“The Download is a series of Rhizome commissions curated by Paul Soulellis that considers posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition. !!!Sección A R T E [No. 11+Rhizome], by Julia Weist and Nestor Siré, explores the structures of Cuba’s El Paquete Semanal.”
“El Paquete Semanal is a one-terabyte media collection that is aggregated weekly in Cuba and circulated across the country via in-person file sharing. The package usually contains between 15,000 and 18,000 files, depending on the week and your distributor, and it covers a dizzying array of content including software, sports, soap operas, web shows, animation, manga, movies and TV, video games, music, magazines, and more. El Paquete is often described as a workaround to the widespread lack of internet in Cuba (the current internet penetration rate is about 30%) but it’s more accurate to look at the phenomenon in the context of the decades of physical media circulation that came before it. Beginning in the early 1970s—about ten years after the Cuban Revolution and the nationalization of all media broadcast and publication—an illicit economy for renting media outside of government control began to flourish in Cuba. Paperback novels such as Romances, Westerns and Spanish-language titles by authors like Corín Tellado were the first materials circulated underground by entrepreneurs after the Revolution. Acquiring books was a constant challenge and these illicit businesses found that working with equivalent entrepreneurs in other cities was the best way to acquire new inventory. A national black market network for the exchange, purchase and sale of novels was established. As the format of available materials began to evolve—first to magazines, then VHS and Betacam video cassettes and eventually to CDs, VCDs, and DVDs—this network for physical media sharing between cities was the crucial link in providing access to media outside of government control. El Paquete Semanal is an outgrowth of four decades of distribution logistics across Cuba.
In our projects we have explored El Paquete’s reach, structure, trends and ephemerality. Because of the lack of equipment and tech infrastructure in Cuba, digital storage is extremely limited and each week’s package overwrites the last. For a recent work entitled ARCA (2016–2017), presented in the exhibition 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ at the Queens Museum in New York from 2017–2018, we created a one-year (52 terabyte) archive of El Paquete in collaboration with a group of its creators: the OMEGA matriz. Our archive is the only formal record of paquetes from August 2016 to August 2017.
Another ongoing project called !!!Sección A R T E (Art Section) is an alternative and independent artistic project that coexists within El Paquete. Created by Nestor in 2015, !!!Sección A R T E is a direct intervention focused on the visual arts, especially contemporary Cuban art, that is inserted each month into El Paquete. Cuban and international artists as well as writers, filmmakers, critics and others have contributed to the project over the last two years. !!!Sección A R T E’s structure replicates that of El Paquete; it includes a consistent directory of folders. It also follows the rules of El Paquete: it contains no pornography and no political issues, although it explores these limits. !!!Sección A R T E circulates news, exhibitions announcements, books, documentaries, open calls and artworks made especially for the C A R P E T A =galería= (F O L D E R =gallery=).
!!!Sección A R T E has many things in common with Rhizome’s The Download, first and foremost that it’s meant to be experienced offline as a digital package. Whereas for The Download this disconnection is a symbolic construction for curatorial and artistic purposes, for !!!Sección A R T E it’s a requirement borne from extensive restrictions on internet access. There are more subtle similarities as well, including an embrace of multi-window presentation and visible technical intention—everything from file naming to directory architecture. Unlike the broader Rhizome platform, !!!Sección A R T E exists within a digital environment but is circulated through physical contact. Material cannot rely on links or streaming and there is no access to previous months’ content. No tools exist for determining scope or audience numbers in quantitative terms. Audience interaction is difficult but !!!Sección A R T E does have an email account which can be contacted with request for topics and materials to be included in future editions.
This month we’ve developed a special !!!Sección A R T E that takes into account these intersections and deviations of El Paquete and The Download. This bilingual edition was produced as part of our ongoing collaboration and as with our other works merges the contexts of our artistic lives in New York and Havana. Julia gathered projects, publications, and announcements by international artists who are familiar to Rhizome regulars—Tyler Coburn, Caroline Woolard, and David Horvitz, to name a few. Nestor gathered material as usual for the section from the Cuban context and beyond, including a special work developed by the brilliant Yonlay Cabrera, whose project !Descargas de todo un poco (2014-2017) is included in the la C A R P E T A =galería= this month. In his project, Cabrera explores the strategies he’s developed since gaining limited access to the internet for the first time five years ago. He shares a largely complete chronological collection of the web material he’s chosen to download amidst constraints on connectivity as a “record of the evolution of my thinking and intellectual development seen through the information I have referenced.”
We hope you enjoy this material, wherever you are when you find it. !!!Sección A R T E [No. 11+Rhizome], available at the bottom of this post, will also be available in the OMEGA Paquete Semanal on the week of January 29, 2018. It will be included in El Paquete for seven days, and then it will be overwritten again.”
See more here.