Andrés Burbano

Text & Interview by Hua-Chun Fan (Fionn)

Imagining Macondo, 2015. With George Legrady, Angus Forbes.

Andrés Burbano is a researcher, curator and interdisciplinary artist whose work ranges from documentary video (in both science and art), to sound installation and telecommunication art. Burbano is currently Associate Professor of the Department of Design at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. The wide spectrum of his research projects includes: media archaeology of Latin America, 3D-modelling of Photogrammetry technology and data-translation into digital media.

Burbano was the Chair of SIGGRAPH 2018 Art Gallery and the Chair of ISEA2017 Academic. He held the keynote speech at ZKM’s “Potential Spaces” Conference in 2017. He has taught as lecturer in Europe, USA and Canada, where he also established the ethnographic online archive with the local indigenous communities. For over a decade now, Burbano has developed technological approaches to investigate the geographic change of nature landscapes.

The New Dunites, 2009. With Solen Kiratli, Danny Bazo, Angus Forbes.

Focusing on the combined mechanics and opportunities of cinematic narratives, human language and information data, Andrés Burbano’s arts-based research illustrates how media technology shapes the way we communicate with different cultures and societies today. In his collaborative research projects, Burbano investigates the socio-technological histories of landscapes and cultural sites. As one research outcome, Burbano translates the data and knowledge gained from his fieldtrips into media art installations. In „The New Dunites“ (2009), the research team investigated the desert landscape at California‘s Central Coast for archaeological traces of film settings from the early Twentieth Century. Once a location for „The Ten Commandments“ (1923), these modern geographical sites are now, due to sand drift, only detectable through traces and signals by combining methods and tools from geophysics, computational media, and art practice.

In „Imaging Macondo“ (2015), Burbano and his partners George Legrady and Angus Forbes created an animated, interactive visual installation to recreate the fictional town, or „literary village“, Macondo as envisioned in Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s writings. Based on eight key concepts from the novels, viewers attached their own photographies to one of the eight key concepts developed, bridging private with literary heritage. By linking memory, literature, keywords and images in this panoramic installation, Burbano created an imaginary space of personal and social identities.

Quiasma, 2002. With Clemencia Echeverry, Barbara Santos, Santiago Ortiz.


What are your current research/artistic projects?

At this moment, I am working in three different areas of the creative field: One is related to my research on Media Archaeology (especially in Latin America, and the Global South), and it deals with the construction of functional prototypes of technologies that are currently non-existent or that are in disuse. When creative reconstructions of media technologies are implemented again, some of the characteristics of the original devices are back into operation. This is an inspiring way to speculate about the aesthetic conditions that those technologies had. Second, for almost ten years I have been working together with archaeologists (social scientists), using Photogrammetry to document their research creating three-dimensional models of archaeological sites or objects. The scientists use this material for their research, and, in some cases, we use the data that comes from these investigations to develop creative and artistic projects, including explorations in the new format of the lecture-performance. Finally, I am working on some new installations that deal with the materialization of data, and with the translation of data of different types to various forms of expression through technology and computing.


COMMUNICATION: You mentioned that language has a double function: one is to communicate, the other is to block communication in sophisticated ways, such as encryption. Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to communicate through the ubiquitous digital media?

In the context in which we spoke about the double function of language, both as a facilitator but also as a blocker of communicative processes, was in the historical examination of the Code Talkers story, which refers to Navajo Communities and others Native American groups that participated in the Second World War.1 They employed, even on the battlefield, a spoken code based on their native languages that was never broken. This project was done in New Mexico where some part of the Code Talkers are originally from. It involved the organization of a lecture by Bill Toledo, a former Code Talker, in the frame of ISEA2013. Undoubtedly, what this historical process shows us, is that these communities used codification in a relevant and profoundly mysterious way through natural spoken language: cryptophony.

In our times, this discussion is meaningful in many ways because I understand our present times as characterized by the need to communicate and the need to block communication. For ex ample,  in communication devices such as smartphones and the privacy modes linked to them. N owadays, several text messaging apps are incorporating encryption techniques from beginning to end to have some control (or some illusion of control) over the information that comes and goes from our phones. Until a couple of years ago it had little attention from the general public, but currently, things are changing dramatically, and many users are concerned with their privacy and the operations of these communication devices.

