Benjamin Murphy – Second-Order Images: Reflexive Strategies in Early Latin American Video Art
The project addresses several works of early video art created by Latin American artists during the 1970s through an interdisciplinary perspective that explores the intersections between this novel art form and various social science disciplines. Based on extensive archival research, the paper attends closely to how these artists approached their limited and precarious access to video, then still a prohibitively expensive technology in Latin America, through complex media assemblages that combined video recording with more rudimentary artistic supports such as paper and photography. Through such intermedial amalgamations, these artists achieved an ironic simulation of video’s most advanced feature, televisual broadcast, through piecemeal, improvised means. The paper argues that these precarious media assemblages intervened within the field of dependency theory, an influential orientation within Latin American social sciences during the 1960s and 70s that had sought to explain the region’s enduring condition of “underdevelopment” and geopolitical subordination within the modern world system. By the
late 1960s, various disciplines within this orientation, notably sociology, had begun to analyze the relationships between Latin American dependency and the new forms of authoritarianism then emerging in the region. Through their inter-medial, piecemeal modes of broadcast, the artists addressed in this paper advanced an understanding of technological obsolescence as the defining trait of electronic media under conditions of dependency. Yet they also suggested how a strategic use of this trait—a willful and directed retrograde practice—could furnish platforms for subversion and solidarity under conditions of government oppression. Through this practice they also intervened within methodological debates then animating the field of Latin American sociology, proposing a critical sociological practice that was ultimately reflexive in nature as it would attend to the political functions of the media through which it documented and represented its objects of study.
Benjamin Murphy is a scholar of modern and contemporary art from Latin America, with specific interest in intersections between art, politics, and new media and technology. He is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Murphy received his BA from Washington University in St. Louis and his MA from Williams College. He completed his PhD in art history at Princeton University, where he also received graduate certificates in Latin American Studies and in Media and Modernity. He previously worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Oregon. He has also worked professionally as a curator at Mexico City’s Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, where he organized an exhibition on the Mexican video and performance artist Pola Weiss.