Fields of transmission
2023 in review
It's been an ambulant year. Four months of travel, interspersed amongst half a year in East Williamsburg and another half in the backroom of a loft in the Lower East Side, without kitchen or bath, supplemented instead by a monastic schedule of swimming, sauna, and shower at the Chinatown YMCA. The lease for my "industrial garret" had ended in mid-June and, feeling a bit ambivalent about it all, I carved out time to wander. Now, at the year's end, waiting at the gate for my flight to Fort Lauderdale to visit my parents (For Loderli, in proper Miameño), it's time for this yearly ritual. The main theme has been of place—the rhythms one inhabits amongst different cultures, as manifest in language and architecture, and the harmonies and dissonances of travelling between them.
I began the year in Brazil, pointing my phonokinograph around to try and capture the sound and vision of carnival. We shuffled through the meandering (yet, planned!) streets of Butantã, singing samba and pagode as the Terra da Garoa fulfilled its promise. An evening listening to choro at Bip Bip in Copacabana, balanced out a week of decadence at Andre's in Rio de Janeiro and Paulistano nights of Original gelada with Isa and Yshay. With Filpi and Leo, we drove out to Boa Esperança do Sul, a small town just outside of Araraquara. Filpi's family emigrated from Italy in that early 20th century wave that also implicated the Sciutto and Mangiarotti. They settled in a town that mirrored Serodino, with long days of farming and husbandry, softened by the simple pleasures of churrasco, fresh ricotta, and truco.
Ever since a trip in early 2022, Brazil has signified lightness for me. While there, I feel like a different person, one who had been left aside since moving back to the US for college. I feared that I was being romantic and nostalgic, so I leaned into research to try and layer in a more complex imaginary. What gave it all this levity? The "sobranceria" of Iberian adventurers, countering the Protestant workers? The cordial men of corrosive tolerance, whose personalism meant that all relations were intimate? Or the malandros who found a way with jeitinho? My only certainty was that I felt it through language. I encountered a plasticity to spoken Portuguese, spurred on by Tom Zé and Reinaldo Moraes, that opened up for me a new kind of writing. Parassá penteu escuta cá?
Back in New York, I returned to stale rhythms of coffee shops, reading, and software. Despite an exciting social life of literary events and psychogeographic adventures, I couldn't articulate what felt off. On a trip to Dia Beacon, Ben, Maddy, and I stood in the museum's cavernous basement as series of speakers along the walls layered the environment in distinct melodies. The patterns of interference formed a discontinuous landscape. I wandered around the room, at first randomly, and then methodically, trying to map out the total field. But on each step, the perceived pattern changed. It became hard to disentangle the sources. I'd get partial glimpses, but even those lost resolution in the moiré. Serodino, Rosario, Buenos Aires, Lima, Columbus, São Paulo, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Berlin, and New York City all transmitting in real-time.
Sometimes I'd step into a harmonious point, a brief moment of resonance where disparate signals constructively interfered. However, a slight movement of the body, a lapse of focus, and another signal browns it all in dissonance. It's as if I were out of sync, a foreigner. Not quite American, Brazilian, Argentine, or Peruvian. Professionally, not quite software, design, architecture, photography, or writing. This dissonance became quite acute in NYC, where every object seemed to interpellate me into a different type of guy, playing one of the infinite stacks of status games teetering on top of capital. I found myself tearing up to people singing in unison, Djavan and Tim Maia at Julinho's with Filpi and Leo, muchachos at the World Cup, or a hundred thousand singing Don't Look Back in Anger back to Noel at River Plate Stadium. It was around then that I set off for six months of precarity. I also reached out to an analyst.
My work for the past years has centered around "convivial forms". I've been obsessed with DIY furniture and tools, but I hadn't really understood why. They felt vital, and I ran around pointing at them eagerly, even childishly, wanting them to be seen. These are artifacts (architecture, films, novels, software) which manage to express a life in material form, which compress a field of transmission in all its ambiguity and nuance. They're convivial because there's the felt present of an individual or community. Similarly, a tool can be convivial if it assists the wielder in imprinting themselves onto the environment. I mean this literally. You can read someone from the room they live in, from the way they hold a pen, or lace their shoes, and from the objects they make and gift. Likewise, when we write (and I mean this is the loosest sense), we cultivate autonomous ecosystems that help us shepherd information through time. Difference that continues to make a difference.
