The Computer Resort
Correspondencias is a research project, a publication and an exhibition. The goal of this project is to document urban developments as a marker of place. In my research I investigate the perceived value of my hometown — Cancun, Mexico — as a place which is perceived to have no historical context within Mexico and the world. It’s only popularized context is provided by visitors, who feel entitled to represent it as they experienced it. A facade of a place via manicured experiences. Defying expectations of viewers that encounter information about Cancun is at the core of this project.
Discussing the project we must also take into account that there are multiple versions of Correspondencias running concurrently, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, this work is not only the research essay which you are currently reading, but also an exhibition of artworks which are not beholden to the arbitrary nature of academia, but to the arbitrary notion of systems of personal expression. Within the systems created for the artwork’s fabrication, in which I find myself working in, not only techniques of mapping and publishing, but also in visually re-contextualizing Cancun via direct appropriation of both physical and digital materials. Correspondencias is heavily inspired by Bitmap imagery. Bitmaps are computer generated images that are represented by a system of pixel-based squares, each square one color. Early bitmap images were usually black and white (but it could be any color combination). These early images are now called 1-bit monochrome binary images, that is that the image is composed of pixels (little squares) that are of one color and other pixels which are devoid of information, thereby creating tonality which is in reality are just flat pixels on a flat screen. The resulting pixel-based imagery is reminiscent of early visual computer software, hard edge abstraction, and minimalism. Some of the first artworks I worked on using a computer was done on the first version of Photoshop on a monochromatic CRT display. I spent hours zoomed in to photographs, modifying them pixel by pixel. When you zoomed out, the new modified full picture appeared. In a roundabout way, I have returned both physically and artistically to a place of childhood, of exploration. A place in which you are seeing things in a new way. Bitmaps used in the way that I have used them begin to visually reflect a zoomed in image, and yet what they are actually documenting is a satellite image of Cancun, borrowed from Google’s documentation of the city. How do we define expectations of what we are going to encounter when we visit somewhere? How do we become intimately close with a place, how do we return to it, explore it, view it, document it, publish it online? Those were the questions that I discovered I had to ask after I started this work. A project that I intended to use as a way of making others ask questions they hadn’t asked before, also became a project about the questions that I had to ask.
One of the earliest nicknames of Cancun was “The Computer Resort”, it was said to have been selected by a computer from a list of ideal locations to place a resort. This is in fact not far from reality, Cancun is the result of a 1967 study by Bank of Mexico Director General Ernesto Fernandez Hurtado to determine feasibility of increasing national income by developing tourism resorts. The job of creating that study was given to Antonio Enriquez Savignac, who is sketched out in much more detail in Cancun Fantasy of Bankers, and from which I take my queues. Savignac was a Harvard Educated banker, he was 35 years old when he was commissioned to begin work on what would become a years long comprehensive study of locations suitable for tourism resorts. The location of Cancun was first proposed in 1969 by Savignac (who later became Secretary of Tourism of Mexico). At the request of FONATUR, IBM de Mexico did a series of computer studies of the entire country with the idea of determining the best combination for allocating the creation of new tourism infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, water with existing planned agricultural and industrial resources in order to produce the greatest economic benefits. Cancun did not appear on the list of recommendations, as it did not exist on the map as a place yet, but the territory of Quintana Roo was deemed a high priority area. Savignac and his team later explored the peninsula aerially and determined the location was suitable for a resort due to it’s beautiful beaches and that the ownership of land was not disputed, primarily because only three people lived in the area. Quintana Roo itself only became a state on October 8, 1974. It was first declared a Mexican territory in1902, by Porfirio Diaz so the military could subjugate the Maya uprising.
With Correspondencias my aim is to document urban development as a marker of place, to give an alternative visual history of Cancun by establishing a macro/micro relationship with the viewer and the place. This strategy of zooming in and out, of the personal and the historically abstract is intended to create a sense of unlearning as to what the viewer might perceive as their pre-established understanding of Cancun. Using aerial imagery to re-establish the location in the present via satellite and drone imagery, as well as decontextualized Google Maps screenshots to introduce us to the realities that are only a short car ride from the beaches that so enthralled Savignac and his team. I use the imagery of the INFONAVIT worker’s housing to create a binary correlation between beauty and utilitarianism, highlighting the paradox in which Cancun is associated not with sandy beaches and four day getaways, but with labor and the systematization of experiences. This project is as much a personal exploration of my place growing up within a space that did not entirely account for people to so quickly arrive in large numbers and establish themselves there. That outcome was not entirely expected, it was something that I did arrive at as I worked on Correspondencias, something that occurred naturally.
