Transcript – Arturo Camacho – Without Borders 2020 Thesis & COVID-19 Response

Due to cancellations caused by COVID-19,  we’ve been forced to find new ways for us to be able to show our work as the MFA thesis. In response, our directors gave us a set of questions for us to be able to give kind of an idea of what we’re doing and the kind of research that we do. So let’s begin. 

Everything is always changing. It doesn’t matter how good of a plan you have, how many things you are actually shooting for. There’s always going to be something that is going to change. When I came into the MFA, I had these straight-up plans of like I’m just gonna focus on photography, I want to focus on commercial photography and false narrative because I was… I am pretty avid with photography and lighting. So it was more of an excuse for having something said and done. As my research progressed, I realized that I had a lot of interest like psychology, and trauma, and I started making these little connections with the work that I did. 

Your work is smarter than you are. So what that means; is not really saying that we are dumb, or that we’re not actually paying a lot of attention to our work, what it means is that we do something for a reason, as long as we keep doing work that’s going to keep showing no matter what. One of the things that I was having trouble was kind of  deciphering. What was I trying to express in my work? At the beginning, I thought that I was talking about these kind of of ideas like trauma, and terror, and making these really weird setups that kind of mimic a horror movie. But after I started digging deeper into these ideas of self-conscious and how it relates to trauma, and how it relates to the way that you develop in childhood up to adulthood. I ended up focusing a little bit more in psychology in terms of development, which by the end of it I was actually having a better time researching it, because even if it sounded tedious and there was a lot to learn, I was eager to learn about it. So it was a really, really nice thing to actually focus on the work. and I started trying to figure out what the work was saying. 

I can say that my research focuses on a self-reflective process, archiving or documenting my experience of cultural assimilation into the American culture as an outsider. As an immigrant, I suffered certain, certain issues, such as cultural shock, and culture bereavement. When we talk about cultural shock, you know, it’s pretty standard. You kind of have a hard time relating to the host culture, in this case was the American culture. I didn’t understand certain things, there were things that were really different in my country, some things that would be considered good in my country, in here would not be well seen or vice versa. And then cultural bereavement. The best way to translate it was that I started to develop guilt about leaving my country, because I slowly started feeling like I no longer belong in my country, but I also didn’t belong here in the states. The one thing that helped me go through it and become a little bit more assimilated with the American culture. was my passion for collecting and cataloging videogame history and popular culture. And it becomes more about the stuff that you know and the things that you collect than the person that you are or the country that you’re from. So that helped me a lot, kind of finding a sense of community, and then eventually I was able to relate better with other people.

I will classify the work that I do as an artifact of my cultural assimilation experience and generational drift. When we talk about artifacts, we’re talking about an object that holds certain cultural value, historical value, due to its narrative, or due to its place in time. So a lot of the stuff that I make, repair or restore and show, it’s based on these kind of idea of the artifact. One of the early projects that I started doing these kind of ideas was called  Born From Redundancy. It’s a Justifier Gun, It was in a case that would mimic a shrine for guns used during the Revolutionary War. and it talked about gun control and its relation to video game ratings. When we talk about ratings we’re talking about the ESRB, so kind of understanding who can play each game, what ages are recommended, what games will require parental supervision and so on and so on and so on. During the same time, there were some changes made into the regulations towards assault rifles and certain caliber guns for them to be used or owned, which was caused due to these uproar on rising violence. This was pretty early piece in terms of what my thesis is working on right now, but one of the main aspects that I wanted to prove with this kind of work was that I wanted people to see how important objects like these were, in terms of historical background in terms of narrative, in terms of all of these stuff. So they could actually see them with the same importance that I see them. 

Another-one of these that is  more related to my thesis and is more current will be my Crystal Apple. I call it the crystal apple because it’s transparent. It has a lot of research behind it in terms of what it is and what it became. So the Macintosh series, we’re talking about the Macintosh Plus, Macintosh SE, SE 30, and so on. They had a very, very memorable design. and actually right now they are considered, kind of an icon of popular culture from the 80’s. I ended up finding a couple of them. one of them became another piece that we’ll talk about later. and then the other one, I set it up to be kind of a gaming computer. So after a while I ended up with these like supercomputer from 1988, and these was all made with components from that era.

