May 2018

Rachel Price’s “Early Brazilian Digital Culture” is immediately engrossing—in no small part because Waldemar Cordeiro is. The opening account of Cordeiro’s Auto retrato probilístico (1967) as a binary proto-circuit (or grid) is fascinating, as is the term she borrows from Augusto de Campos, “popcretos” (perhaps an even better account of Oiticica’s Tropicália?)

I am not sold on Prices’ decision to align Cordeiro with the Latin American Lippardians (Clark, Oiticica), however. In Auto retrato, I see something closer to Nam June Paik’s “reality of ready-mades, spiritual reality and scientific reality” (quoted in Joselit’s Feedback, 58): pixel pointillism as the existential readymade, reductio ad absurdum (Paik: “I would study how it was made and I discovered it was made of electrons and protons”).

Is this not a project precisely opposite dematerialization? (A negation of representation only indicts materiality, too, if one finds them synonymous—disregards mediation, etc. A conflation of objective and object-ive?) This seems all the more obvious given that Cordeiro's collaboration with Moscatti is so similar to Paik's scientism (work with Bell Labs, etc).

Even if one goes along and says that technological reproduction is a form of dematerialization, the persistence of materiality presents an interesting challenge: see Price's attention to the material basis of Derivadas de uma imagem, which “required 120 punch cards with the information for the 9,600 points making up the image, or 9.6 kilobytes of information...” The observations on embodiment and process in Cordeiro and Moscatti's work, are more useful for me, then, in their search for a material basis. (Joselit is again a third party, less for the explicit connection with feedback than when it comes to Cordeiro's “prescient consignment of the center to a precomputational past"—an incidental point, according to Price).
Price later arrives at a tension I'm deeply interested in. Cordeiro's work takes “an image with strong human and affective content to be transformed by a ‘cold and calculating machine,” (70) yes—but even if Cordeiro's work is technological / concerned with digital futurities, isn't the disintegrative process (“lossy,” in the parlance of file-sharing) a romantic notion? As she puts it:
But if Cordeiro was opposed to romantic expression and sentiment, how should we interpret his choice for Derivadas de uma imagem (Derivatives of an Image), digitized photographs of faces altered by producing increasingly “noisy” derivatives of the original image’s information?
Is this a concession (“to offset the apparent coldness of the computer”) or a dramatization of the digitally dispersed-and-scrambled human visage? Again, I find myself reading against Hito Steyerl's In Defense of the Poor Image.

(Side note: the apophatic strand of A muller que não é B.B. might be aligned with Baudrillard’s The Gulf War did Not Take Place, if only for the parallel titles—or, more forehead-slappingly-obviously, The Treachery of Images. Still, it’s to her benefit that Price sets her sights higher than playing pseudomorphosic connect-the-dots across the canon. When she does so—as with Brecht—it is to pulverizing effect).