Indigenous Cosmo-techniques

Spring 2024

Fernando Palma Rodríguez combines his training as an artist and mechanical engineer to create robotic sculptures that utilize custom software and found materials to perform complex, narrative choreographies. His works respond to issues facing Indigenous communities in Mexico, addressing human and land rights, violence, and environmental issues. Fernando lives in an agricultural region outside Mexico City where he co-founded Calpulli Tecalco, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Nahua language and culture.

Starting in the early 1990s on computer-based sculpture, Palma Rodríguez has become a pioneer of indigenous robotic art. Some of his earliest pieces include a series of cyborg machines like Coyote-brother (1996), Second in Charge (1997), Mixcoatl, snake-cloud (1997), and Tonanatzin, our mother (2002). However, Palma Rodríguez’s most emblematic machine is an embodiment of the Aztec deity Huehuecóyotl. The Huehuecóyotl is a Mexican deity in Aztec cosmology also known as the Old Coyote. Being one between human and animal, this celestial figure is noted for having the capacity to navigate between variegated and contradictory ecosystems. In fact, Palma Rodríguez’s engagements with the Huehuecóyotl, through both performative reenactments and robotic embodiments, elicit the coyote’s shapeshifting powers. The artist’s invocation of the Old Coyote, more so than a personification of the deity, is a practice of embodiment that allows the artist to redefine the very notion of Nahua technology as this is practiced through the recuperation of Nahuatl and the re-imagining of Aztec cosmologies.

Experiments of contemporary art such as Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe’s Robot K-456 (1968), Thomas Shannon’s Squat (1966), Gordon Pask’s Colloquy of Mobiles (1968), and Norman White’s Ménage (1974) among others, have become emblematic of robotic art of the twentieth century. However, unlike these precedents, the use of indigenous robotics invokes critical issues of machine behavior and visitor response that embody the total social network of Indigenous technological thinking.