INFONAVIT (Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores) is the Mexican federal institute for workers housing. It was founded in 1972 and is now the largest mortgage lender in Latin America. It has also allowed the huge growth of the building companies that are in charge of creating the uniform structures. The famous grids of boxy homes are the staple of many Mexican cities, in the case of Cancun their overwhelming usage is due to the efficiencies of quickly building these hurricane resistant concrete boxes.
Many of the works within Correspondencias have a corresponding mirror image, a re-interpreted view of itself in a new packaging. As an example, the bitmap textile mosquito net map of Cancun is also presented in its entirety within the pages of the book, running sequentially from left to right, down to bottom. Allowing us to see the landscape move as it would from a birds-eye view, a shadow of plane running across our eyes, re-adjusting and slowing down our intake until we do not understand what we are looking at. Images from the drone footage of the new home developments, this highlight the duality of Cancun of a primarily economic establishment, a place that in the words of the Mexican federal government wasn’t founded, but “began operations in 1974”. Cancun was created with the intention of generating as many dollars as possible, from the planning of the location to the focus on foreigners over Mexican tourists. My intention is to re-appropriate the visual language of marketing for the purpose of establishing a more direct connection between the workers that inhabit the resort and the visitors that support its existence. Drone imagery in tourist resorts is usually intended to show the appropriate use of that resort, if you are going to an old European city, the expectation would be to show cathedrals, if you go to Cancun, you show beaches. These are the markers of place that we usually follow. But there is beauty and culture to be found outside of the central themes of tourism.
At this time it seems relevant for me to discuss further my use of the word “workers”, as it can be seen within many contexts and perceived to be either positive or negative, depending on the usage. My primary usage of “workers” in this text refers to any individual that supports the operations of the city/resort of Cancun. That does not indicate their socio-economic status as being of a lower strata. My exploration of working (workers’) housing in Cancun should not be seen as an investigation only into those considered to have less acquisitive power. Cancun is home to hundreds of thousands of individuals, all of them are either directly or indirectly connected to the benefits of the economic surge of Cancun as a resort. In Cancun, a worker might be one that constructs a building with their bare hands as those presented in my videos, or it might refer to a uniform clad concierge that travels from those same buildings in a Mexican made German car to a resort. The distinction of service worker, construction worker or social worker is irrelevant in this project as all are economic workers at the behest of the tourist resort.
I was born 10 years after Cancun was founded. If you think of that in relation to your place of birth, be it a city, a subdivision, a town, what is the history connected to it over the period of your life. Think of where that city was then and where it is now. Cancun is a place where people are born, live their lives and also die. I have grown up with Cancun in the same way that you may have grown up with an older sibling, an aunt or uncle. Within the context of time as a marker for creation of space, Cancun is only 43 years old. By that measure, Cancun’s space has overwhelmed its time and has lead to the imagery of breakneck development one which is predicated on fluidity and upward mobility.
