Interview with Jaime de los Ríos

New media artist, electronic engineer and professor of Applied Design Science and Technology in the design degrees at Kunsthal IED. Interview by Conexiones improbables, 21.05.2021.


Jaime de los Ríos, electronic engineer and professor of Applied Design Science and Technology in the design degrees at Kunsthal IED, Bilbao, Spain discusses art as a constructivist and cybernetic system that generates knowledge and contributes to creating new possible realities while being impacted by its context:capitalism and the market. Regarding art academies the artists suggests that institutions need to be more flexible and contemporary, adapting to the constant changes taking place in society and proposes teaching practices that are cybernetic and autopeoetic, creating systems based on trust in the students and their needs and circumstances.


Which is, currently, your relationship with Institutes of Higher Arts Education and how do you imagine their future?

I’m a lecturer in the Design degree at Kunsthal School of Design, teaching Design and Technology and Projects subjects. I’m not a graduate in Fine Arts nor am I any kind of doctoral student, I’m almost self-educated throughout my own career. Therefore, my personal relationship is mainly based on my professional background and my status as an artist, and is driven by the institution’s desire to attract a certain excellence and professional skills, as my artistic passions have generated a singularity.

Regarding the future, I think the drift should be more linked not only to professional excellence, but to a dynamism that is coherent and runs in parallel to the constant social transformation, which is going much faster. Therefore, something other than the curriculum should be opened up… and it seems to me that things are not headed that way. Excellence in the profession is often achieved precisely because you don’t devote as much time to the academic side. Lot of great minds today are not there. I see Academia becoming more and more taxing and the educational centres are squeezed so that the people who is teaching have not just a degree but a doctorate, which makes it impossible for them to really introduce working excellence. In my opinion, this is an image of a very outdated system.

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What impact does the relationship with art institutes have on you?

It allows me to keep in touch with creative youth. It’s a marvellous thing that precisely what you can’t see at a certain age young people can see, because they have a very powerful new visual culture and they are digital natives. And this feeds you back. Of course, it feeds you back if your teaching programme is cybernetic. That is to say, it is designed precisely to generate a feedback system and an autopoietic system.

How would you describe this cybernetic approach?

Cybernetics don’t believe that there is a reality per se. That is to say, that each student is different. So, what we have to look for is not that each student does the same as the previous one, and neither for them to be evaluated according to what he or she has done comparatively, but to find the way in which students’ talents can emerge. It is a system that is based on trust on them, and it is also based on the fact that this trust understands the students’ circumstances and concerns. For me, the teacher has become a facilitator of personal paths. The success of teachers, and the success of society, will depend on providing students with the capacity for their own talent to emerge, not on solving the problems that have been with us for years on end.

How do you understand the role of the Institutes of Higher Arts Education in the current global context?

The first thing that comes to my mind is to totally rethink and rebuild their meaning. Universities are also a political system guided towards introducing the individual into society by means of doing, means of controlled knowledge. Of course, art is just the opposite. So, the institution has to be removed, has to be shifted, and become much more agile. It seems to me that we are generating, basically, a single way of thinking often driven by news media, when what art has always been is a consideration based on freedom. On the other hand, it has been studied in depth that in this information society in which we live, changes are exponential. Academia’s obligation is to generate knowledge, while at the same time it has to be more flexible in its structure, more liquid, more contemporary and adapted to these changing times, and avoid automating processes, which is where it is heading.


I believe more in a school where you arrive and start to make your own artistic production year by year and then, somehow, you become an artist by doing, which is what life is really about. It’s not about receiving, over and over again. Because, furthermore, what you receive, firstly, is absolutely conditioned, and secondly, the quality of what you receive doesn’t necessarily affect you either. I mean, sometimes there is no personal link between the teaching staff and the student, from the student’s point of view, and this is something we have to ask ourselves, and also to students. Is there a professorship that is at such a high level and so contemporary in order for students to be able to become a new generation of strong artists with strong viewpoints? There is a tendency to rush towards the echoes of the past and that’s why we have an art preceded by the owl of Minerva. In other words, art has always been a more spontaneous and introspective generation of knowledge, stemming from aesthetics. And philosophy comes later. Well, not anymore. Now philosophy is here and art is three days behind.

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From your point of view, looking at both the present and the future, what are the most impactful or relevant roles or expertise of artists, art or creative work in society?

