Book Launch: Juan Downey, 1940–1993
Saturday June 29, 2019
with editors Julieta González and Javier Rivero Ramos
97 Kenmare St
Saturday, June 29th, 2019
The relationship of culture to territory and political power is loaded with complexity and layered with history. Through an expanded understanding of what constitutes art and architecture, Chilean artist Juan Downey weaved together an insightful vision of the relationship between people and site that remains prescient today. Downey developed an interdisciplinary and intermedial practice grounded in the social and the political that simultaneously addressed environmental and anthropological concerns, examining society’s cultural shifts through video and interactive art, architecture, and cybernetics.
Presented as part of a new year-long public program called Building Cycles, Storefront for Art and Architecture partners with Ediciones MP to host the book launch of Juan Downey: 1940-1993. With the participation of book editors Julieta González and Javier Rivero Ramos, the event reflects the structure of the publication, chronologically positioning Juan Downey’s legacy against a historical background that frames his practice within a wider artistic and political context.
Prior to the event, Aquí vive gente—Storefront’s first exhibition as part of Building Cycles—will be on view to the public. Both Aquí vive gente and the book launch of Juan Downey, 1940-1993 contribute to Storefront’s investigations into building community, understanding place, and presenting work that challenges contemporary views of our built environments.
About Juan Downey: 1940-1993
Dedicated to one of the most emblematic Chilean artists of the second-half of the twentieth century, this publication features the most comprehensive compilation of Juan Downey’s works to date together with novel critical approaches by leading specialists.
The first section gathers the work of Juan Downey in a chronological structure that emphasizes the dexterity with which he moved across media. Sketched against a historical background that frames his practice within a wider artistic and political context, the section also anthologizes the texts written by Downey and presents a varied collection of ephemera such as photographs, invitations and excerpts from his journal.
Responding to the history and work of Juan Downey are four essays by Julieta González, Felicity D. Scott, Francesco Pellizzi, and Edward Shanken. The essay by Julieta González maps Downey’s career according to his profound investment in cybernetic theory in order to posit the concept and phenomenon of feedback as central to his entire praxis. Felicity D. Scott places Downey in the context of Cold War geopolitics— –alongside American participation in the 1973 Chilean coup—– to highlight the tensions and stakes that run through Downey’s performative harnessing of telecommunications. The essay by Franceso Pellizzi delves into Downey’s journey to the Amazons and his time dwelling with the Yanomami foregrounding the mediatic unintelligibility deployed by Downey as a means to riddle anthropology’s subject/object dyad. Edward Shanken examines the iconic video The Laughing Alligator through the lens of surrealist ethnographic critique, recuperating the latent mysticism that animates not only Downey but also anthropologists ascribed to the Collège de Sociologie such as Michel Leiris.
About Juan Downey
Chilean artist Juan Downey is known primarily as a pioneer of video art and interactive art, although his oeuvre spreads across many mediums, examining the efficacy of technology in forms of expression. Born in 1940 in Santiago, Chile, Downey trained as an architect at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Upon graduation, he traveled to Europe to practice the fine arts, working with printmaking, until he moved to the United States. He became interested in media and feedback, as well as how they influence identity and representation. Working with emerging technologies, he was able to investigate these concepts, most famously in Video Trans Americas (1973-1977). Downey also worked as an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and the School of Art and Design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Throughout his life, his work was exhibited internationally, and it still remains in the collections of institutions throughout Europe and the Americas. Downey died in New York in 1993.
About the Contributors
Julieta González works within the intersection of anthropology, cybernetics, architecture, design, and the visual arts, and has recently undertaken research and exhibitions addressing decolonial aesthetics in Latin America. She is the artistic director of the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, and has previously held curatorial positions at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, São Paulo; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; Tate Modern, London; and the Museo Alejandro Otero and Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, Venezuela. She has curated more than 60 exhibitions in these venues and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in exhibition catalogues, books, magazines, and journals including Afterall.
Javier Rivero Ramos is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archeology, studying modern and contemporary art with a focus on Latin America. His research interests include international networks for artistic exchange in the latter half of the twentieth century and art under political and social duress. He is currently working on a monograph on Raphael Ortiz Montañez with El Museo del Barrio and a doctoral dissertation on the link between experimental poetry and mail art in South America.
Felicity D. Scott is the director of the PhD program in Architecture (History and Theory), and co-director of the program in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture (CCCP) at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Seeking to expand and complicate the subject matter and methodological frameworks through which modern and contemporary art, architecture, and media practices are addressed, her work attends to the institutions, discourses, and media-technical formats (exhibitions, publications, time-based media, etc.) that, along with broader social, economic, scientific, environmental, political, and geopolitical forces, have helped shape and define these disciplines. In addition to publishing numerous articles in journals, magazines, and edited anthologies, she has published Outlaw Territories: Environments of Insecurity/Architectures of Counter- Insurgency (Zone Books, 2016), Disorientation: Bernard Rudofsky in the Empire of Signs (Sternberg Press, 2016), Living Archive 7: Ant Farm (ACTAR, 2008), and Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics After Modernism (MIT Press, 2007).
Francesco Pelizzi is an Associate in Meso-American Ethnology and Editor of the multidisciplinary journal RES–Anthropology and Aesthetics at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Additionally, he is a Co-Chair of the University Seminar on the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at Columbia University.
Edward Shanken writes and teaches about contemporary art and new media. His recent writings include essays about art and software, sound art, ecological art, collaboration and innovation, and bridging the gap between new media and contemporary art. Since 2016, he has been an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has previously held teaching positions at the Rhode Island School of Design, University of Washington, and University of Amsterdam. His publications include: Systems (Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2015), Inventar el Futuro: Arte – Electricidad – Nuevos Medios (Departamento de Ficción, 2013), Art and Electronic Media (Phaidon, 2009), and Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness (University of California Press, 2003). He holds an MA and PhD in Art History from Duke University, an MBA from Yale University, and a BA in Studio Art from Haverford College.
This event is presented as part of Storefront for Art and Architecture’s year-long program of exhibitions and events, Building Cycles. Founding support of Building Cycles is generously provided by Linde-Griffith Construction Company and the Graham Foundation.
Storefront’s programming is made possible through general support from Arup; DS+R; F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc.; KPF; ODA; Rockwell Group; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and by Storefront’s Board of Directors, members, and individual donors.