The context of how Cancun was conceived, and in which it has thrived is to be considered as a result of multiple factors coinciding. Mexico has traditionally been a country where the central government, mainly controlled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional or just “el PRI” (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The party was in power uninterrupted from 1929 until 2000, allowing it to exert control over all branches of government. The men that founded Cancun, as powerful bankers, were no doubt “priistas” as anyone working for the central bank or any position of power in 1967 would’ve been allied with the central government. Those that opposed the government, as in the case of the students of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico known as “la UNAM” (National Autonomous University of Mexico) were often repressed, and in the infamous case of 1968’s Tlatelolco massacre, violently repressed. The battle for social change in Mexico has had a checkered history. When the priistas were finally ousted in 2000 they were replaced by the Partido Acción Nacional known as “el PAN” (National Action Party), a right leaning conservative party led by Vicente Fox. Former President Fox, like Savignac, was also a wealthy Harvard educated man and formerly the CEO of Coca-Cola of Mexico. Fox is now a social media darling for regularly calling out Donald Trump on Twitter. The change from el PRI to el PAN was short lived, in 2012 Enrique Pena Nieto returned the PRI to power, and with it many states government’s returned to the PRI. Around the same time as el PRI lost power in Mexico, the World Trader Organization (WTO) organized a large conference in Cancun that was marred in protests. I remember walking near the conference and the security was unbroken, with military checkpoints guarding the entrances to the Hotel Zone, the conference was to be held in the center of the Hotel Zone, access in and out of the area was nearly impossible. This was two years after the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 and was one of the first times that something of global importance had occurred in Cancun. At the time I didn’t really understand the importance of such an event being held in Cancun, except that locals thought it would be good for the resort, and have no consequences for the rest of the population, as it often occurred. Personally, it made me realize that Cancun was a place that could be on the map in more ways than just a place to get a tan and a bad hangover.
The Cancun experiment continues to grow, unhindered by politics. Cancun has the second most important airport in Mexico, after Mexico City, a city with 19 million more inhabitants. In this way, we could see that the placelessness of Cancun works in its favor, it is detached from the rest of the country geographically and economically dependent not on old businesses but on tourist dollars. That does not mean that politics in Cancun are devoid of corruption so famous in Mexico. The case of “Chacho” Zalvidea is still fresh in many locals minds, he arrived in Cancun in the early 2000s from Mexico City, and in a few years went from owning hotels to mayor, in the four year period of his reign almost 45 million dollars disappeared from the local governments coffers? arcs, he is still free after posting bail. His family still has local political influence. The story is not uncommon in Mexico or Cancun, not only the corrupt politicians but the dream of coming to Cancun to make it big, in many cases that dream does not materialize as expected. Cancun in many way holds a close parallel to Las Vegas, places that reinvent themselves for those who are there, that can be experienced in many ways, that do not impose a totalitarian idea of themselves upon the visitor. Buy a magnet, maybe a t-shirt, come back soon. Like Cancun, Las Vegas was created by a group of men with a distinct purpose. They are now called entrepreneurs but perhaps in other times they had a different name. Americans are good at rebranding illegal activities. Both place have a distinctive problem of housing those that support the industries that make these places worth visiting. Las Vegas is the worst in the nation in terms of affordable housing, Cancun builds unfettered by nature or an endless boom bust cycle and currency devaluations. The amount that one was built by the government of a nation and the other by private entrepreneurs is not entirely definable, both are built by a level of greed, perhaps one masked better than the other. They both remain some of the top destinations in the world and to me that begs the question, what do these resorts represent to those who visit there and those that choose to relocate there?
What Cancun represented in the 1970s was an escape valve for Mexicans tired of the repressive centrist tendencies, were states (or really anything outside of Mexico City) are referred to as “Provincia” (province). Still to this day, many poor, middle class and lower middle class Mexican families are migrating to Cancun to find a brighter future. This has led the creation of multiple city centers throughout Cancun, as Mexico is and will continue to be for a long time an incredibly classist and racist society. Many people that live in the outer colonias (neighborhoods, although literally translated as colonies) rarely leave those areas unless they have to. This is similar to how poor neighborhoods in Mexico City operate, with people often living their whole lives in a few kilometer radius. It takes only a few minutes of prime time TV watching to notice that most of the announcers are white or light skinned, or that it is cool to use English words instead of Spanish, and that a trip to Miami is a sign of wealth.
The work presented as part of Correspondencias is intended as a continuous loop, one that can be flows from one artwork to the other, that is self-reliant, modular and that can created quickly, with materials that are global in nature. In that way, the materials are in direct relation to Cancun, this work is as much about globalization as it is about the place that is Cancun. It is as much about myself and my family as it is about migrants of all types that leave behind one place to find a new one. The pieces in this exhibition are five separate art objects that are as follows. The drone video I took while in Cancun of some of the newest residential developments in Cancun, a set of objects that I picked up from the sites, that show the uniqueness of the earth that is used to build the cinder blocks that are used to construct pretty much all homes in the area. A newspaper broadsheet comprised of un-edited frames from one of the takes of Gran Santa Cruz three. A publication, which includes different types of communication, poetic, narrative, academic, and computer aided. It is an experiment in presenting a place. Finally, the textile which is directly extracted from the publication and printed on Florence netting, which is a type of silk that is reminiscent of mosquito nets. The materials that I use in the exhibition, from the newspaper to the television to the cinder blocks are are direct representatives of Mexican culture, a culture of mass consumption.
