Pitzer College Art Galleries and LACE present a symposium: Inside the Robot: Reconsidering Cybernetics after Juan Downey

Pencil drawing of Inside the Robot, Juan Downey
Inside the Robot, 1970; Color pencil on paper; 22 1/2 x 30 in. (57.15 x 76.2 cm); Courtesy of the Estate of Juan Downey

Saturday, November 18, 2017
9:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Benson Auditorium, Pitzer College
1050 N. Mills Ave., Claremont, CA 91711

In conjunction with the exhibition Juan Downey: Radiant Nature, part of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, Inside the Robot: Reconsidering Cybernetics after Juan Downey traces the various strands of Chilean artist Juan Downey’s practice through the lens of second-order cybernetics as evidenced in Downey’s Electric Sculptures, Happenings and Performances, and Life Cycle Installations. This symposium will present a series of challenging and diverse viewpoints on the subject of cybernetics as defined by systems of interaction between the human, non-human, machinic, and digital entities.

Symposium Program:

9:30 a.m.        Tea, Coffee, and Pastries

10 a.m.            Keynote Address by Julieta González—Juan Downey: From the Responsive Eye to the Thinking Eye

Julieta González will address the inscription of Juan Downey’s work within the different techno-utopias that marked the intersection between art and cybernetics in the 1960s and 1970s. Her talk touches upon issues such as generative aesthetics, algorithmic and computational approaches, the machine extensions of humans, feedback, and communication in Downey’s early work. González explores the connection to parallel investigations by groups such as Nouvelle Tendance, GRAV and E.A.T., Downey’s incursion into video, and the role that feedback and playback played in his works from the early ’70s, from the performative dimension of his video-dances to the affiliation to ideas advanced by publications such as Radical Software. She will also look at the writings of Paul Ryan and Marshall McLuhan in terms of the subversive potential of television and video envisioned by countercultural movements. Her talk will also chart the major shifts in Downey’s work that coincided with the demise of cybernetics and the shift towards semiotics and language in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that, in his particular case, were also driven by his questioning of the disciplines of ethnography and anthropology.

11 a.m.            Simon Penny—Happenings, Hallucinations and Homeostasis: The Technology Binge of the New York Artworld in the Cybernated, Psychedelic ’60s

Looking back from our contemporary techno-social context, it’s difficult to imagine life before iPhones, mobile computing, social media, texting, Skype, streaming video, GPS, location tracking and live navigation, VR, online gaming and all the other trappings of our high-speed broadband digital lifestyles. This talk will flesh out the techno-social context of the ’60s, specifically the ’60s art world, looking at the unlikely intersections of drug culture, cybernetics and the civil rights movement that blended into ’60s counterculture. Special emphasis will be placed on central concepts of the time and terms whose meaning has drifted or radically changed due to changes in technology, specifically the rise of digital computing in intervening decades.

Noon- 1 p.m.: Lunch

1 p.m.             Rodrigo Alonso—Juan Downey’s Multidimensional Art

From his early technological works, Juan Downey tackles art as a complex production. This complexity doesn’t point to the creation of sophisticated pieces but to the necessity of enriching the viewer’s experience. The intellectual environment of his time as well as some ideas that come from his Latin American roots help Downey build an art of multiple dimensions that resists being understood as a whole. This presentation seeks to dive analytically into some of those dimensions in order to ponder the singular poetics of the Chilean artist.

2 p.m.             Film screening of Beatriz da Costa’s Dying for the Other (2011-2012) followed by a short presentation on the work by Dr. Robert Nideffer

Dying for the Other (2011-2012) is Beatriz da Costa’s the last project before she passed away on December 27, 2012, at age 38. Dying for the Other is a triptych video installation, offering a parallel consideration of mice used in breast cancer research alongside scenes from the artist’s own life. Da Costa suffered from breast cancer and underwent intense medical treatment to combat the disease. Her installation addresses part of our collective social consciousness—pursuing the advancement of science and medicine, but doing so at the sacrifice of other “less intelligent” beings.


Biographical information:

Julieta González is Artistic Director at Museo Jumex. Previously she was Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Senior Curator at the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, and Adjunct Curator at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York. Between 2009 and 2012, she was Associate Curator of Latin American Art at Tate Modern. She was Curator of Contemporary Art at Museo Alejandro Otero (1999-2001) and Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas from 2001-2003. Additionally, she was co-curator of the 2nd Trienal Poligráfica de San Juan, Latinoamérica y el Caribe with Jens Hoffmann and Beatriz Santiago. González has organized over 60 exhibitions including Memories of Underdevelopment at MCASD; A mão do povo Brasileiro and Playgrounds (with Adriano Pedrosa, Tomás Toledo and Luiza Proença) at MASP. At Museo Tamayo, Mexico City González curated: Stephen Willats: Man from the 21st Century (2015); Juan Downey: A Communications Utopia (2013); Rita McBride: Public Transaction (2013), and Jac Leirner: Functions of a Variable (2014). She has published numerous essays in exhibition catalogues and periodicals, including AfterallThe ExhibitionistFlash Art, and Parkett. She holds an MA in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London, and was a Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program (1997-1998). Additionally, she studied architecture at the Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas and the École d’Architecture Paris-Villemin, in Paris.

