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As part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, exhibitions of early work by Juan Downey at LACE and Pitzer College Art Galleries are a strong argument for the relevance of the artist’s self-reflective, technologically-mediated works to current discussions around post-humanism and the inextricable link between human consciousness, technology, and nature.
Several of Downey’s sculptures on view at Pitzer use technology to recreate human connection to natural phenomena, as in A Vegetal System of Communications for New York State (1972/2017). In this work, a philodendron plant is hooked up to biosensors and placed within a closed copper box. When the box is touched by human hands, the plant’s response is translated into sounds that illuminate our energetic reciprocity with the natural world.
At LACE, videos and photographs derived from performances are hung throughout the gallery. Perhaps the most arresting, Three Way Communication by Light (1972) is derived from documentation of a performance in which three performers sitting in a circle responded to live video feed of the other performers’ faces projected onto theirs. The resulting videos create an uncanny commingling of images of the performers’ faces and bodies that visually represents how one’s self shifts and blends in communication with others.
Downey’s work prefigures our current moment wherein “the human” is an increasingly problematic category, as imminent environmental collapse and increased precariousness forces us to evaluate our assumed dominance over natural and technological systems. In visualizing the continuities between the human and the “other”, he exposes this fictional isolation, and makes manifest the need to have more thoughtful, supportive relationships with the natural and technological systems with which we are intertwined.