Art Gallery exhibition demonstrates disparity between digitized and non-digitized nations
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 02:09
“Cuban Virtualities,” an exhibition curated by Liz Munsell and Rewell Altunaga at the Tufts University Art Gallery, explores technology in Cuba through new media art. While the Cuban Revolution of 1959 brought many positive reforms to the island nation, Cuba has yet to experience the digital revolution. The exhibition conveys this by providing real-life examples of Internet interaction in Cuba, as well as by contrasting Cuba with the highly digitized United States.
The first piece that viewers see upon entering the gallery is a row of papers tacked to the wall. This piece by artist Rewell Altunaga, called “WWW” (2013), is a continuing work that documents the artist’s attempt to install a free, public WiFi network in a gallery in Cuba, which is typically prohibited there. As stated in the wall text, installing WiFi would be “both a symbolic and practical step towards facilitating global communication to and from the island.” Printed on these pages are emails from Altunaga to various Cuban galleries requesting a WiFi hotspot, which have been forwarded to the Tufts Art Gallery. It seems that no gallery has accepted Altunaga’s request. From a curatorial standpoint, this is a great piece to begin the exhibit not only because it shows the connection between a curator and the Tufts Gallery, but also because it highlights Altunaga’s difficulty in communicating with institutions in Cuba.
“Millenium Monument,” by artist Jairo Gutierrez, is perhaps the most impactful work in the exhibition. This piece consists of a television monitor mounted on the wall. The screen displays the first second of the 21st century, expressed as numbers on a digital clock. Composed of zeros and ones to reference the binary code of computer language, “Millenium Monument” powerfully represents the fear associated with the Year 2000 problem (Y2K), when people anxiously waited to see if their computers would crash and if the world’s electronic systems would fail. This work reproduces the paranoia that has consumed the digitized world. It also shows the differences between a country like the United States, so reliant on technology that it would not be able to function without computers, and Cuba, where very few people even have access to the Internet. The piece shows both the positives and the negatives of technology, and makes the viewer wonder how much influence it will have on digitized nations in the future.
“Play and Learn 2.0” (2008), by Rodolfo Peraza, is an example of a more interactive work. A video game that invites users to pick up a mouse and play in the gallery, the piece was inspired by Peraza’s second grade history textbook, “Handbook of a Formal Education.” Accordingly, the game features important historical figures, like Che Guevara, Jose Marti and Vladimir Lenin, in the game, with the goal being to “destroy paragraphs of instruction that dictate behavioral mandates.” Fun and exciting, “Play and Learn 2.0” is also symbolic of an important lesson that Peraza learned during his childhood.
Perhaps the most purely informational aspect of the exhibition comes from the Tufts Art Gallery’s new Web application “Museums Without Walls,” which can also be accessed via smartphone. According to the gallery website, the app “allow[s] anyone to connect with diverse works of art through participatory exploration.” A great informational resource, its only flaw is that the text is too small — the informational placards are about the size of a standard piece of paper but incorporate a huge amount of detail. For example, one paragraph reads, “There are 118 cyber cafes in the entire country. An hour of use costs $5.20 in a country where the average salary is only $20 per month.” Facts like these emphasize the exhibition’s message — public Internet access in Cuba is incredibly limited.
The first of its kind outside of Cuba, “Cuban Virtualities” is a powerful and unique exhibition. It is an incredible experience that all students should take advantage of, as well as an important reminder about our own dependence on technology.