These ideas became clearer through two projects this year: CF3 and Folk Computer. The first is a continuation of my police barriers series of public interventions. I installed a pair of simple lounge chairs (designed around a minimal amount of cuts, hardware, and tools) at Forsyth plaza with Spendy's help and documented the social life of these small urban objects throughout a week. The second is an open-source operating system for physical computing, led by Omar and Andrés, to which I've contributed some explorations in "tableshots". Both exemplify a kind of prefigurative politics. (Two exemplar works of art in this vein are Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog and Running Fence by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.) Between the process of creation and the artifacts themselves, a complex, situated, image of life is communicated. Any explanation feels impossible or banal. They exist outside of the intentions of their creators. They're autonomous.
Next year I'm moving to São Paulo for a master's program in architecture at USP where I intend to continue this kind of work. Preparing a research proposal and portfolio for the admissions process was its own moment of reflection, one where the many disparate post-college threads seemed to come together. The core object of study will be the practice of gambiarra as a form of post-industrial bricolage. I'm particularly interested in the social relations that emerge around these improvised forms of dwelling. Perhaps more ambitiously, I'm curious how a situated, intimate life can interoperate with large scale forms of coordination. How can collective action retain conviviality? While my ambition is a philosophy of technology with real political stakes, I hope to keep the methodology unorthodox: sculptures, instruction manuals, computational media environments, and crônicas. Of course, I'll have to write a thesis at some point.
I'll be continuing work at Reduct on a part-time basis. My pride in what we've built has grown immensely in the past year. Our technology has helped define a new kind of media, pushing towards the edges of video-text. We've helped recenter video away from consumption towards interactive editing and, in this process, Reduct has become a well-polished general-purpose tool, used by public defenders, activists, UX researchers, commercial video editors, and documentary filmmakers alike. We make a claim about the importance of provenance in media which I'm certain will be proven essential amidst the revolution led by generative AI. And, we've done all of this with an incredibly flat and flexible operational structure. I'm very grateful to the team and hope to keep this experiment alive as an existence proof of a different way of developing software with meaningful contributions to both technological discourse and users' concrete lives.
A few weeks ago, after a two-hour phone call to Chapman, in San Francisco, followed by dinner in the East Village with Tom from Rio de Janeiro, I walked home with a grin. How contemporary it all was. How post pandemic. My life had become distributed. The last time I had seen Chapman was in Euskadi, with Gonzalo, who had just moved to London. Gonzalo and I met Jorge, whom I had been introduced to by Jose, in Paris. Then, Jose and Ena hosted us for a week in Berlin, where, one evening, Nick joined us for drinks. Naturally, Nick, Jorge, and I had gone on a hike earlier in the year, just outside of Tuxedo, NY. I was introduced to Tom by Alex at dinner in Liberdade, in São Paulo, only then realizing that we had actually had drinks with Nick in the East Village a year prior. And so it goes... What sustained these friendships was also distributed: email letters, long phone calls, Discord groups, online forums, and reading groups at Reggio. This is my community, spread across time and space, and yet provincial and intimate.
It's open how this distributed nature interacts with the dissonance of that cavernous basement. I'm curious how the tension between ephemerality and materiality, between digital and situated, will establish a new vernacular. I reckon it'll be neither nostalgic pastiche, nor mass-produced modernism. Lightness has something to do with it. Technologically, I'm interested in hand-curated digital archives activated by search, the bricolage of virtual environments as a form of speculative design, and experimental publishing which combines text with images and audio. It'll be interesting to see how my background in technology will feedback into my studies in architecture.
Returning from Berlin, I bought a Nintendo Switch in an attempt to rekindle a childlike joy in my relationship to technology. I remembered getting my Gameboy Advanced SP, in blue, for Christmas and playing Pokémon Leaf Green for months. I wanted to trace a narrative back to that moment as the instigation of all that would follow. It was a failure. I've barely touched it at all. In that reflection, however, a metaphor stuck with me: the side quest. So much of the previous years had been adventures without clear objectives. They were too luring and exciting to give up, and so the main narrative was left behind. Luckily, when you get back on track, it's all so much easier. You return with the ultimate boon, prepared for what's next. I hope to meet you all on the next quest. Come visit!