The decision to show these works in the context of an exhibition/installation was a natural progression for me, from working on curating exhibitions to creating my own work. The back and forth between those two disciplines lead to what I earlier described as a flow between the different pieces. The same flow between curating, writing and art making which is now part of my practice. The one element that unites them is intent, the intention to capture a moment in time, free of judgment. Freezing it, moving around it, but not questioning it. With the drone video I wanted to achieve a few things, firstly, to give context to the work via immersion in the place. I wanted to create compositions using the jungle, the dirt, the roads, the houses, the people, the cars. Something that could be see again, like a painting or a print. Something that also avoided the obvious tropes of drone photography, I wanted it to feel like a singular moment in time, even though it was shot over a period of days, I wanted it to feel the same. Reliable, present, monotonous. Like the constructions it is showing, seemingly simple, un-designed. The editing retains the modular feel of the artworks and the homes, they connect directly into each other, with little movement or effects. The video comprises four different housing areas, each shows a different type of home, but they all start looking alike, the colors, the cars. They are reliable. As reliable as the base that I’ve constructed from cinder blocks. Modular, and yet unique. As even though they are the same specifications, they all vary slightly, some are a little bit chipped, some have some paint remnants from wherever they were packaged. Things that are the same can still be unique when they are manifested in the physical world, their conditions of production, transport and use dictate and influence their uniqueness. This is the same as the modular homes. They play with our sense, in some shots they look as though rendered on a computer, and in others, we see their direct interaction with other real world things. As the case of the unfinished homes that are overrun by nature. Time and context make them unique. The video also highlights the closeness of the subjects, only a street divides new homes from the jungle. The inevitable development of that jungle, the unfinished sidewalks heading towards a yet to be constructed group of homes.
Filming this video on location gave me an insider/outsider perspective. When you are living your daily life, you spend a lot of time distracted by what is directly in front of you. But you do not see what is beyond it. Seeing aerially gives you the real sense of scale. The smallness of our lives and the impact on nature that we have as a group. Observing is at the core of this video, not just recording and displaying, but looking, peering in. This is why I decided to display it horizontally flat, not vertical. I wanted to mimic the same observation that we see from the publication and the satellite imagery, but clearer. I wanted to give it a nauseating, difficult perspective. The video, because of how it is displayed in the room, can be observed from multiple angles. There is clearly a “correct” or “expected” place to see it, but once the camera shifts to a completely vertical viewpoint, that perspective is confused. You could be on one side, or on the other. Shifting perspectives, is, after all what this overall project is about. The shifts that I created were not huge ones, they were not prescribed and spoon fed. But they are there, they are here in the works. And the more time I spend with this body of work, to more I start to notice those connections. Connections between the place and the work itself. The video was also interesting to make as it was a collaboration with my brother, he learned how to fly the drone that we bought, I went to the sites with him while I was in Cancun and we did some of the filming then, and after that it became an online collaboration where I would send him locations on Google Maps and he’d go out with the drone and record them. I gave him a set of instructions on how the scenes should be filmed. To avoid the videos from feeling to “Droneish”. They had to have very little movement, you, the viewer, are not flying along with us in Cancun, you are only observing it.
From the video, I chose one sequence that I edited down quite a bit, but which I wanted to preserve in its entirety in a different form. It is one of the largest and newest developments in Cancun, named Gran Santa Fe three. To present it, I decided to create a newspaper broadsheet, that could be given away and distributed as far and wide as the viewers of the exhibition would go. To take a literal piece of news with them, something that has a small prompt on it, that is, just the name of the subdivision, the location, a timestamp and a duration. This piece literally captures time, it represents it in a way that is difficult to read, that is not entirely identifiable unless you’ve seen the video. In this piece using the name of the resort of Cancun is how I provide context, how I intend to subvert preconceptions.
