Posts tagged ‘Chile’

A funny thing happened on the way to Diablo…

Above: Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Craig Smith. 

I was taking a quick break, heading up to the third floor to visit the infamous Diablo, when this thought occurred to me. The first floor gallery of Downey’s work is a segue to the second floor gallery of Downey’s work.

Now, bear with me here, I’m definitely not claiming you can’t appreciate one without witnessing the other, but it’s enjoying the individual parts instead of the whole. The move from the first floor gallery to the second floor gallery is like taking a step forward in time. It’s a transition, an evolution really, from Downey’s earlier experiments in performance art to his work as a pioneer video artist.

While the gallery on the first floor contained mostly drawings, sketches, and diagrams, the second floor, containing Video Trans Americas, is a multi-media mash-up of video and drawing. TVs are arranged in pairs across the floor while Downey’s art, again only graphite and pencil on paper, is displayed on the walls. As I walk around the gallery, each set of TVs stares like a pair of tireless eyes, watching you while you watch them.  The monitors flash images, snapshots of Downey’s journey. For several minutes the landscape rolls by, shaky and unstable, sometimes seen from the window of a car, sometimes from the side view mirror. A woman sews, pulling thread and needle through a piece of fabric with painstaking effort. Children play soccer in the street while protesters march across yet another screen, vehemently waving signs and banners.

Regardless of changes in media, the themes remain the same. Far from arbitrary, every detail plays some part in Downey’s grand design. I feel like Downey wants to trick us, the viewers, into letting our existing assumptions about what must be complex (technology) mislead us. Without reflection we focus upon the TVs and miss the finer points of Downey’s saga. I mean, in the presence of several sets of TVs playing different videos, who would think to look at the floor? However, the TVs only make sense once you do. What initially appear to be squiggly, winding lines of tape between televisions proves to be, upon inspection, a map: a map of North, South and Central America, the very region Downey travelled through while filming Video Trans Americas. The movie clips too, taken singly, out of sequence, out of context, seem disjointed and confusing. However these are not individual videos, but segments of a whole. Dispersed over the map sketched on the gallery floor, they are the text and the illustrations to the tale of Downey’s travels.

Think that’s all? Just a deconstructed video exhibition? Where’s the fun, the whimsy otherwise found contrasting the depth of Downey’s work? On the wall, directly to the right of the gallery’s entrance, Downey plays his trump card, and it isn’t even his work.

While filming Video Trans America, Downey and his family spent nine months living with the Yanomami in the Amazon. This bright, vibrant, color-pencil art is theirs. One day, after they had spent a significant of time watching him meditate and draw, Downey gave the Yanomami colored pencils and paper. And they drew, without any prior coaching or instructions. Now, this might just be me, but I honestly can’t think of a greater and more profound contrast. Especially because one of these drawings depicts an airplane flying over two brightly color structures with a rainbow in the background.

Where did the inspiration for that even come from? There is, in my mind, an almost unfathomable distance between a video anthropology discussing invisible energies, political discourse and the Latin American identity on the one hand and the color-pencil drawings of an indigenous Amazonian tribe on the other. But for all its magnitude, this unfathomable distance does not invalidate that both Video Trans Americas and the Yanomami drawings are not only culturally significant, but also art.

Actually, I’m honestly so flabbergasted right now that I’ve run out of words. So, while I’m sorry if I’m disappointing anyone, that’s really all I have for now. I can promise more to come though; I owe that much to Diablo. Due to my preoccupation with the second floor gallery, I never even got around to visiting him. So look out for blog post three, where Diablo will get the spotlight!

Karen Enters, PR Intern

November 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Defending Diablo

NOTE: This is a composite photo-illustration of an anaconda by PR Assistant Karen Enters, not an actual representation of Diablo…

Last month, I defended Diablo in front of Arizona State University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Diablo is the 6-foot Anaconda snake that will inhabit one of Juan Downey’s sculptures for the fall exhibition The Invisible Architect.

I have done a lot of things as a contemporary art curator, especially as the role has become more collaborative in the creative process and with the community. I have worked with artists on site-specific installations inside and outside of the Museum, commissions, residencies and socially-engaged work. (John Spiak’s blogs on this site about Gregory Sale’s Social Studies project are a great example.) But this is the first time that I’ve had to defend a live animal “protocol” or investigate the eating (and defecating) habits of large snakes.

We will be borrowing Diablo from the Phoenix Herpetological Society, and they will be caring for him throughout the exhibition and have fully vetted his three-month habitat.

Curiosity and spectacle aside, the reason that I’m doing this is because it is a very powerful piece. Downey first installed the work in 1973, and it was originally produced for a show at The Americas Society in New York. The snake lives during the exhibition on a spectacular hand-drawn map of Chile and is a reference to the North American multinational copper company the Anaconda Mining Company. Anaconda was active in Chile before the nationalization of mining in Chile, which is one of the factors that led international business and its governmental surrogates to eliminate elected democratic president Salvador Allende and replace his government with the Pinochet military regime.

Over the next few months, we’ll be building the platform for the piece and finalizing the exhibition design towards its opening in late September. Many thanks to Lekha Hileman Waitoller, curatorial assistant, who has been managing this effort. She has an interesting new line on her resume.

–Heather Sealy Lineberry
Senior Curator and Associate Director

August 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Adventures in curating, or “The Invisible Architect”

 

Juan Downey, “Anaconda Map of Chile,” 1973. Photo by Harry Shunk, courtesy of the Juan Downey Foundation.

Just back from a trip to the East Coast to research several upcoming exhibitions and projects. My first stop was the MIT List Visual Art Center to visit the Juan Downey exhibition, The Invisible Architect, which the ASU Art Museum will be presenting this fall. It is a fascinating and complex body of work by a Chilean-born artist who experimented with new technology and its role in our society beginning in the late 1960s. Downey (1940-1993) worked with a number of artists from that period, including Gordon Matta-Clark and Bill Viola, on interactive performances and videos. Much of his early work explored the invisible connections between and among humans, the body and the built environment .

Later he started to explore issues central to his personal history and experiences. In the mid 1970s, he and his family lived for several months with the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon, arriving by canoe with their art materials and video camera. Downey made ironic, pseudo-documentary videos that critiqued Western anthropological approaches.

The sleepers in the exhibition are the beautiful paintings and drawings, many of them maps of the Americas or fantastic architectural structures. The show was featured in Artforum’s summer preview issue; after showing here in Tempe, it will travel to the Bronx Museum.

Ever since my return, I have been working with the rest of the curatorial team to plan for the installation of The Invisible Architect in three of our galleries. We are juggling multiple videos, installations — and an Anaconda.

You never know where curatorial work will take you…more soon.

Heather Sealy Lineberry
Senior Curator and Associate Director,  ASU Art Museum

July 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm


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