At the moment, I am occupied with the relationship between language and computing that encompasses the negotiations between natural and formal languages. It is fascinating from a philosophical point of view, because it deals with different ontologies related to writing, codification, computation, processing, and it is near to many creative and critical fields. I am interested in the study of computer languages ​​and their historical evolution. Computer languages are a form of writing, but they also have this performative turn in a very concrete sense given that the code is executed. I think it is a complex set at both practical and philosophical levels, and that can teach us a lot about how it is going unfolding the relationship between language and communication (and encryption) in our times.


ONLINE ARCHIVING: As a telecommunication artist and researcher, how do you take the ethical position of documenting data or using for art practices, when it’s involved in minor groups? And how do you see the role of disseminating these data online? What’s your idea of online archiving and online-exhibition?

The question about The Archive itself is a complex one, and the same is true for the questions about the Online Archive, I can't go as thick as I would like to about these topics, but let me mention some ideas.

The creation of online archives is a subject that interests me profoundly because of the cultural role they could play for contemporary society in terms of access, discussion, promotion, and research. Fields like Online History or Digital Humanities have proven that it is possible to create online experiences based on collections and items that are at the same time deep, critical, useful and well designed. This is possible because a significant part of the tools applied to organize and produce these archives are increasingly accessible, free and even open source. T his is the case of devices such as ATOM or Omeka, which are able to facilitate sharing content based on relational databases that take into account users and access.

The ethical issues must be addressed before uploading anything online . I i t is necessary to ask about it to the communities that may be interested, or even affected by the publication of such material. It is indeed desirable that there is interaction with the communities and that ethical questions are discussed with the actors of the network.

Art Gallery at Siggraph 2018 in Vancouver

EXHIBITION:  When it comes to exhibition design, as the chair and curator of SIGGRAPH 2018 Art Gallery, could you share with us what is the difference between ‘open call’ and ‘curation’? And what kind of message you want to call the audience’s attention through the exhibition?

Regarding exhibition design and curatorial practice, there are two paradigms that, although they are not contradictory, can be seen as opposed to how the content of an exhibition is selected and organized. On the one hand, there is the Open Call, a process in which there is a public call for artworks, and on the other is the j J uried process in which the curator selects the artworks directly.  I have been able to run exhibitions using the two models and , in some cases , a combination of them. I believe that both have advantages and problematic points, the Open Call advocates for public participation, although it is not always effective because sometimes the call is just spread in some specific communities. The juried processes usually present exhibitions with concepts that can be articulated clearly, because is based on research and visits to studies, however, sometimes the decisions of the curator are seen as arbitrary.

In the case of the Art Gallery at Siggraph 2018 in Vancouver, it was a juried process, which I found interesting since some years before Siggraph Art Exhibition had been Open Call and now the idea was to explore the curatorial format. In this exhibition, I wanted to make a strong emphasis on three sources of artistic work with technology. The first one is the work of indigenous communities that were working with audiovisual and interactive technologies in Canada and the United States (examples of these artists are Skawennati, Shawn Hunt, Microsoft Garage, E Line Media Studios). Second, I was very interested in works that were linked to the origins of the community that works with art and technology and in particular in art and computing (examples are Ernest Edmonds and Daniel's work Cardoso) and on the other hand I was very interested in practices that were linked to the notion of origin from art and science as a theme in different media from robotics, installations, online art, interactive and immersive installations (examples are , Marko Peljhan, Ruth West, Milton Sogabe, Nicole L'huillier, Ozge Samanci, Alex Beim, among others). I think this exhibition was an opportunity to articulate the work of some of the most interesting artists that I have had a chance to meet in my life, the strength of an exhibition is always based on the quality of the work of each of the artists and Careful selection made it possible for the articulation to make sense as a whole. It was also essential to include a component with the DAC community and create an online exhibition with the open call model that complemented what was shown in situ.