The broadsheet is directly inspired by Aleksandra Mir’s project “Venezia”.
VENICE — 1 million postcards (100 originals in a print run of 10.000) were created as free giveaways to the general public 53rd International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2009. Images of waterways from around the world were sourced from a commercial image bank and a graphic designer collaborated on the layouts. The work also involved a collaboration with the Poste Italiane and the installation of two mailboxes with daily pickups and the selling of stamps in the exhibition area. However, the main part of the distribution was carried out by the public who like pollinating bees took the cards home by every means of transport and spread them to the wind. The canals of Venice thus extended out into the world’s oceans, rivers, lakes and ponds. Venice in every molecule of the rain. Politics as pollution rather than border control.
What is great about the Venezia project, is not only its reach (which of course I cannot attain), but also it’s usage of imagery and branding. The postcards are from Venice, and say Venice on them, but the imagery is not. This contrast is the same that I want to evoke with my project, except in this case the imagery is of Cancun, but not of what you are expected to see, and not how you would expect to see it. Mir uses the expectation of the place to override our doubts, and at the very least to make us unknowing participants in an industrial globalization. My broadsheet is also intended to travel, to be taken with you today and lost of it’s context within this exhibition. I see it as a first piece in a series, a first edition of 50. For me, working in this serialized way is freeing, not constraining. I don’t mind re-working or re-releasing something.
The textile piece, which like the broadsheet I ordered using an online print on demand service, depicts all of Cancun and a large swath of yet to be developed jungle from a satellite image from Google Maps. I converted the image to Bitmap which allowed me to expand the size of the image. One of the reasons for using bitmaps, is that it is great for expanding an image, this image could be the size of a building, and because it is just indicating the image using white and black squares it does not lose any resolution, after all, when we talk about lowering resolution we call it getting pixelated (as you are expanding small squares into bigger ones). In this case, the resolution is not lost, the scale is just increased. Working with these types of textile was really one of the turning point for my project. Not only because I was finding an outlet for my abstract pixel-based imagery, but also because I ordered them online. This now mundane act, represents a huge shift in the way art is produced. It is no longer uniquely beholden to residencies or art studios, but it is completely mobile. In the way that I am working, it is not inspired by what I’m physically surrounded by, but what I’m digitally surrounded by. These pieces represent NOT being in the place that I am discussing. They are a window into a digital connection which at times is tenuous. You just have to Google the word “Cancun” to realize that the internet is not without biases.
This leads me to my last two pieces. First the objects that I took from the construction sites in Cancun. They work in the exact opposite, binary of the aforementioned textiles. They are obscene indicators of placeness, of being on the ground. Of seeing things from a different perspective, of being too close to the subject you are studying to be objective. They are objects of my lack of objectiveness, they are my tourist memento. And they are also why I got detained at customs. Apparently bringing big rocks in your carry on is NOT advised. They also represent the processed and unprocessed, the natural versus the fabricated. They are a before and after. Another group of objects that I brought back are the three editions of the book I mentioned earlier, it is a personal history of my family written by my family and disguised as a guide book. There is a guidebook there, but the majority of it is a history of Cancun and the region. The work that I’m showing today, is just as much my own ideas as they are a continuation of my families’ work.
The last piece I want to discuss, is the publication. The publication is an amalgamation of possible pieces from the exhibition, both the inspiration for some of them as well as the result of others. It is reminiscent of Jan de Cock’s idea of an exhibition inside of a publication. Not a catalog or documentation of an exhibition, but an actual exhibition. The work are the pages, publication is the work, the act of publishing it is the work. The performative qualities of books, of catalogs, of art objects. It is also an act of archiving. It is an archive of an image of a place at a moment in time. The book shows the total context of the exhibition through how I see the place that is Cancun. It is is the abstract, the poetic, the academic. It is divided in three sections. Journal, which is a short framing of a place. The Computer Resort, which is an in-depth explanation of the project and the place that is Cancun and lastly, Mapping Cancun. Which is the entirety of Cancun as represented by a bitmap of it. An illegible, undefinable series of dots. Something that you can quickly scroll through and disregard, or spend time with and get utterly dazed by. A set of moments, a grouping of objects.
