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

Benjamin Murphy is a scholar of modern and contemporary art from Latin America, currently serving as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Oregon. Murphy’s research focuses on artistic engagements with new media and technology during the second half of the twentieth century. He is currently at work on a book project that explores the emergence of video as an artistic medium in Latin America during the 1970s. Tracking uses of the novel audiovisual technology among a diverse group of artists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay, the project investigates how these artists mobilized video to theorize politics at the height of the oppressive military dictatorships that ruled much of the Latin American region during the period. 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. His doctoral research was supported by a Donald and Mary Hyde Fellowship and by a Fulbright Fellowship for study and research in Brazil. Murphy has presented his research at various venues throughout the Americas and Europe, and he has published his academic writing in the journal ARTMargins and with the Getty Research Institute. 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. In Fall 2022, he will begin a new post as the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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