Downey immigrated to the United States from Chile in 1965 and quickly became an integral member of a dynamic lower Manhattan community of artists experimenting with the new medium of video. In 1973 he embarked on a three-year series of journeys to South America, motivated by a personal longing to reconnect with his roots and a utopian vision of fostering a transnational Latin American identity. Video Trans Americas comprises footage from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, where Downey documented native cultures. He challenged the power dynamics of traditional ethnographic documentary by sharing his recordings with his subjects, whom he considered to be his collaborators, involving them in the production process and questioning his own position as an outsider.
Chilean general Augusto Pinochet’s violent US-backed coup d’état took place two months into Downey’s first trip, intensifying the artist’s commitment to technology as an instrument of unity and freedom. Prefiguring the possibilities of a networked world, Downey hoped to unite the people of the Americas by using video to lay the groundwork for an “invisible architecture” that would connect people across continents and histories. Video Trans Americas is shown on fourteen video monitors arranged geographically on a large map outlined on the floor and walls, allowing viewers to traverse the work through both virtual and physical space.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)