Juan Downey’s Art Questions How Humans Interact With Technology and Nature


What do interactive electronic sculptures, a bee terrarium, an energy absorbing robot, and a motion activated machine that flashes data have in common? At first glance I thought, nothing – and this combo is weird. But I learned that there has been much artistic debate and exploration about the relationship between art, technology and nature.

When we go to an art gallery, most of the time we’re expecting paintings, drawings, photographs and maybe a sculpture or two, but Juan Downey’s exhibit is different than anything you’d expect. If you’re like me, you’ve seen your fair share of “art” – Degas, Picasso, Frida, Monet – you know, the “big ones.” And if you’re like me, you’ve never touched an energy absorbing robot whose primary function is to reflect your energy back to you through strange reverberations and sounds. But that’s what happens in Downey’s exhibit and it’s guaranteed to change the way you think about the function of art.

Juan Downey’s Art Questions How Humans Interact With Technology and Nature HipLatina

Downey is a Chilean artist well known for his 1970’s video work, but his early work included kinetic sculptures and interactive installations – most of which were rarely seen and many of which have been destroyed. Radiant Nature is a look at Downey’s experiments, there are videos of nature scenes and sounds on a loop, there is a large “box” on wheels you can get inside of that blows hot air, there are honey bees in a clear viewing case (the bees are free to come and go as they please and have moved on due to the weather), flowers under light, and most interesting of all a motion-activated machine that flashes a series of graphs that the artist made by surveying prominent art critics. On the walls are sketches and layouts of how he built his contraptions and how he wanted them to be assembled and experienced.

Juan Downey’s Art Questions How Humans Interact With Technology and Nature HipLatina

Senior Director Anna Chang explained to me that the bee exhibit is actually meant to be open, meaning that the bees should be flying free throughout the gallery. They opted to keep them inside for obvious reasons but she also revealed that Downey actually lived with free-flying bees in his New York City apartment as he believed that humans and nature were meant to interact with each other.

Downey’s art is certainly different and definitely interactive, it will be available for viewing through early December 2017 at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is the latest collaborative effort from arts institutions across Southern California.

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