Deconstructing the Machine: Learning From “Technological Disobedience”- Part 1


I first came across the term “technological disobedience” when I watched Vice’s short documentary feature on Ernesto Oroza. A designer and artist, Oroza collects machines and objects created by Cuban citizens since the 1960s. Throughout approximately 30 years of isolation, Cubans engineered a variety of technologies from mismatched parts to aid and adapt their daily lives. In the Vice video, Oroza cites the birth of the machines he compiles from a “reinterpretation of technology.”

The blog and digital archive commissioned by artist Nicolas Maigret for Oroza’s project describes “technological disobedience” as a history and an application. In the 1960s, Cuba’s borders closed, watching a mass exodus of engineers to the United States during an overall deterioration of paralyzed industries. Ernesto Guevara, Minister of Industries, incited an ideological campaign with the words, “Worker, build your own machinery!” A severe shortage of necessary parts and materials forced not only engineers, but mostly common people to repurpose spare, used, or unconventional parts for the technologies they lacked. Families kept any broken machines or items with the possibility that the parts might come in handy for a future repair of another item. Oroza writes, “Communist industry prioritized production that had social objectives.” They created items such as: stair railings from hospital bed headboards, television antennas made out of aluminum cafeteria food trays, and fan blades out of pieces of LP vinyl records.

Oroza’s project centers on the documentation of objects and methods produced from “technological disobedience.” His research focuses on Boris Arvatov’s idea of the “object-as-comrade,” wherein socialist production throws away capitalist luxuries and invites a transparent relationship between the person and the object. He claims this as the foundation for Cuban innovation, since people stripped away machines until the multiplicity of parts held more value than a packaged machine.

Oroza cites Arvatov’s theory of productivism, arguing that for the Cubans of this era, objects and materials lost their ideological context and became more so extensions of themselves. Furthermore, he calls these “objects of necessity,” or that the urgency of need manifested a relationship between the person and the objects around them. Objects become transparent, transcending the image of their initial or assumed arrangement. Rather than whole machines, objects represented a sum of possibilities. He explains, “This contempt in the face of the consolidated image of industrial products could be understood as a process of deconstruction.” Oroza creates the term “technological disobedience” to name the action of repurposing materials and the innovation generated by Cubans’ perception of objects. Oroza continues to explain “technological disobedience” as a subversive act, in which the Cubans denied the monopolized “lifecycle” of Western technology and gave it new use. He says that by postponing consumption, but satisfying needs, the act of “technological disobedience” gave way to alternative methods of production.

Furthermore, Oroza cites architect Le Corbusier’s “modulor,” a model of the human form used to determine the proportional amount of living space needed for that person. Oroza applies this idea to create the Cuban “moral modulor.” With this term, Oroza explains Havana’s inward growth and ability to support millions of citizens at a time when no new homes were built. People altered their homes from within, embodying the moral dimensions as well as the human dimensions of the urgency to support life within an unorganized system. Oroza calls this influence the “architecture of necessity,” or the form of urban planning that followed the needs of the people. Oroza describes “technological disobedience” as an intervention by everyday citizens in order to adapt to the “architecture of necessity.”

“Technological disobedience” especially flourished under Cuba’s “Special Period in Time of Peace.” This period (starting from approximately 1991) noted the Cuban government lacking the resources and production ability to provide for its citizens. Since the military spent much of its attention preparing for a battle with the United States that never occurred, the government prepared a book of military insight called El Libro de la Familia (The Book for the Family). This book compiled a list of survival and repair techniques used by soldiers. A few years later, Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (With Our Own Efforts) published a series of explanations and innovations contributed by the citizens, themselves. In this book, one of the most popular acts of “technological disobedience” came in the form of a substituted recipe for beefsteak. In place of meat, people seasoned grapefruit rinds with various available spices and flavorings. The people’s “technological disobedience” proved to be a series of coping mechanisms. While the army learned to survive under strenuous conditions, so did everyday citizens who lacked basic food supplies and tools.


Works Cited

“Archive Objets Réinventés.” Technological Disobedience. 2016. Web.

“Book: Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos (Verde Olivo, Cuba, 1992).” Technological Disobedience. 2016. Web.

“Book: El Libro De La Familia (Editora Verde Olivo, Cuba, 1991).” Technological Disobedience. 2016. Web.

Cuba’s DIY Inventions from 30 Years of Isolation. YouTube. MotherboardTV, 20 June 2013. Web.

Oroza, Ernesto. “Architecture of Necessity.” Architecture of Necessity. Ernesto Oroza, 2006. Web.

Oroza, Ernesto. “Technological Disobedience: From the Revolution to” Technological Disobedience. Trans. Andrea Mickus. 30 Mar. 2016. Web.


2 thoughts on “Deconstructing the Machine: Learning From “Technological Disobedience”- Part 1

  1. Pingback: Deconstructing the Machine: Learning From “Technological Disobedience”-Part 2 | 21st Century Portrait

  2. Pingback: Deconstructing the Machine: Learning From “Technological Disobedience”- Part 2 | 21st Century Portrait

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