The eye that thinks and the mind that feels: ecological thought in the video work of Juan Downey


This seminar will be based on the conflict between ecology and politics that can be seen in the video works of the Chilean artist, Juan Downey (Santiago, 1940 – New York, 1993). Downey believed that communication technologies could be thought of as an ecological network capable of connecting bodies, places and knowledges. Downey saw in this system of electronic and energy relationships potential for social and individual transformation, which was articulated via different media, particularly single channel videos made for television, installations and performances. The seminar will explore central concepts that influenced video in the 1970s, including Downey’s work, such as the expansion of the notion of feedback and guerilla television, examining works of the artist that show this ecological thinking. We will analyze a number of elements, from electronic sculptures that Downey produced in the 1960s to video installations in the 1990s, taking as a central element the videos from the series Video Trans Américas (and the installation of the same title that can be seen in the Matta Cultural Centre) and the series The Thinking Eye.
Downey was an artist who created a far-reaching oeuvre in video art to explore a number of concerns about displacement, communication between cultures, different histories of coloniality and power structures, the intertwining of body and technology, and our mediated environment. Making use of video, Downey embarked on an exploration over different continents, forms of knowledge and representation systems, relating together in his works autobiography and ethnography, the documentary format and its parodic reflex, semiotic and historical analysis, and art as a social practice with politics running through it. His work presents a utopian vision of technology that, with his criticism, proposes new forms of association and connection.

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