Gilberto Esparza’s Technologic Art
— By Jose-Luis Moctezuma | April 21, 2010
The 21st Century Utopian may be broadly defined as the upstart or autodidact pragmatist who coins new uses for old technologies. If the classical utopian deduced large-scale, neoteric social-structures from a standpoint of practical idealism, the 21st century utopian prefers to start small and build microcosmic solutions from the ground-up. All utopians share a zeal for recreating a social order perceived by them to be damaged, in a spirit of ethical hygiene commensurate to the problems of diversity and social consciousness. This good-natured zeal, however, can often lead to grand delusions that shirk an immediate responsiveness to the problems of the present.
From a Marxist standpoint, utopian thinking can prove faulty because it “tends to produce visions of the future that are unrealistically rigid and complete.” The 21st century utopian, on the contrary, can be classified as a “Whole Foods Generation” type who seeks to counter the gross waste habits of the present by what might be slyly referred to as ‘ethical capitalist behavior.’ Recycling (of everything from the plastics we use and throw away to the media-polluted language that surreptitiously shapes our politics) is a key virtue of the 21st century utopian because it directly confronts the anathema of waste and attempts to convert its mindless productions into a usage beneficial to societies starved or malnourished by constant consumption.
Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza is not interested in utopias, nor probably would he consider himself a utopian, but his vision of an integrative future that remedies mass consumption repercussions by alchemizing our technologies into analogues for a robotic alternative future, presents a world equally demonized and potentially saved by our technologies. In other words, Esparza’s work in media and technologic art suggests an emancipation from junk, via junk itself.
Esparza describes his own work as “based on the recycling of consumption technology.” One of his projects recently received a lot of press in the blogosphere (in no less than four different articles). “Nomadic Plant” is a mobile art installation that can be better described as an autonomous robot/plant hybrid that roves out in natural environments in search of polluted water sources to feed the mini-sustainable ecosystem it carries on its back. The project is a quaint example of the possibility of a machine refashioned to nurture a living organism rather than consuming or eradicating it.
An earlier incarnation of the Nomadic Plant is Esparza’s “Parsley in search of sun,” which is a solar-powered robotic vehicle that carries a pot of growing parsley on its back. When the moving vehicle encounters shade or any shortage of sun, it shifts its direction toward more sun so that it can power its solar-panel motor as well as provide solar nutrition for the parsley plant.
Another installation is “El trabajo embellece” (which translates to “Labor beautifies”), its title taken from a phrase of Jose Martí‘s in a letter written on the occasion of Karl Marx’s death. The work consists of an electric sander that gradually sands away at the surface of a wood-tiled floor, on which the phrase El trabajo embellece is carved in low relief. According to Esparza’s blog, “the sander destroys the poetic meaning of the phrase to impose an idea of slavish mechanized labor that promotes [our] modern industrial society. In this manner, during a period of two months, the phrase gradually disappeared.” The essential poetry of the installation (and in pretty much all of Esparza’s work) lies in the replacement of human labor (which to the Cuban poet-hero José Martí, ennobled humankind by its toil and significance) with a rote mechanistic functionality that subverts the purposiveness of what work is supposed to mean to the artist, the farmer, and the politician alike. Incidental to the utopian mind, fragments of a scattered dystopia can sometimes announce themselves in mechanical riddles.