{The Saints are not supermen and neither are they perfect. They lived normal lives marked by sadness and joy, hardships and hopes [. . .] being saints is not a privilege of the few but everyone’s vocation.}

Pope Francis

Desiree D’Alessandro (aside as intro): The invitation to write for Uncompromising Tang has been burning at the back of my mind as I prepare for the upcoming semester at the University of Tampa. Recently, my thoughts and research have been dedicated to the development of a brand new communications and public relations hybrid course titled Digital Citizenship. As I’ve contemplated the integration of our everyday lives with digital technologies, my thoughts wandered to a colleague’s solo exhibition that I had the privilege of seeing back in October, titled Modern Saints by Santiago Echeverry. On display at the Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City School of Visual and Performing Arts Gallery, it consisted of alternative video and digital prints of de/re-contextualized portraits. It is my hope that this interview with the artist and the corresponding review of the displayed works contributes to present and future discussions regarding art and technology.

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Modern Saints Exhibition Invite {2013} Santiago Echeverry

Desiree D’Alessandro: As a contemporary artist, Associate Professor at the University of Tampa, and director of the New Media Production Major there, what did your Modern Saints exhibition mean to you?

Santiago Echeverry: A lot. This was my first solo show in the United States and my second solo show since the year 2000. As an immigrant, as someone who will hopefully become American very soon, it was quite an honor and opportunity to see that there are doors or openings in educational spaces and experimental spaces for people like me. The show benefited me and all the people who participated. I am extremely grateful to Carolyn Kossar, Stephen Crompton, Corey George, Carl Cowden, and my students, who trusted me as their professor and their torturer (laughs.) Ask them, my students don’t sleep at all and had absolutely no time for a social life.

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Santiago at the Modern Saints exhibition talk {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Tell me about your relationship with your students and how they ended up as models in the Modern Saints series.

SE: I have a very close relationship with my students. Through smaller class sizes and intimate conversations, I get to know their potential, their strengths and weaknesses. I believe that part of being an artist is exploring ones inner-self and background in order to make unique expressions. Behind every portrait there is an individual’s very personal story. This series was a teaching experiment; a teaching lab. In the process of creating these portraits, their personal stories and their fears were visually projected onto their faces. As they worked to overcome these fears, many expressed that they felt empowered. This was my main goal.

Modern Saints_Jeff Chamblees_2013_16x14_2  Modern Saints_Candice Smith_2013_16x14  Modern Saints_Stephen Long_2013_16x14

Modern Saints (l-r) Jeff Chamblees, Candice Smith, Stephen Long. {2013}

DD: How does this set up a juxtaposition with your digitized Self E-Portraits? Do you ever think about how capturing and digitizing a moment suspends its further deterioration in the physical world?

SE: In these works I’m exploring the fragmentation of myself into spheres and cubes, an exploding grid of sorts, de-contextualizing my own image. As a man who is now in his 40s, I can see that I’m getting older. I look at my physical state and realize I’m facing numerous challenges while simultaneously continuing to discover newness in the world. I call these photos AUTOSCOPIES, because you get a sense of looking at yourself when you are not yourself. You become unafraid of embracing your own flaws, your mistakes, age, etc. I used a lo-fi webcam in the process.  I was revealing and extrapolating on who I am, while also fragmenting myself into a luminescent representation along the z-axis, as opposed to a 3-dimensional representation. The colors were influenced by the temperature of light and playing with tungsten and LED lamps. The mathematical process behind the works is a really complicated one, but which allowed me to also create some of the Apocalypse of Eden video.

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2A, Processing webcam. From the Self-E portrait series {2013}

Self E-Portrait Series 2_B_2013_Processing_Webcam

2B, Processing webcam. From the Self-E portrait series {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Regarding the Apocalypse of Eden video, please explain the execution and concept for us.

SE: I come from a video background, and exploring 3-dimensionsal video capturing is one of my latest passions. All of these images that you see were captured using the Xbox’s Kinect Sensor. From my perspective, this is the future of film, where you can literally place the camera anywhere you want and you can play from any perspective. Like the experiments that Edison was doing in the 1890s with the basic film strips, now we’re able to experiment with this technology in turn. Obviously though, having a conceptual underpinning behind technical exploration is important to me. This is why I teach at UT and not MIT (laughs.).  Apocalypse of Eden is set to an accompaniment by Travis Damato and is inspired by the Book of Revelations and the visions of John writing warning letters to the seven churches of Asia, while he is on a prison island called Patmos. In my video John is overwhelmed by these chaotic visions of an almost certain future–one that we can only experience as layered pixelated images of angels and humans. In the exhibition, it’s positioned as the bridge between the Modern Saints work and my Self-E Portraits.

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Still from Apocalypse of Eden, Video and live performance (click to see video) {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: And what of your last work in the exhibition, Buccaneer Bruce?

SE:  Buccaneer Bruce was originally created for the 2013 Gasparilla Arts Festival’s Piracy Redux, an exhibition curated by Tracy Midulla and Kurt Piazza. It won “Best Satirical Arrrrrtwork” from Creative Loafing, which was really cool. Each Hillsborough county mugshot represents the sins that the individuals were committing, their fears or demons. The idea came to me when a former student was arrested for DUI and her image appeared in Google when she looked up her name. Her future will be forever altered. Here in Tampa, people party and drink, and in a lot of ways mirror the image of the old Buccaneer logo. I used this logo without permission, which is interesting in the context of the mugshots themselves and  a society that is increasingly more pirated in terms of copyright infringement.

Buccaneer Bruce_2013_Digital Moasic

Buccaneer Bruce. Digital Mosaic {2013} Santiago Echeverry

DD: Since the show has concluded and you’ve had time to meditate on the exhibition, what realizations or wisdom have you gained?

SE: The entire show, and several of my works previously and since, have been inspired and influenced by the grid. Since our realities are increasingly digital, we begin to transform our existence from molecules and atoms to pixels. The entire collection of pieces tried to emphasize this dimension with the actual installation and positioning of the pieces, mirroring, echoing and creating reflections throughout the space. In several of the works, I’m exploding the pixelation to help the viewer realize it IS fake – that this is the matrix. But imagine the possibilities of a future with unlimited resolution, with vector video, where the binary behind the scenes can lead to unlimited possibilities…

DD: Lastly, what goals did you achieve with the Modern Saints exhibition?

SE: As a political activist and artist, it was very important for me that the work provided an opportunity for transformation. My student models and those who witnessed the exhibition were receptive to its social impact. I was proud to aesthetically honor their stories and their essence, and not in accordance with the standards of beauty set forth in Vogue or GQ magazine. The context of each portrait was different. The Saints shared their stories willingly , but in the case of the Buccaneer mugshots, optional participation and communication were removed. The way I see it, the grid is everywhere. Identity is inescapable. Everything is connected.

Modern Saints Panoramic

Modern Saints panoramic installation view {2013} Santiago Echeverry


DESIREE D’ALESSANDRO is a Tampa-based artist and educator specializing in traditional and digital media. Her works and writing have been exhibited/published internationally and she has presented and chaired sessions at a diverse array of conferences.

SANTIAGO ECHEVERRY is a Colombian New Media and Digital Artist with a background in Film and Television production. Thanks to a Fulbright Grant, he received his Master’s degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. He moved to the USA in 2003 to teach Interactivity at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He then relocated to Florida in the Fall of 2005 to teach Digital Arts and Interactive Media at the University of Tampa. He started exhibiting internationally in 1992, and his research interests include non-linear narration, video-art, performance art, interactive design, creative code and web experimentation, while never forgetting his commitment to Gay and Lesbian Human Rights.

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