What it is properly the true exercise of artistic production. An artist is precisely the one who opens an epistemological gap in society that is not there yet. A musing gap of contemplation that can be done stemming from any discipline, and this is a characteristic of art that other practices don’t have. By this I mean that, ideally, doesn’t have to be subordinated to anything. For me, art must be constructivist in the sense that allows to constantly create people, and these people build society. It is a cybernetic system. Nowadays, art coming out of Academia is subordinated to philosophy, to contemporary politics, and sometimes to certain banalities. It is complicated, but art is precisely an issue that is neither politics nor engineering itself, and it’s also very important for society because it works originating from the transdisciplinary. The most important thing about art is the ability to reflect and to destroy itself in order to rebuild once more.

And the most relevant roles in the economic sphere?

Art is inscribed within an ecosystem in which we may also find the economic and the technological systems, and everything is linked there. At an economical level, artistic practice and what it attracts is obviously a very high percentage of the GDP but it is also, so to speak, the non-discipline that generates the most associated value. Because a work of art originates through thoughtfulness and can be made with basically nothing, with a piece of paper that has cost you a penny.

In any case, the most important thing about art is what it is able to generate. The constructivist transformation that it causes in people and how this transcends to society in a very important way, also to other disciplines. In this sense, it comes to my mind the work by artists like Jussi Parikka, with whom a new generation of technological artists explodes, or Joana Moll, a conceptual artist who has made pieces which I call post-NetArt. Through their own research they think systematically and horizontally about the global impact of certain issues such as extractivism, the use of the internet, and so on. Artists come before philosophers but they often need philosophers to read them and tell people things clearly.

I would even say that many of the things we have today are tested before by artists, who in turn give them many applications, and many times the market keeps what has a larger economic value. Sometimes, artists also lower realities that didn’t exist before and what the market does is to visualize them. The market barely invents anything, what it does is to bring there what can be marketable. So, artists are the ones to create realities. When Christo does those wonders between islands… What this generates is a feeling of “wait, we can walk on water!”. This is very likely to transcend. And I don’t say it in a trivializing manner… but this makes you dream. Dreaming makes us human. In fact, I always state this difference between art and science or technology. It’s that science, maybe not so much anymore, should be aspirational. It should dream and not be only like “let’s see what is the logical thing to do now”. That would make it free and not political. Because when it is political, it has quite clear objectives. Well, art is the same. For me the mission of art is to make us dream. See how obviously important art is?


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From a general dimension, what are for you the most influential trends or developments in society or the economy currently?

There are several fronts that are quite clear to me. The first one is that we are in a kind of self-perception of what we do to the planet. This is like the nice political part, which is also a reality: we’re ruining the planet. And then, obviously, we have the big trend of creating, so to speak, the green industry that exists to monetize those negative feelings that people have about them causing the planet’s destruction. A kind of mercantile environmentalism.

Then there is another front, which is activism within our society. We are going to go over minorities and discrimination because obviously there is a spiritual problem of coexistence and misunderstanding in many aspects. But, again, what we do is to commodify. That is, we are suddenly going to generate a determined movement and then what we are going to do is to sell T-shirts with the name of that movement stamped in it… We live in this time of generating subjectivities and appropriating names. Another tendency is right-wing feminism. And by this I am referring to the feminism based on difference, to religious feminism, practically. That is to say, feminism is a question of gender, and a question of understanding coexistence. Another one: we live on the post Internet. Everything that we have achieved on the Internet by hyperlinking, the speed… is being applied to society. Even the symbols, the gestures of the Internet are already in the most tangible society. These are some of the issues, but obviously there are many more.

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And concerning the arts?

Nowadays it is very easy to know what art trends there are because they are very commodified. We should transcend through art this appropriation and commodification I was talking about before. The problem is that if the artistic ecosystem itself doesn’t work in this metalanguage, then that metalanguage space is sometimes occupied by people who make banalities. And this is art’s fault, because what is doing is being a news item. Art should not be so obvious: it should build, it should leave… So, there is this gap in metalanguage and in how to transcend that. And then we have to pay attention to the actions, obviously. And actions are related, for example, with not stealing work from other artists or with being coherent with the working conditions that you promote within the sector itself, which sometimes clash with quite common discourses and poses against capitalism. Because then you are being part of that capitalist chain with your actions… And if you realize that the system we live in is unjust, what you don’t have to do is to make your fellow artists precarious. And this is happening every day.

What role can artists or creative workers play in relation to all these challenges you said before?

Artists already play a role… I’ll try to transfer this to something more general through an example. Right now, there is a digital fabrication industry, 3D printing, one kind of additive printing technology that was patented for 25 years and nowadays it’s all over the industry for many things. When we were able to access how to do it, the first thing that happened is that many artists, and hackers as well, opened that code and allowed a genomic growth, a growth of knowledge from the release of that code.