The publication, Correspondencias is as much a piece of book arts as a personal journal. I made it to look like a classic black and white composition notebook. An ode to one of my Dad’s art books, but with a more modern twist. The writing that I use in it is inconsistent, it is of many voices. It is almost as found as the rocks. It is of a place that is building itself, like one of Abraham Cruzvillegas’ autoconstrucciones. It is about a desire to work that is about a place, while being away from that place. Like Cruzvillegas that uses local materials from wherever he is to produce sculptures that are reminiscent of his childhood neighborhood in Mexico City, I put together from the Internet a collection of bits and data that are reminiscent of my hometown. They are not my hometown, they are not where I grew up, they are as elusive as our memory of where we came from, the time, the place. The publication is a reminder that we are not always where we want to be, not because we can’t physically be there, but because that place longer exists outside of our imagination.
The model of the Art Book Fairs has given works such as the Correspondencias publication an audience which was harder to reach, this audience is much wider, one that will be able to judge it both for its aesthetic quality and the research behind it. I’m interested to see how these different pieces can be extracted modularly and used. Does the audience need all of them together, or can they be enjoyed separately? One of the major things that I learned between proposing my thesis and making this work is that the line between didactic and abstract is really hard to navigate. I didn’t want to work to be too prescriptive, but I didn’t want it to be too mysterious either. One of the strategies that I developed in the process of creating the work was of working on multiple things at the same time. I’m usually really more of a person that will work on one thing at a time, if that one thing doesn’t work I move on to the next. In this case, with the concurrent nature of the work, I had to make accommodations to what I was trying to say. I wanted this project to be one of unlearning for me as it is for the audience. Abraham Cruzvillegas put it as well as anyone.
I think of my work, in a very general way, as the result of playing — almost in a childish manner — with found materials; attempting to produce some questions about how I arrived to be myself, why, and what for, and then giving to these questions a particular shape in space. At the end, very often the results are chaotic, like piles of things that speak very little about who I am, and more about where I am and who with.
 My research of Cancun has happened in multiple facets: a. Listening to oral histories from friends, old bosses, family members, strangers, cab drivers and so on. They form a non-written history of the young city, one that is impossible to reference in any academic way. b. Online, from sources such as news articles, Google Earth, and Wikipedia. c. From the few books on the matter; The Cancun User’s Guide by Jules Siegel with Anita Brown and Faera Siegel (my father, mother and sister — in that order- respectively) and Cancun Fantasy of Bankers by Fernando Marti and translated to English by my father. I rely heavily on the insight recorded by both my family and Mr Marti. The inescapable truth is that much of what is recorded about the founding of Cancun and is of interest to this research is weaved directly into my family history. Thereby, this research is as much a history of who I am, as where I am from and conducted both in an academic and personal manner.
 I suppose it is worthwhile to further explain my research and it’s presentation via footnotes. The tone of this research paper is intentionally less Oxford University and more E-flux. The reason behind this is both personal and professional.
This is an aesthetic decision informed by my research into Cancun as a location highlighted by computer research. You have probably experienced bitmap imagery in the form of early computer games and programs such as MS Paint.
 This area heavily borrows from the introduction chapter of Cancun Fantasy of Bankers as well as from the Cancun User’s Guide. I included page numbers for both. Cancun Fantasy of Bankers, Marti, Fernando p. 8https://www.scribd.com/document/104320657/Cancun-FantasyCancun User’s Guide, Siegel, Jules p. 63http://www.lulu.com/shop/jules-siegel/cancun-users-guide/paperback/product-1463139.html
 It is common for the well-to-do Mexicans living in Cancun to visit Miami for a shopping trip, not that you can’t go to the beach in Cancun or shop at one of the many malls, but the trip to Miami represents many tangible signifiers of wealth. Including: ability to purchase international travel, buy things in Dollars (the exchange rate between pesos and dollars is brutal for those with Mexican Pesos) and most importantly, it means you have a US Visa. A US Visa is mandatory for any length of travel to the US, just getting an appointment at the consular agency costs $100 USD and many applicants return empty handed and one hundred dollars poorer.
Mack MacFarland for editing and support.
Abra Ancliffe for her guidance.