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Latin American Perspective

12/11/2014

Of earth, of mud, they made man’s flesh. But they saw that it was not good. It melted away, it was soft, did not move, had no strength…. At first it spoke, but had no mind.

–from the Popol Vuh

According to Mayan mythology, the gods first attempted to create man out of mud. But theirs was a poor choice of materials since their creations were quickly destroyed by the rain. Mestizo Robotics, a project by recently hired Assistant Professor of Foundation Studies Paula Gaetano Adi, draws from the Mayan creation myth in the Popol Vuh and also speaks to the mestizaje (racially mixed) cultural and material phenomena resulting from colonialism in Latin America.

“The project looks at hybridity – artificial life forms that combine indigenous Latin American and colonial technologies,” the Argentinian native explains. “It blends ‘high technology’ and pre-colonial Latin American craft techniques.” She envisions her robots as animated balls of mud about three feet in diameter meant to represent “a community – blind, deaf and dumb – of autonomous mobile agents.”

In October Gaetano Adi further explored these ideas through a tactical robotics symposium on Latin American Media Art at the Intersection of Pedagogy, which she co-organized at the University of North Texas in Denton. Before coming to RISD, she had directed the New Media Art program in UNT’s College of Visual Arts & Design. In highlighting the work of arts educators from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, the symposium brought together artists who do not benefit from “first-world” funding but are finding ways to incorporate new technologies into their work.

UNT was one in a series of teaching engagements Gaetano Adi has taken on since relocating to the US from Argentina in 2008. “I’d been moving every two years for work – from Argentina to Ohio to Troy, NY to Texas,” she says.

Reluctant to move again, Gaetano Adi was initially on the fence about applying for the job opening at RISD. She had been presenting her work at the Re-New Digital Arts Festival in Copenhagen when she met Foundation Studies Programs Head Shawn Greenlee 96 PR. “Shawn told me that the division was looking for faculty members,” she recalls. “I had really enjoyed teaching Foundations at Ohio State University [where she earned an MFA with an emphasis on art and technology], but I had no plans to move again.” She saw herself in the job description, however, and felt that she “had to apply.”

Having always gravitated to large universities, Gaetano Adi never actually considered teaching at an art school before. “We don’t have dedicated art schools in my country,” she explains, “so it wasn’t even on my radar. This is a completely different world, and I’m still exploring it.”

Now that she’s finishing up her first semester of teaching Design, Gaetano Adi says she has already fallen in love with the breadth and diversity in Foundation Studies. “There are around 23 professors, and everyone’s teaching approach is unique,” she says. “That variety is what makes the program so strong.”

Gaetano Adi is also happy to be working with freshmen again and says that “RISD first-years are very engaged and ready to learn. I was excited to be with them on their first day of class, which is a really important moment. There’s a real pride in being here – like ‘We made it!’ I’ve never really experienced that before.”

Simone Solondz

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tags: digital, faculty, Foundation Studies, global, diversity

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The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.