What does this mean? That when we start with a very tiny thing and we apply a biological philosophy to it, appropriate to this paradigm in which we live, then people expand that knowledge. In this case, they expand the possibilities, the dimensions and the technique of 3D printing technology. Thanks to the openness of some people who release that code and participate, it is gradually being generated something else beyond an industry. But before that, it emerges as a paradigmatic utopia. That is to say, free software and hardware came as a philosophy to change the world. And, above all, with something that I have not mentioned in the trends, because in a certain way it was exhausted by the industry and the entrepreneurs: empowerment and self-sufficiency. The fact is that we live in a society that is technological. We are now talking within a conglomerate of cables, a screen, which has consequences, and you have to be able to unravel a computer and know its components, or know how the Facebook algorithm works… Because technology is extremely important in everything. So, for me, the great artist is the one who faces everything.

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Therefore, an important role to play is linked with raising awareness within society?

Not through behavioural control, but through restlessness, curiosity and critical thinking. We live in a society with so much information, that I think the artist should study it thoroughly. So, what an artist can contribute is to make us realize that there are other possible realities. In other words, we have to understand contemporaneity in all its layers, knowing, at the same time, that time and exponentiality are capitalist technologies that make sure you don’t have time to reflect or to study. So, of course, for me there are many things that an artist can contribute in these times… and this can be a reflection on society. But be careful, reflecting on society is not journalism, is to experience society in a constructivist way, in a way which allows us to say: “well, this is what it is because we have created it together”.

How do you imagine artwork might change or evolve in the coming years?

I think that, first of all, we have to be a little sincere with our own work. I think that since there are so many people creating, we should generate an ecosystem of aesthetic links, each with their own little contribution. I believe that we are no longer in front of super universal and great artists. I believe that those great not only don’t exist, but also because that strength is already sponsored, in some way, by the economy. And above all, what we should participate in is critical thinking, and be a little bit stronger in that.

From your point of view, how can technology make art more accessible?

The first thing I think is that we are lagging behind…. Look, I work on digital paintings, they are paintings that move at a very slow and calm pace. I also work on big screens, which are nowadays taken over by advertising. So, by the nature of my work, I do some politics, because this rhythm goes against capital. And, above all, you may have noticed that nowadays the direction that art has taken is also fast. It is fast and fleeting. Of course, I’m in favour of an art that is above all infinite, contemplative, that requires its own time, and that changes the rhythm of cities. That’s one way of doing mine… But it’s a small example on how to find the pillars and break them.

As I was saying before, art and science can ask aspirational questions. That’s why the artist who somehow falls into science can ask those big questions. That’s where it all begins. Technology itself is that scientific knowledge that is applicable to a reality, especially industrial and commercial. Basically, because there is no other, we don’t live from nothing in a system like ours. Therefore, everything that is contributed to society is capitalist. So, and this is where I wanted to get to: whoever uses the technology that we all use is confronted with something that has already been decided. Where we have to act is in science.



I think art doesn’t push technology, maybe a little bit, but it doesn’t really push it. What pushes technology are the new feudalisms like Facebook, which impose certain trends based on visuals that young people make; Spotify, which imposes a time limit for songs; or YouTube, which also imposes ways of making quick and flashy content. So, what is the opportunity here? Well, to take advantage of capitalist strategies to at least introduce other things. This is what I try to apply when I am a consultant for cultural institutions. My focus is no longer on the creation of a new world, but on the way we are going to post-hack. Why? Because this language has settled in society very quickly. That is, private corporations have so much power that they have generated a language that is accepted by society. Obviously, everything can be an opportunity if it is used in a timely manner. But technology itself can be an opportunity and also a condemnation. Because right now: is Spotify good for musicians? Well, many will say no, it’s been horrible. But it has also transformed music. That is to say, every new opportunity becomes a kind of retirement for many, and a birth for others.


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How do you imagine your artistic work in 25 years?

That’s a nice question. My pieces have a common DNA, the truth is that when you’ve been doing it for a while you become a little more aware of it, and it becomes your own singularity. Some of them are autopoietic systems, and are neither static pieces nor reliant on me. They are creations that are in a constant evolution, a more or less closed or semi-controlled evolution, but they are infinite algorithms. And most of them are based on generating new beginnings. So, in this approach, what I have at hand are digital supports. And in these supports, I believe that more material or material-based systems will continue to emerge, as well as better handled chemical substances that can be manipulated to move. I also imagine working with true holograms. I think we will live in hybrid spaces, in quite virtual and autonomous worlds. I also believe that my creations will not be pieces of art, they will be other artists. As I have already done, like Rachael Runner, who is a cybernetic and independent artist. Then I, as an artist, will create other artists.



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