Links & Collections
UIC Archive

Top: Panel 3.
Center: Panel 2.
Bottom: Panel 1.

A Thousand Centuries, 1991-1992

A 1992 three-panel piece, A Thousand Centuries is part of a larger series called 2-3-4-D: Digital Revisions in Time and Space, which grew out of an NEA Visual Artists Forum project, “Society and Perception: New Imaging Technologies,” curated by Ed Earle at the California Museum of Photography, Riverside, California). Participants in this artists-in-residence project were invited to make use of the museum's resources, notably the Keystone-Mast Collection of historical stereographs. Because of my long-term relationship with Latin America (I taught in Bolivia in the mid-1960s as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I was involved in research, exhibiting, and teaching in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Cuba in the 1980s), I was particularly interested in representations of Latin America and what they reveal about North American cultural attitudes in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.

A Thousand Centuries is a sequential wall installation in three panels: Panel #1 is a facsimile reproduction of the historical stereograph — “Original Tomb of Christopher Columbus, Havana, Cuba” — mounted in an antique stereoscope; Panel #2: a small print of a contemporary street photograph which I took in Havana, Cuba, in 1984; and Panel #3: a large-scale tiled inkjet print that digitally blends and annotates the first two images. This sequence deliberately confronts the viewer with different imaging/viewing technologies as well as different cultural perspectives as described below.

The Columbus image in Panel 1 (and indeed in the numerous Columbus monument stereographs I encountered for each Latin American country in the Keystone-Mast Collection) represents a triple-barrelled imperialism: (1) the ethnocentrism implicit in the images — these countries were viewed within the context of European/North American discovery, exploration and economic development; (2) the sexist/racist narrative of the sculpture as object — explicit in an adulatory text or implicit in the erect male figure of Columbus with natives hovering at his feet; and (3) the grandiose claims made by the Keystone Company for the authenticity of the stereographs and the encyclopedic authority of authors who explicated them. My translation of the text engraved on the Columbus tomb is the source of the installation title: “O Remains and Countenance of Great Columbus/ Rest preserved A Thousand Centuries in this Urn/ And enshrined in the Memory of our Nation.” (my italics)

Rather than explaining the Havana street scene which I caught in passing and which is shown in Panel 2, I mounted it in its original format—as a 35 mm slide—illuminated by a battery powered slide viewer mounted between two texts. The first is a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that echoes the extravagant claims of the Keystone Company: "The stereograph . . . is to be the card of introduction to make all mankind acquaintance." The second is a 1992 text from "Proposed Standards for Photographic Reproduction in the Press," developed by the New York University/Interactive Telecommunications Program (NYU/ITP) on Copyright & the New Technologies Committee. I quote this codification of categories of photographic truth, (i.e. photo-reporting, photo-retouching, photo-composite) in order to raise questions in the viewer's mind about the authenticity of the image I present; although for me that street scene represents the diversity, complexity and significant racial integration I witnessed in Cuba.

Panel 3 is in fact a photo-composite that digitally blends the stereograph of Columbus's tomb with the Havana scene. The layering capacity of the software I used allowed me to interweave text from panel 2 (the NYU/ITP code qualifying photographic veracity) with fragments from the resounding tribute to Columbus of Panel 1. The sophisticated paste controls of the software allowed me to finesse the placement and prominence of various elements in the blended images, and thus to underscore the complexities and contradictions of cultural influence and control: a pink-skinned female pin-up fills the T-shirt of the copper-colored young man; the index finger of a blank-eyed Columbus points at the fair-skinned baby; the dark children emerge from a narrow street, superimposed on the faltering symmetry of stone tablets and crumbling niches.
take from Leo

—Excerpt from Parada's essay, "Taking Liberties: Digital Revision as Cultural Dialogue," Leonardo, Vol. 26, No. 5, pp. 445-450, 1993

In the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Return to top. Return to artwork.