E2-E4: Juan Downey, With Energy Beyond These Walls

“Even class struggle is present in concepts such as Feedback”, wrote the Chilean artist Juan Downey in 1977. “Cybernetics is a call for social change.” The exhibition Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls joins videos, texts, and prints of drawings by Downey with a wide selection of texts and images by art historians, biologists, politicians, and media scholars. Establishing a network of connections, the exhibition puts to the test Downey’s notion of an “invisible architecture”, an all-encompassing cybernetic web of relations that he anticipated to transgress all of society, including material boundaries.

In 1970, Downey, who had relocated from Chile to the US five years earlier, bought his first video camera. Between 1973 and 1977, prompted by the coup d’état in his home country, Downey embarked on various journeys through the American continent to make video work. In 1976, he lived for eight months among the Yanomami indigenous people in the Venezuelan Amazon. During this time, he shot footage for The Thinking Eye (1976-77), a four-part video series projecting an anthropological gaze on Western culture.

The Looking Glass (1982) forms part of this series, pointing to the persistence of feedback, the observer, flexibility, and adaptability in the sense of anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson’s definition of ecology: “Ecology, in the widest sense, turns out to be the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (i.e., differences, complexes of differences, etc.) in circuits.” Downey’s use of video as a medium that enables instant feedback and reflexivity permitted him to project his own position—that of the artist, ethnographer, and individual in search for his own roots—back into the work.

At the time, technology was expected to be at the service of radical socio-political change, even of an “Information Revolution,” as Downey put it in his text “Architecture, Video, Telepathy. A Communications Utopia” from 1977. As if foreseeing today’s Internet, Downey’s “invisible architecture” envisioned “an attitude of total communication with-in which ultra-developed minds will be telepathically cellular to an electromagnetic whole.”

In Juan Downey: With Energy Beyond These Walls, works by Downey are combined with texts by critics, biologists, scholars, and politicians such as Jack Burnham, Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela, Salvador Allende, Caroline A. Jones, and Eden Medina. Ongoing interventions by artists currently enrolled at the Royal Institute of Art will take place during the exhibition period (until February 20). Placing these different trajectories next to one another, the exhibition does not propose causal connections between them, but suggests each as a part in a cybernetic—or ecological—web of relations in which each element deserves deeper study. The exhibition does suggest, however, a family resemblance in the underlying structures—or invisible architecture—shaping the sentiments towards technology, from affirmative to disillusioned views, fifty years ago and today.

About E2-E4

E2-E4 is the name of the most common opening move in chess, the one that sets the game in motion. E2-E4 is also the name of a program for theoretical activities, exhibitions, and publications at the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm. “Theory” is here conceived not as academic superstructure or epistemic authority, but as orientation, as that first grasp of our own situation, and of its location in a wider system, network, or totality, which may allow us to begin, to go from the confusion of undefined possibility, to the provisional determination of practice. The program explores the use values of the exhibition as a critical information system, in the service of education, aesthetic experience, and public dissemination.

The E2-E4 program is created by guest professors Stefanie Hessler, Lars Bang Larsen, and Kim West.