Crafting our Digital Future

As part of V&A Digital Design Weekend 2015

Vanguardism Of The Periphery

Miriam Mabel Martinez

The Route

Behind the counter, Mr. Sulca shows us several newspaper clippings. The periodical runs a story following one of his projects: a stimulator for the nervous system which combats Parkinson’s. ‘It is one of my obsessions,’ but not his only one. The small local operation located on Mesones 14 is also a laboratory. ‘Everything is up for sale; everything I made myself’ he boasts to Jon Rogers, Professor at the University of Dundee, who examines and touches each apparatus. ‘You have to see this,’ he calls over to Laura intrigued. As if that were not enough, ‘It uses Eprom – hat’s off,’ declares Erik, a worker passing by. Indeed there is no doubt that Mexico City is a laboratory – it has been that way since its foundation. The Route of Makers that we tread today is only a walk through the palimpsest that gives life to the Centro Histórico (Historic City Center) and tells a story forged by workers from an ancient Mesoamerican world who confronted an Old World to invent a ‘New Continent.’ What better stage to explore the digital future. That’s what brings us here.

Patricio Buenrostro, a futurologist and self-professed entrepreneur, is one of the guides along the Route of Makers, organized by the Laboratory of Mexico City to initiate this Mexican-British dialogue in which gamers, makers, creative minds, and navigators of the latest technologies will reinvent the now in order to transform it into a prototype, story, game…or into an experiential situationist narrative like the one played out this morning in the Plaza Tlaxcoaque. In Mr. Sulcra’s store, this transformative movement is touted almost like a Maker manifesto.

We Mexicans retrace our history along this route which directs us through a center which is part of our living legacy. To the British, it is known as the great twenty-first century Tenochtitlan, through which the vision of that ancient city still seeps phantasmagorically. Each traveller marks her own path. On the avenue 20 de Noviembre mannequins dressed like brides direct us to the right towards the street, Regina. We arrive at Pino Suárez where all worlds converge: architecture and the work that we have been performing since the start of our history. If there is anything Mexicans know how to do, it is work. We are workers.

Turning left on Mesones there are churches, cantinas, hardware stores, fabrics, notebooks, cables, imitation jewellery, buttons, bottles, bows, stamps, paints… which draw a new face on the center that seems to be a massive library of tastes and interests. And indeed every street is a specialized branch. This dazzles Irini, who is perhaps ‘responsible’ for this discovery. Neither she nor Jon know which way to turn. Neither does Erik, a young inventor of barely twenty-two years; nor Dulce, a forward-thinking architect; nor Laura, a Mexican graphic designer and alumna of the University of Dundee; neither does 24 year old Andrés who has been writing an essay the last few years ‘on the new paradigms,’ which he only revealed upon our entrance to Mesones 14. There stands Mr. Sulca behind the counter of his miniature store, barely announced by a tiny sign that reads ‘Electronic kits, Sulca interior 2.’ This sign transports us back several decades but, once inside, forward into the future. ‘I have designed everything,’ and this everything includes programs, apparatuses, electronics… ‘For over fifty years I have been inventing and investigating.’ These products do more than operate; they boast a fun and functional aesthetic. What’s more, they confirm a premonition by George Orwell in his book 1984: ‘If there is hope (wrote Winston) it lies in the proles.’ This reality continues to ring true upon arriving at Lázaro Cárdenas, where the din of voices asking us what we are looking for, whether it’s hardware or software, whether filemaker or Photoshop…are only the antechamber to a universe in which any kind of computer or dream is possible. There are pirated products, reinventions, recyclables, assemblies, keyboards, cables, chips…everything to build for any pocket. People, shouts, display windows, cables, monitors, keyboards, programs blend together into an electronic Meccano that invites us to also build the impossible. Welcome to the vanguardism of the periphery.

Crossing the avenue of Lázaro Cárdenas we follow the path of Patricio towards Victoria (the street with the lamps), and then later, along the street Dolores (the eastern gem) we cross Artículo 123 (famous for electrical appliances and also for the start of radio in Mexico) until arriving at China Town. On Avenida Juárez, facing the Alameda and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we opt to return through the ‘center of the center’ via the street Madero, which introduces us to another city in which businesses, banking, and transnationals flank us. We take a turn onto Bolívar, but escaping from the gentrification poses more than a challenge – it requires much imagination. The street of Donceles, though a bit overly renovated, is crafty and has managed to escape the bourgeois trend that nowadays typifies the historical centers of the great metropolises. Here old and used books continue to be found in print and share their nostalgia with photography stores where analog cameras prevail. Along the street Palma signs reading, ‘We print theses,’ indicate that we are near the end of the route: the Plaza Santo Domingo. According to a futurologist like Patricio, this street triggers nostalgia provoked perhaps by the printing houses which specialize in ‘almost customized’ invitations for weddings, la quinceañera (Mexican celebration at the fifteenth year of age), baptisms, pamphlets, flyers, diplomas, university degrees, posters, along with the vigilant watch of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (Church of Santo Domingo) and the old Escuela de Medicina (School of Medicine) and its Palace reminding us of the glamour of the vice-royal period.

