Indigenous autonomy has been achieved. Three wooden caracoles (snails)—an important image for the group, and the name for their autonomously governed communi- ties—ride in the front of the spaceship. Paintings depict scenes of cosmic struggle against organizations like the World Trade Organization—represent-

ed as a dragon—amid stars and owers. Zapatista gures are pictured wearing iconic pasamontañas (balaclavas), ob- scuring individual identities in favor of

a resistant, collective identity. A poetic, intergalactic sensibility infuses the narrative of the EZLN’s for social justice.


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Simón Vega’s Tropical Mercury Capsule (2010/2014) fuses an object once associated with state-of-the-
art technology with the provisional architectures found in the favelas (shantytowns) of the developing world, designed more for daily survival and subsistence than for space exploration.


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AZTLAN Dance Company a group that mounts original contemporary dance productions that build upon history, folklore, and popular culture. While traditional ballet folklóri- co tells a Mexican story, this troupe is devoted to the culture of Latinos/as on this side of the border, exploring issues related to Chicano/a culture and my- thology. Sexto Sol: A Cumbia Cruiser’s Guide to the Galaxy (2012) takes as its foundation the hysteria accompanying the Mayan prophesy of the “end of days” that was predicted for December 12, 2012, reimagining Aztlán, the mythical homeland of the Mexican people, in

a cosmic setting. The character Silver Sky Dancer, played by Paul del Bosque, uses his magical accordion and

electrical cord appendages to nourish and revive the dormant ancient Mayan space travelers with cumbia music.

 


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Artistic duo Faivovich & Goldberg present a selection of work from their project “Vol. 1: El Taco, A Guide to Campo del Cielo” (2006–ongoing). El

Taco is the name of a two-ton mete- orite unearthed at Campo del Cielo
in Argentina. Having arrived in pres- ent-day Argentina as part of a meteor shower some 4,000 years ago, El Taco is the center of the artists’ research into the modern history, scienti c analysis, and cultural and diplomatic impacts

of a meteorite that predates any of the languages, nationalities, or borders we know today.


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Tania Candiani uses language systems, sound, and antique technolo- gies, blending futurism with nostalgia for the obsolete. Engraving Sound (2015) is an interactive project featuring eight engravings that she recreated based on the work of English physician and polymath Robert Fludd (1574–

1637) who conducted extensive re- search in science and the occult. These cosmological pictures come from a philosophical work entitled The meta- physical, physical, and technical history

of the two worlds, namely the greater and the lesser, published in Germany in 1617–21. In this work, Fludd dis- cusses the relationship between the microcosm of human life on earth and the macrocosm of the universe, which for him also included the spiritual realm of the divine. In Engraving Sound, Candiani includes the prints made from the engravings, as well as the copper plates themselves, which can be played like records. Three phonographic needles scan and read the plate. As the needles pass over each engraved portion, sound is emitted through the phonographic pick-ups, each of which lead to two channels, and are broadcast through six speakers. An analogue synthesizer is connected to a sound- board, through which the participant can modulate frequency, resonance, and amplitude. Engaging the notion

of translation, the work translates the visual into the aural.


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Chico MacMurtrie’s in atable architecture activates the space with seemingly living structures that extend into tall undulating arches before contracting back into bodily tendrils.

Architecture and organic organism meet, as do the static and the dynamic, the natural and the arti cial.


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Beatriz Cortez and Rafa Esparza’s Nomad 13 (2017) takes the form of an unconventional space capsule. Built of adobe bricks and steel, it houses

a garden of plants indigenous to the Americas, evoking a long history of migrating plants. Cultivated by the Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, these ancient species are known for their wholesome nutritional qualities and profound spiritual meanings. In sym- bolically sending these plants into the cosmos, the artists evoke NASA’s real ongoing experiments aimed at growing fresh food for future space travelers.

Within Nomad 13, the crops are protected in their travels by Xolotl who takes the form of a dog. At once feared and loved, this Aztec deity guards the sun as it travels through the underworld every night, and protects travelers as they move through unknown territories, through space and time.


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Mundos Alternos is the first exhibition of contemporary art by Latino/a and Latin American artists who use science ctional themes. The rich histories of science ction literature and lm, espe- cially those of Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, inspired the exhibition. The two installations in this gallery represent those primary movements and provide context for the artworks that make up Mundos Alternos.

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