So Clear-ware (clear electronics) became a big part of my life because my parents were concerned that I would take apart stuff. So I was very into this idea of like,”oh, I can take apart all the stuff and there’s a lot of these cool mechanisms inside” The biggest thing that I had at the time was a clear Tetris machine, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever because you could see the connections in it, see the batteries inside, see the back of the screen. It was this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful monster. So that was kind of like the ultimate thing that I wanted to do with these computer, I wanted to make it Clear-ware. And then I slowly realized that it was kind of a huge trend, like a lot of people actually wanted their stuff to be clear. The whole idea of Clear-ware was generated in the need to make electronics for prisoners so they couldn’t hide contraband or weapons, and then because some prisons started lowering standards in terms of what electronics would be available for the prisoners, the market got overflowed with these kind of electronics. So then what the companies did, they just reach out to other retailers and were like, “hey! we have these really cool, transparent things, do you want to sell them?” and then companies started selling them. And that’s how we got Clear-ware, which is kind of amazing for me. 

So the big idea behind this was to make a cusp artefact. So that’s where the whole experimentation and research on these aesthetics that people were looking in the objects began. So it’s an artifact that will have trends from an older generation but also have trends from a newer generation, and exist  in kind of this limbo. So the whole idea was like, okay, I’m going to make these electronic that has these confusing aspects of what a Cusper has to deal with. So this idea of I fit here, but I also have elements of here, and I go back and forward between these two major generations. 

It really threw a wrench  at my plans, it was really, really, really hard for me to find a way to, to share these ideas and to make it possible for people to interact with the objects. Now some people will say, okay, you just take pictures and show it online and it’s kind of the same. It’s not really the same just because the idea of having the object as a physical presence allows the viewer to be able to navigate it however it wants to. If you share it in photographs or or pictures. and just online, one of the biggest problems it’s going to have is that you are already guiding the experience of the viewer. So everyone is going to have the exact same experience. Everyone looks through the sequence of images and focuses on aspects that you are specifically photographing or documenting for them to see. Now in video form will be kind of the same issue, but even worse. So in video form because you have a moving image, you’re not giving enough time for the viewer to be able to focus on the object, you will show its functionality, yes, but it’s not the same because the viewer won’t be able to actually go through it freely. On top of that, I had to scrap a lot of plans that I had in terms of other pieces and other things that I was working on. I currently have a project that ‘s just sitting in my office taken apart because I don’t have access to the tools that we had at the university. 

I will say talk about your research with anyone you can, not only artists and professors, but also with as I jokingly say sometimes like humans because when you’re doing work on an academic setup, it’s really, really easy for you to fall into technicalities; when it comes to research, you’re trying to create new knowledge where you’re trying to enforce knowledge, and, personally, from my point of view, you have to find a way to make it available. You keep your discussion just in between the academic walls. It’s really likely for your work and the way that you talk about it to become very complex. And then it’s going to be really hard for you to be able to explain it to other people or to the actual viewers. This also depends on your audience and what you are planning to research. But mainly, I just want to be able to share the stuff that I do easily. So I did spend a lot of time talking to other people about the work that I do. I spent a lot of time talking to family members and even friends that had nothing to do with the medium. 

So that’s pretty much it for me. I hope it wasn’t that long. I can get carried away when I talk about  these kind of stuff, especially during quarantine because I don’t get to see a little people, so it’s really weird to talk at  a camera only, alone in my apartment, my neighbors, might think that I am crazy, but  It felt great to be able to do this. I really invite anyone who comes through these website to look up my peers. They’re doing some amazing work and they’re doing their best to be able to deal with the situation. So if you have a chance and You actually will have the time because you are probably stuck at home. Make sure to click into other people’s bios, into other people’s work and check what they’re doing.  Thank you.

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