The Binnacle (Housing for a ship’s compass)

From the green terrace of the Laboratory of Mexico City, the historic center is organized in a grid that seems like a live miniature. From its heights we re-traverse in our imagination the routes of makers of other centuries. On the roof of the Laboratory we take on the 2015 Dual Year of Mexico and the United Kingdom.

These are the moments leading up to the inauguration of the Digital Futures UKMX challenge. It’s not every day that one gets to converse with a UNESCO City of Design such as Dundee, nor to interweave the creative ecosystems of two apparently unconnected places. What could a Scottish city with barely 150,000 inhabitants possibly have to do with a megalopolis of more than 20 million? We begin to discover in a video-table conference in Spanish and English, the curiosity that will write the first paragraph of a shared creative ecosystem. The discussion about this trade of ideas was energizing those present to now begin another project: the growth of a rhizome sprouting organically from the Binnacle of Makers (Bitácora de Hacedores de la Cuidad de México), an experimental project which sows a network to teach the citizen-users of Mexico City how to better use resources and spaces to Make. But this goal invites those both here and those there on the other side of the Atlantic to experience daily life from a different perspective. More than a cultural test per se, we are the reflection between Dundee and Mexico City. The experiment has just begun.

The Date

Along Paseo de la Reforma two giants chat: a skyscraper and a monument- sculpture-screen. They are as different in form as what they contain inside: the skyscraper guards banking secrets and the monument, named Estela de Luz (Stele of Light), holds curiosity – in the heart of it lies the Centro de Cultura Digital (Digital Culture Centre).

The hustle and bustle outside doesn’t even compare with what lies inside. On the street, some people run to catch a bus, others ride a bike. It is 4pm on a Friday, and down below the first guests arrive at the creative celebration. Makers, gamers, tipsters, artists, musicians, scriptwriters, and architects… Laura, Dulce, Erik, and Andrés are there as well to take part in this 48 hour marathon. The attendees slowly begin to make themselves comfortable. Some drink coffee and others tea. Some begin to spread themselves out along the tables: they take out their laptops, remove their shoes, chat, and settle in. It is like looking for a partner to dance with. The orchestra – the hosts that is – are tuning their instruments, and the guests are adjusting their suits and ties. Everyone looks around at each other: anyone could be the perfect partner. Who will they dance with?

Not all are ‘strangers.’ Many are already regulars of these creative get-togethers. This is reflected in the familiarity with which some great each other. No one is too intimated; the novices quickly learn the code, and the dance continues with the promise that the best prototypes will be exhibited in September at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Digital Design Weekend in London. Grace Quintanilla, director of the Centro de Cultura Digital, wanders about spying with her iPhone on the participants and guests like the British musician Trevor Wishart, who pokes around near his display titled ‘The Resonance of Things.’ Grace doesn’t stop; she is as eager as the participants, many of whom are first-timers in these undertakings. They don’t know what to expect, but they wait hopefully. And they are not mistaken. Jacinto Quesnel is in charge of the proceedings. She first presents Jon Rogers, professor of creative technology, who along with Irini Papadimitriou, Digital Programmes Manager of Victoria and Albert Museum, is the reason behind this meeting. They are the guests of honour at this technological celebration. But they are not the only British present; in Dundee other maker colleagues are also inventing new ways to live the city – in a marathon dialogue.

The rules are established and with the premise of finding partners, the activist- makers develop the functional prototype that corresponds to one of the four guiding principles of work (civic consciousness, commitment, collaboration and innovation), and launch themselves towards the dance floor where around them advisors circle. They say there is always a lid for every pot, and this Reality Check is no exception.

Put a Sock In It

I leave Laura, Andrés, Erik, and Dulce at the CCD. It excites me to think that they have found others who will invite them to dance for the first time in a marathon of this sort. I know that guided by advisors like Héctor Rivero and El Mitotero, they will join this clan of makers that have decided to use technology to tell stories and later to share these stories to help others understand technology. Each one, amateurs and those more experienced, will find a path to narrate whether through a new app, an object, a game, or sound – and what’s more, a story that will have an application in the community and foster the gathering of discoveries just as the Astro Vandalist, Interspecifics, MusicMakers Hacklab, and the Colectivo Chipotle Collectives will do in the Laboratorio Arte Alameda (Alameda Art Laboratory), Evening of Chiptunes, the poetic-sound-visual jam – interdisciplinary ventures that play with other tools and instruments in order to make music.


Dulce is right – the goal of this marathon is ‘the enjoyment of helping and growing.’ Mission accomplished: the Digital Futures are narrating.

Translated by Anya Russian