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The Aesthetics of Geopower: The Guri Dam and the Capture of Venezuelan Modernity

Presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the World-Ecology Research Network (WERN). Helsinki, Finland. August 17, 2018.

Abstract:

In the 1970s, during the energy crises that so deeply transformed the global economy, Venezuela experienced the most memorable oil boom of its history. The new bonanza allowed for massive modernization projects aimed at integrating the country’s natural resources into the capitalist world market. In this context, the state—working with transnational mining, fossil-fuel, and hydroelectric energy corporations—bolstered the artistic and cultural field by financing museums, public artworks, and specific artistic styles like kinetic art. The Guri Dam (the country’s first megadam and currently the fourth-largest in the world), incorporated inside its turbine halls two Chromatic Environments made by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. Alejandro Otero’s Solar Tower, a 50-meter-tall concrete and steel rotating tower, was placed outside the dam’s massive walls. In this presentation, I will bring the concept of geopower (which refers to the capacity of institutions and technologies of power to place the biosphere in the service of capitalist accumulation) into the realm of cultural studies, to explore how kinetic art, far from a simple complement to the modernization ideology, materialized a way of organizing nature (e. g., sunlight, water, the wind) in order to extract from it the greatest possible value. I concentrate on the monumental pieces by Cruz-Diez and Otero to argue that the works and discourses of kinetic art played a fundamental role in the design of Venezuelan modernity by constructing nature as free-flowing work/energy that needed to be captured through technological and aesthetic procedures.


Una economía mayamera: Petróleo, espacio y consumismo en Venezuela

Presented at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Annual Conference. Barcelona, Spain. May 24, 2018.

Panel: “Espacios (trans)nacionales y modernidades instantáneas”, sponsored by the Venezuelan Studies section (SVS)
Session Organizers: Maria G. Colmenares (Universidad Central de Venezuela) and Vicente Lecuna (Universidad Central de Venezuela, Brown University)

Abstract:

En los años setenta, mientras en Latinoamérica proliferaban las más cruentas dictaduras militares, los venezolanos viajaban de compras a Miami los fines de semana y, solo en 1977, invirtieron más de dos mil millones de dólares en condominios y casas vacacionales en el sur de Florida (Petras y Morley 14-15). Para Ana Teresa Torres, en esos años “los venezolanos deliramos ante nuestra propia realidad, y todos parecíamos vivir en el Magic Kingdom” (Kohut 59). En esta presentación abordaré dos momentos del imaginario fílmico venezolano que capturan la bonanza petrolera de los setenta y el posterior descalabro económico de los años ochenta. El documental Mayami nuestro (Carlos Oteyza, 1981) y la película Adiós Miami (Antonio Llerandi, 1984) ofrecen perspectivas complementarias para entender el alcance de la crisis sufrida por el país a partir del fatídico “Viernes negro”. Mientras en Mayami nuestro vemos cómo la riqueza de los venezolanos incluso hizo posible el desarrollo  de Miami, la película de Llerandi muestra el inevitable colapso de una economía que rayaba en el delirio. Propongo entender el petróleo como una fuerza material productora de un espacio global que conecta íntimamente a Venezuela con Miami. Asimismo considero necesario trascender la crítica del consumismo de la bonanza para evaluar la compleja dinámica del gasto, entendido —a partir de Bataille— como un fenómeno regulador de los excesos de riqueza/energía dentro de una sociedad. Estas observaciones me permitirán encontrar en el imaginario mayamero de los setenta y ochenta una manifestación cultural de la expansión global del capitalismo fósil.


Territoriality and Representation in Posthegemonic Times

Presented at the congress “The Aesthetics of Politics and the Politics of Aesthetics in Contemporary Venezuela,” organized by the Venezuela Research Network and hosted by University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). September 19, 2014.

See the full congress program here.

Abstract:

The current debate about Latin American politics is characterized by two distinct theoretical standpoints: on the one hand, a “posthegemonic” idea of politics (Jon Beasley-Murray), which favors a deterritorialized form of agency and views the state as an apparatus of capture that neutralizes the creative power of the multitude; on the other hand, a “postsubaltern” position that argues in favor of identity politics and the reformulation of the state in order to build—in the words of John Beverley—“a people-state, or a state of the people.” However, a closer look at the recent struggles of the Yukpa indigenous people to recover their ancestral lands in the Sierra de Perijá, in northwestern Venezuela, reveals a deadlock that the affective and deterritorialized strategies of the multitude cannot fully resolve, at the same time complicating the possibility of building a “people-state” without first deconstructing some of the principles of identity politics. This presentation examines posthegemony theory and postsubalternism—with special attention to the place of land—in an attempt to demonstrate how some key Latin American struggles still demand a form of territoriality that can serve, ultimately, as a guarantee for political representation.