Siggraph 2018 Art Gallery was announced in the following way: "Original Narratives: Building upon an exciting and eclectic selection of creative practices mediated through technologies that represent the sophistication of our times, the SIGGRAPH 2018 Art Gallery will embrace the narratives of the indigenous communities near Vancouver and throughout Canada as a source of inspiration. The exhibition will feature contemporary media artworks, art pieces by indigenous communities, and other traces of technologically mediated ludic practices. The exhibition aims to articulate myth and technology, science and art, the deep past and the computational present, and will coalesce around the theme of Origins. Media and technological creative expressions will explore principles such as the origins of cosmos, the origins of life, the origins of human presence on the planet, the origins of people that occupy the territories of the Americas, and the origins of people who are still living in the vast territories of the Arctic. Additionally, the venue intends to rekindle the original spark that ignited the collaborative spirit in the community of engineers, scientists, and artists who came together to create the first SIGGRAPH conference in the early 1970s.2


PRESERVATION: How do you document your art works and research projects online and offline? As an interdisciplinary art practitioner, you made many interactive installations to engage people, such as: ‘MSCRI’ (2009) and ‘Imagining Macondo’ (2015). How do you preserve those interactive experiences? How do you see the value of the site-specific interactive art in the ages of digital media?

Practically, all the work I have done at the creative level, like the installations, have relatively little time spans. I was aware from the beginning of such condition and in other cases, such as the net.art works, it is a surprise to discover the short time of operation given the technological transformations.

In the case of Imagining Macondo , hosted by the Bogota International B ook Fair in Colombia, it was known from the first moment that it was a massive installation that would last for two weeks only. 3 That means several types of documentation were produced, we had one team responsible for producing audiovisual documentation of the exhibition permanently. I t turns out at the end there was a lot of material that is not necessarily ideal because it is demanding to go through all the material to publish some documentation.

In contrast, some of the projects I created in the nineties on the Internet, ended up being ephemeral to my regret because many of these works have actually disappeared over time, due to changes in the servers, and in the media technologies. In some cases that is somehow poetic and fascinating because let's say they do fulfill a function at a particular time and then they disappeared. However, there are others in which it was not possible to make appropriate documentation because the focus was on the production process. T hat I think is a severe problem because I do not have documentation of several projects that historically are important today. Additionally, a few projects have been documented more than ten years ago, when it was not common in High Definition video, and it turns out that the video for the present standards is a deficient definition.


INSPIRATION: Many works of you have strong connection with nature and landscape, such as "The New Dun i tes" (2009) and "RGB Stratospheric Camerena" (2013). We are curious about how you approach nature through technologies? What is your inspiration to initiate a new project?

In fact, an essential part of the projects that I developed have to do with the dialogue with and the investigation of the surrounding natural spaces and "The New Dunites" is a significant example of it.4 In fact, we were trying to connect with the history of cinematography in California, because I was living in that time there and I wanted to do something related to this territory and with its history. The history of the audiovisual industry in California is rich and I found this place where the largest cinema set was built so far, and it was an ancient Egyptian city. Today this space exists in the coastal area near the Pacific Ocean, in a territory as vast as three soccer fields, where fragments of the set are buried. The idea was to explore what is buried with technologies in particular with GPR, Ground Penetrating Radar, and with cameras attached to balloons (including infrared cameras). That gave us information of what was hidden, which was impressive because those remains are covered by dunes, and with time, the dynamics of the wind move the most superficial layer uncovering in the long term some parts of the fragments and remains that were buried.

For a person like me, who is in love the fieldwork practices, it is imperative to establish a dialogue with the spaces and the structures that surround us, to connect with the objects to create and propose something from there. In general terms, I am not a person who considers the issue of creation based on white paper. Instead, I am always looking to put myself in situations: geographical, mental, physical, or technological in which I can eventually ask questions. That question is usually related to an art-technology or art-science problem.


Thank you very much.

20 Feb 2019, Interview by Hua-Chun Fan (Fionn).

1 This was a project done with Dr. Esteban Garcia, from Purdue University, for ISEA2013 which was directed by Andrea Polli. americanindian.si.edu/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html


3 Created with Angus Forbes and George Legrady in the framework of a more massive project coordinated by Santiago Caicedo, Laura Villegas and me. www.evl.uic.edu/documents/forbes_macondo_cga2015.pdf

4 https://vimeo.com/user11019921