Rodrigo Alonso has a Master’s Degree in Art Theory specializing in contemporary art and new media. Additionally, he is a researcher and theoretician in the field of technology-based arts and performance in relation to Latin American artists. He has published numerous essays and books on the subject, including In Praise of Low-Tech. History and Aesthetics of Technology-Based Art in America Latina (2016); Calibrating/Designing Contexts. Curatorial Practices for Technology-Based Arts (editor, 2009); Jaime Davidovich: Video Works (2004); and Muntadas. Con-Texts. A Critical Anthology (editor, 2002). As independent curator, he has organized exhibitions worldwide. Recent exhibitions include: Seeing is Not Believing (Paris, 2016); Transitio_MX (México, 2014); Pop, Realisms, and Politics. Brazil/Argentina 1960s (Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, 2012); Untimely Archeologies (Santiago de Chile, 2012); Situating No-Land (Philadelphia, 2011); and Tales of Resistance and Change (Frankfurt, 2010). In 2011, he curated the Argentine Pavilion at LIV Venice Biennale. He is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de las Artes (National University of the Arts), Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is an advisor for international art foundations.

Simon Penny is a professor of Electronic Art and Design at University of California at Irvine. He has worked at the intersections of computing and the arts for 30 years, building interactive systems that attend to embodied experience and gesture. His interactive, immersive and robotic installations, such as “Fugitive”, “Traces” and “Petit Mal” are sensitive to sensorimotor modalities of aesthetic response. He explore—through both artistic and scholarly work—dimensions of the fundamental problems encountered when machines for abstract mathematico-logical procedures are interfaced with cultural practices (such as aesthetic creation and reception), whose first commitment is to the engineering of persuasive perceptual immediacy and affect. These cultural practices mobilize sensibilities and non-propositional cognitive modalities alien to the technology and incompatible with its structuring precepts: the kinds of intelligence required by cultural practices—embodied and kinesthetic, situated and multi-modal. His book Making Sense:Cognition, Computing, Art and Embodiment is forthcoming from MIT Press. This book reviews computational and non-computational theories of cognition through the C20th and focuses on articulating a new aesthetic theory for interactive media, digital cultural practices, and the arts in general, which deploys contemporary embodied and post-cognitivist perspectives to provide a language for the discussion of cultural practices, attending to situated, embodied and enactive intelligences. He was director of A Body of Knowledge: embodied cognition and the Arts conference, UCI Dec 2016 (sites.uci.edu/bok2016) and An Ocean of Knowledge:pacific seafaring traditions, sustainability and cultural survival, UCI Oct 2017 (sites.uci.edu/OK17). Penny came to UCI in 2001 to establish the Arts Computation Engineering ACE interdisciplinary graduate program, which operated from 2003 -2011. Previously he was Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon, and European Professor of Interactive Environments. He was resident theorist on the faculty of the Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media Masters at Univerisity Pompeu Fabra Barcelona 2005-2013 and was Labex Professor at Université Paris 8 and ENSAD in 2014.

Beatriz da Costa (1974-2012) was an interdisciplinary artist and researcher. Participatory practice and interactions with non-academic publics represent a key component of her work. She is a former collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble and a co-founder of Preemptive Media, an arts, activism and technology group. Her work has been exhibited at national and international venues, including the Andy Warhol Museum, the Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medien in Germany, and the Natural History Museum in London. Her work has been written about in the New York Times, Reuters and the New Scientist. Da Costa was an Assistant Professor of Arts, Computation, Engineering at the University of California, Irvine.

Robert Nideffer is professor and head of the department of arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He holds a PhD in Sociology (1994) and an MFA in Computer Arts (1997), from the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 1998-2013 he was a Professor of Art at the University of California, Irvine. From 2005-2007 he served as Co-Director, and from 2007-2009 Director, of the Art Computation Engineering (ACE) graduate program, housed between the School of the Arts, the School of Information and Computer Science, and the School of Engineering. His work has been exhibited at a variety of national and international venues including the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte in Spain; the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, California; the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the 2002 Whitney Biennial. He has lectured extensively both inside and outside the academy, and his projects have been discussed in major media outlets including books, journal articles, television, the internet, film and radio.

This symposium is free and open to the public.

This program and the exhibition Juan Downey: Radiant Nature are part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin America and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA Latino American & Latino Art in LA





Major support for this program and exhibition is provided through grants from the Getty Foundation.

Additional Support:
Dirección de Asuntos Culturales, DIRAC, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Embassy of Chile
Pasadena Art Alliance
Estrellita B. Brodsky
Consulate of Chile in Los Angeles

In-kind Support
Human Resources

This program is organized by Pitzer College Art Galleries and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE).