This book, edited by Elena Shtromberg and Glenn Phillips, offers a rich overview of video art in Latin America from the 1960s to the present. Instead of a conventional compilation of academic texts, the editors put together a diversity of approaches and genres, such as analytical essays, interviews, photo essays, and more. The book includes contributions from South and North America that create an open-ended dialogue on video art from and in Latin America. Encounters is groundbreaking as the first volume in the English-speaking world dedicated exclusively to this medium in the region.

The editors state that this book does not attempt to articulate a totalizing narrative, “but rather to show the multiplicity of stories that coexist in Latin America and elsewhere, providing a kind of map for others to expand and clarify with their own investigations” (ix). Since its inception in the late sixties, video art has been a countercultural practice. Emerging at a time of unrest, experimentation, and transnational solidarities, the art and its practitioners have had a long-lasting commitment to social and political movements. The video camera opened up new aesthetic possibilities and political explorations due to its size and portability. By challenging hegemonic regimes of representation and subverting identities and cultural subjectivities, video artists have aimed to dismantle colonial and imperialistic narratives. This aspect of video art becomes prominent in the Latin American context, as this book successfully demonstrates.

Latin America has contributed to the development of video art, but critics and art historians have rarely engaged with these contributions. Despite video being a medium that has tended to engage with issues of power and inequality, the critical scholarship on it has largely ignored the production of the Global South. Encounters in Video Art in Latin America redresses this problem while also addressing some of the challenges that both video artists and critics have faced in the region (although most of these apply elsewhere, too), such as lack of institutional support, obsolescence of the medium, and archival precarities, among others.

The volume comprises four sections. The first, “Encounters,” focuses on the series of Encuentros organized by the Argentinean artist and curator Jorge Glusberg. It contains an essay by Phillips and Sophia Serrano and a photo essay. Between 1974 and 1978, Glusberg coordinated ten encounters in different cities, including Lima, Antwerp, London, Paris, and Tokyo. The essay traces in detail the circulation of individual works as well as exhibitions and the transnational dialogues that these encounters facilitated. Even though it was relevant in the formation of transnational networks of collaboration and dialogue, this initiative has been outrageously neglected so far by scholars and critics, another example of the narrow scope from which art historians have approached video art produced in peripheral contexts. Phillips and Serrano address the difficulties of studying the Encuentros due to gaps in archival documentation. That is why the photo essay that closes the section is so useful. It contains photographs, brochures and other materials that complete the picture of these transnational events.

Section 2, “Networks and Archives,” starts with an essay by the Peruvian curator and scholar José-Carlos Mariátegui, in which he discusses the material difficulties of archiving video art in Latin America, which has negatively affected the study of this genre. Inadequately incorporated into museums and cultural institution collections, video artworks are at permanent risk. In the second essay of this section, Gabriela Aceves Sepúlveda reports on Latin American women’s use of the Portapak video camera. This technology became more accessible at a moment in which feminist movements were gaining traction on a transnational level. As the author convincingly argues, “The portable video camera facilitated the exploration of the intimate and domestic, while the videotape provided a wide range of options for independent distribution and circulation of video-based projects that gave women artists a greater voice and presence in the visual arts and mass media” (110). This critical essay sets the stage for the interview with the Mexican artist Ximena Cuevas that follows. Cuevas shares experiences and reflections about the experimentality of video. She argues, “when I got the video camera, all my friends in the film industry were saying that video doesn’t have the same depth as film.…But it had other traits that cinematic productions didn’t—intimacy, spontaneity, capturing the everyday, much like we do now with social media and our phones. So I would say we were inventing a language” (140).

The third section, “Memory and Crisis,” contains two academic essays and a text by the Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz. The first essay, by Shtromberg, focuses on video artworks that deal with the complexities of memory in posttraumatic societies. Video art in Latin America has had a long engagement with issues of violence, remembrance, and justice. The medium itself, especially in its more experimental iterations, allows for a disarticulation of linearity and simplified temporalities: “What is particularly salient about the medium of video is its capacity for layering lived and imagined realities to accommodate what psychoanalysts have called the ‘fragmented visual percepts’ of traumatic pasts” (150). In the following essay, Sebastián Vidal Valenzuela examines the Festival Franco-Chileno de Video Arte, an international festival that the French embassy in Chile organized in the eighties and nineties in Santiago. The author argues that the festival played a key role in cultural resistance to the military dictatorship (1973–90) and provided institutional support to the visual artists of the Escena de Avanzada. Artists such as Juan Downey, Carlos Leppe, Eugenio Dittborn, and Diamela Eltit were able to show their work with video in these annual festivals. The festival is, according to Vidal Valenzuela, part of “the audiovisual memory of Chile and Latin America in a context of trauma and democratic expansion” (178). The section ends with a hybrid text in which the Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz reflects on issues of visual representation and collective memory in his own work. Muñoz also reconstructs the Colombian artistic scene of the seventies. In those years, the city of Cali became a hub of cinematic experimentation, and he occupied a relevant position in the group known as Grupo de Cine Experimental.

Section 4, “Indigenous Perspectives,” contains three texts. The first, by the Mapuche artist Francisco Huichaqueo in collaboration with Juan Juenan, is a creative reflection on three works by Huichaqueo. Addressing issues of self-representation, colonial history, and state violence, Huichaqueo generates symbolic languages to facilitate dialogue, mutual recognition, and reparations: “as an artist, I am interested in the construction of symbolic geographies, refuges where Mapuche and Chileans alike are moved by the narrative of their turbulent history; they recognize one another” (196). In the second essay, Benjamin O. Murphy analyzes two cases in which video cameras have been used to generate instances of dialogue and self-representation among Indigenous communities of the Amazon: Vídeo nas aldeias by Vincent Carelli and Video trans Americas by Juan Downey. Murphy argues that these projects creatively challenge the conventions of ethnographic research and the discipline of modern anthropology. “Both projects make the anthropologist, like the ‘native,’ a relative position within a broader system of shifting points of view.…And anthropology thus becomes nothing other than this ongoing process of alternating relative views” (223). The section closes with an interview with Vincent Carelli, the creator of Vídeo nas aldeias. This interview provides meaningful information about Carelli’s relation with ethnography and the medium of video.

A relevant contribution to the study of Latin American contemporary art, Encounters in Video Art in Latin America will activate discussion and a new interest in the Latin American artists who have used video as a tool of aesthetic experimentation and sociopolitical intervention. The editors have done an excellent job of generating a network of critical reflection; the book acts as an encounter (as the title says) of voices, movement, images, and sounds.

Gonzalo Montero
Virginia Tech