For the project 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™, American artist Julia Weist collaborates with Cuban artist Nestor Siré to analyze creative social strategies in Cuba that have developed in place of internet connectivity. The most significant of these phenomenon, El Paquete Semanal or “the weekly package,” is a 1 terabyte digital media collection, aggregated weekly and circulated across the country via in-person file sharing.
Since 2015, Siré has been curating art into El Paquete through a project called !!!Sección A R T E (!!!A R T Section), a series of folders updated monthly with original artist projects. The folder follows the rules of the Paquete: it can be no more than 5GB, and must contain no pornography and no political issues. In early 2016, Siré invited Weist to contribute an artwork, the beginning of an ambitious partnership. Over the subsequent year, the pair met with Paquete distributors or matrices in every province in Cuba. In these talks they gained an understanding of current trends and processes on a national and local level, including who and what was popular. Weist and Siré also came to know the depth and intricacy of the Paquete networks, including the extent of its economic impact; the Paquete also includes a form of media that has been largely absent in the country for the last half-century, amidst a political regime of aspirational socialism: advertising.
For !!!Sección A R T E, Weist envisioned a conceptual and political insertion, an original video featuring quotidian internet browsing that captures the aesthetic and habitual norms of contemporary internet culture. To conform to the strict “no politics” regulations of the Paquete, Weist and Siré sought out celebrities to star in the piece, including the actor Mark Ruffalo, well-known to American audiences for both his wide-ranging roles and his political activism, and in Cuba for starring as the Hulk. Beyond capturing the attention of Paquete consumers with an iconic blockbuster film star, the choice to feature celebrities rendered the content chiefly pop cultural and thereby acceptable for inclusion. The circulation of the artwork throughout Cuba is also explored in the exhibition: how the project was promoted by the creators of the Paquete, the edits that accompanied its national distribution, and the response from the Paquete audience.
The centerpiece of 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ is a 64 terabyte server containing 52 weeks of El Paquete Semanal from August 2016 to August 2017. It is the only comprehensive archive of the Paquete and its construction and deployment was designed around the legal and logistical restrictions of the changing US-Cuba relations over the last year. Weist and Siré contacted every copyright holder represented in the Paquete from the week of August 8, 2016, in an attempt to legalize its contents. Where possible they secured the rights to distribute the same material circulating in Cuba to Queens Museum visitors, free of charge.
Weaving in and out of contrasting political, geographic, economic, cultural, and technological circuits, 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ represents a complex examination of the invisible and visible forces that shape our contemporary cultural perspectives.