Juan Downey’s video works were mainly focussed on two major series, Video Trans Americas and The Thinking Eye. Both were motivated by Downey’s desire to understand his own identity in relation to cultural, political and economic systems. Late Barbarians featured a work from The Thinking Eye series, highlighting a shift in Downey’s focus toward Western civilization as a means by which to decipher the self through cultural consumption.
Prior to this series was Video Trans Americas, which marked the beginning of Downey’s use of the documentary form, in investigating issues of transcultural difference and similarities in relation to his own European and South American identity. Downey travelled through South America and made highly subjective and idiosyncratic accounts of his experiences of living with indigenous peoples there. Prefiguring contemporary experimental documentary practices by artists, Downey challenges ethnography in relation to the documentary form and the question of objectivity: “We could say that a documentary is a form of subjectivity, a work that oscillates between different degrees of subjectivity, therefore we cannot speak of either objectivity or of subjectivity. This paradox of the documentary is what I find most interesting, which is why I have come to use elements of fiction, fantasies, to transmit ideas.”
Before embarking on his journey through South America, Downey Outlined his aims for the project in the journal Radical Software:
“Many of America’s cultures exist today in total isolation, unaware of their overall variety and of commonly shared myths. This automobile trip is designed to develop a holistic perspective among the various populations inhabiting the American continents, thus generating cultural interaction.
A videotaped account from New York to the southern tip of Latin America. A form of infolding in space while evolving in time. Playing back a culture in the context of another, the culture itself in its own context, and, finally, editing all interactions of time, space and context into one work of art.
Cultural information (art, architecture, cooking, dance, landscape, language, etc) will be mainly exchanged by means of video-tape shot along the way and played back in the different villages, for the people to see themselves.
The role of the artists is here conceived as a cultural communicant, as an activating aesthetic anthropologist with visual means of expression: video-tape.
The expedition will leave in July and return to New York in early September, where the video-tapes will be edited and presented in final version.”
Watch The Laughing Aligator (1979) from the series here.
Read: Gilian Young – “Social Media: Juan Downey’s Video Trans Americas” in Interventions Journal.
“Throughout the video, the laughter of the Yanomami serves as an aqueous laugh track, which, like all laugh tracks, processes one of our most authentic, spontaneous, and involuntary modes of engagement into a signal of the inauthentic, the staged. Along with the clear elements of stagedness in The Laughing Alligator—from Downey’s range of outfits, variously a tie and jacket and Yanomami face paint and haircut, to the postcard image that stands in for the mythic figure of the alligator’s wife—the traces of laughter in such an ostensibly serious scene indicates the inauthenticity of many ethnographic recordings, which are often positioned as objective and transparent documents. ”
Chris Marker’s Pictures at an Exhibition was featured in Late Barbarians, a tour around a virtual gallery Marker created in Second Life. The camera pans through a seemingly unending set of corridors leading to canonical images from art and world history that Marker has worked over and added to, in often iconoclastic and humorous way.
Pictures at an Exhibition forms part of a longer film documenting Marker’s activities in Second Life. Our guide for this wandering around the island of Ouvroir is Marker’s virtual avatar, Guillaume-en-Egypte
A Guided tour by Chris Marker:
“In 2009, the Harvard Film Archive hosted a truly historic live encounter with Chris Marker in Second Life. Marker, who has often been sited in the form of his avatar in Ouvroir, generously agreed to lead a guided tour and offer commentary on his latest creation, including special single-channel presentations of his video pieces Silent Movie and The Hollow Men, an occasion that was made all the more meaningful by the then recent announcement that the museum would be dismantled later that year. ”
Lili Dujourie in conversation with Gertrud Sandqvist on her early video work, some of which featured in Late Barbarians.
Watch the video here.
“Between 1970 and 1980, her relationship with the new video medium laid down the conditions of a praxis rather than a form. The artist experimented with various types of live recording, with no cuts or scenes, in which she showed herself at some length in simple frames, apparently styleless. The presence of this slowly moving body refers to certain dance and performance practices, but it is rather from a cinematic tradition, capturing things in real time, that the whole work seems to stem. Otherwise put: using video as an objective and neutral instrument for measuring time and space, in the tradition of artists like Andy Warhol or Bruce Nauman. Video. Surveillance. But these pose periods sometimes freeze and crystallize in a fleeting way as romantic pictorial compositions (in Sonnet and Passion de l’été pour l’hiverin particular), not to say like certain icons of modernity (Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, in Hommage à…). This indifference on the part of the act of displaying, which is both apathetic and shameless, combined with a sterilization and stripping of the frame, refers the viewer in the end of the day to the responsibility of his own way of looking at things, between fascination for the suspended split second and disenchanted voyeurism.”
Late Barbarians artist Matts Liederstam’s Doctoral thesis, See and Seen is available to view online.
“The point of departure for See and Seen (text, website and exhibition) is the conventions of the Ideal Landscapes painted in Rome during the 17th century by artists such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. In 18th century England this translated into a particular gaze that became the fashion for how, and the parameters within which, the landscape was to be seen and that subsequently gave rise to landscaped parks, poetry and painting, and consequently had a significant role in shaping theories of the Picturesque. These ideas gathered currency outside Europe partly through the pathways opened by British colonialism, which still to a certain extent determine the Western notion of landscape and landscape architecture. This is part of a narrative relating to the popularity of landscape as a subject, that is also embedded in and produced by the discipline of art history and a model that I worked with in my art practice from the beginning of the 1990s.”
Visit the website here.
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In the academic year of 2011/12 the Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, Nigel Thrift, was awarded a pay increase of £42,000. He now receives a pay packet of £316,000 – earning over twenty-two times more than the lowest paid worker at this university (£14,202).
This is not unusual. Vice-Chancellors of the country’s most selective universities have received similar pay increases. These come at a time of continuing economic crisis, rising youth unemployment and falling intake of students from less-privileged backgrounds. This is symptomatic of widening social inequality and a mass transfer of wealth from poor to rich, public to private.
Widening inequality within higher education is driven by the marketization and privatization of universities. Institutions that were once for the public good are now being turned over to private, profit-driven interests. This is deliberately advanced by government policy on higher education. Our university system was once acknowledged as one of the best in the world. This is now being dismantled.
Unlike their Vice-Chancellors, university staff members have experienced a real wage pay cut. Made in the name of ‘growth’ and ‘efficiency’, these cuts go hand in hand with longer hours, less money and insecure contracts for postgraduate and junior staff members. This puts enormous pressure on staff and visibly reduces teaching standards, forcing us to ask: efficient at what?
At the same time, students are forced to take on the burden of financing higher education. While fees climb to £9,000 a year, bursaries are either cancelled or transferred to ‘fee waivers’; meanwhile, in universities like Warwick, maintenance costs are driven up by the construction of ever-more expensive accommodation. The vast post-university debt (£43,500) now facing less privileged students whose families cannot afford to pay up-front makes university education seem both risky and undesirable for many. This process is changing the perception of higher education from a public good to a private investment, from a communal right to an individual privilege, accessible only by the few, as demonstrated by falling applications from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The widening gap in pay between senior managers and frontline staff, and the debt forced on students, means that the university now reproduces social inequalities rather than contesting them. This undermines the university’s democratic function as a space in which free thought, debate and critical inquiry is fostered in order to give people the tools to challenge social hierarchies and play an active role in the public sphere.
Our opposition to the rising salary of the Vice-Chancellor speaks to a deeper opposition to the continuing marketization and privatization of higher education. The problems at Warwick University are problems for the entire university system under market logic. The management of this university is failing to make the case for the protection and promotion of the public university, so we must do it. The government’s radical restructuring of higher education has crept up on us, and we must act now if we are to resist – before it’s too late.
We contest these reforms to our university, however the voice of the student body has been reduced to customer feedback and merely tokenistic representation in the governance of this university. There is currently no space for dialogue over the future of our own university. We are occupying this council chamber in order to open that space, to start that dialogue and to make our voices heard. If we are to halt this government’s assault on the university we must make ourselves heard TOGETHER and begin to work towards an alternative. Join us.