Art & Technology #27: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Beauty of slowness conveyed by technology
Appearance of light
Transition of artistic media from the traditional materials to media art has not just started recently. Artistic materials continue to expand into new areas through application of technology. Among them, the appearance of artificial light created by technology, in particular, provided a variety of images and changes to art. Lights enabled artworks which seem like drawings on the sky or on the surfaces of buildings.
One artist has become famous for his public art pieces in which lights are actively used. Media and public artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who was born in Mexico and studied in Canada, creates a special world beyond the simple interpretation of natural light, pursuing immaterial beautifulness that cannot be easily reached by using different lights.
Cityscape demonstrated by lights
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer imprinted his name in the art scene in 1999 with <Vertical Elevation> in the Zócalo Square, Mexico City, in which he turned the architecture into a massive interactive art piece. The searchlights from every angle and direction continuously crossed the sky intersecting with each other. The lights emitted in various manners created a fantastic experience; those who are familiar with art pieces combined with technology might think the sky decorated with lights is not special anymore in media art. These lights, however, are not created by Lozano-Hemmer, but generated from the website (www.alzado.net) launched by the artist. Anyone who visited the website could input the angle and duration of a light, which was reflected on the light sculpture piece. The artwork drew tremendous attention, with 800,000 people from 89 countries joining the project during the two weeks it was first presented in Mexico City. Afterwards, this project traveled to many cities in the world including Vitoria, Spain in 2002, Lyon, France in 2003, and Dublin, Ireland in 2004. People who visited the square could meet the public artwork made of the lights designed by someone else on the other side of the world, in which the artist played a role of connecting the website visitors and people in the square, using the sky as his canvas. The artwork that demonstrated the modern cityscape with various lights gave him and his colleagues an honor of winning a Golden Nica in Interactive Art of the Prix Ars Electronica in interactive art.
Artworks completed by participation of viewers
Lozano-Hemmer presents massive group-participation interactive artworks, which are changed and completed by active participation of the viewers. Displayed at SFMOMA, <Frequency and Volume>(2003) consisted of a dark room with a large screen on the front and light escaping from the behind. When the viewers stood in front of the wall, the shadow appeared on the screen with a radio frequency matched according to their shape or height. After finding a match, the radio broadcasting came from a speaker, with the screen showing the frequency and the name of the station over the shadow. As the shadows had different shapes despite the lack of color, a variety of broadcasting came from the speaker. The viewers faced the image that projected their characteristics along with the shadows of others. From their own images overlapped with the shadows of others on the screen, the viewers could encounter various worlds in the unfamiliar space and time through sounds and the light.
<Homographies>(2006), a large-scaled interactive installation, also required viewer’s participation. Lozano-Hemmer filled the ceiling of the exhibition space with florescent lights and placed sensors to recognize the position of the viewers. As the sensors detected the viewers’ movements, the florescent lights moved along the trace of their movements. Consisting of 144 white florescent lights fixed at same intervals to 72 robotic fixtures, this artwork was presented at the ‘2006 Biennale of Sydney’, inducing participation from many people.
One of his latest works, <Call on Water>(2016), was a fountain in which vapor rising up from a water container wrote words in the air. Dozens of poems by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz became the words made of air and returned to be air. The lines of the poems had momentary permeability and soon disappeared from the turbulence. With hundreds of computer-controlled ultrasonic nozzles placed under the reflective container, the fountain created cold steam as the viewers had an exotic experience in the vapor gleaming in the dark.
Coexistence of various worlds
As seen from above, technology seems to be an essential part of his artworks. People today are using various technological terms and living closely with media, which is the reason Lozano-Hemmer thinks that use of technology is inevitable in art. His true goal, however, is not just technology art. He once said that computers were efficient and accelerated communication, but that was not art to him. He believes that art is created when communication is slowed down and questions are raised. Though new types of media are deeply related to communication between people, one cannot say that he only pursues fast communication and development through technology. Lozano-Hemmer reveals the coexistence between himself, others, and various worlds surrounding us through his works. The elements he truly pursues through his artworks is “community”, “intimacy”, and “slowness.” Thinking about various artistic worlds he would represent in the future, we cannot but raise our expectations. ■ with ARTINPOST
<Pulse Spiral> 2008
Incandescent light bulbs, heart sensor, DMX controller, digital dimmer racks, computer, custom software Dimensions variable, from 3.5-4m height Courtesy of bitforms gallery
High resolution interactive display with built-in computerized surveillance system Dimensions variable Ed 6, 1 AP (only AP available)
Courtesy of bitforms gallery
<Call on Water> 2016
Ultrasonic atomizers, aluminium and steel basin, custom electronics, computer, water 295×115×45cm Ed 6
Courtesy of bitforms gallery
Shown here: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pseudomatismos, MUAC Museum, Mexico City, Mexico, 2015
Photo by: Oliver Santana Courtesy the artist
<Zoom Pavillion> 2015
Projectors, infrared cameras, robotic zoom cameras, computers, IR illuminators, Ethernet switch, HDMI, USB extenders and cables Dimensions variable Edition of 3 Courtesy of bitforms gallery
<Homographies, Subsculpture 7> 2006
Shown here: Field Conditions, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California, United States, 2012
Photo by: Matthew Millman Courtesy the artist
<Frequency and Volume, Relational Architecture 9> 2003
Shown here: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California, United States, 2012
Photo by: Natalia Puzisz Courtesy the artist
<Two Origins, Relational Architecture 7"> 2002
Shown here: Place du Capitole, Printemps de Septembre, Toulouse, France
Photo by: Antimodular Research Courtesy the artist
<Vectorial Elevation, Relational Architecture 4"> 1999
Shown here: O'Connell Street, Expansion of EU Celebrations, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
Sketch by: Antimodular Research Courtesy the artist
<Population Theatre> 2016
Rendering based on global population
Renders by: Antimodular Research Courtesy the artist
<Vicious Circular Breathing> 2013
Commissioned by: Borusan Contemporary. Shown here: Vicious Circular Breathing, Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul, Turkey
Photo by: Antimodular Research Courtesy the artist
<Displaced Emperors, Relational Architecture 2"> 1997
Shown here: Habsburg Castle, Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria
Photo by : Antimodular Research Courtesy the artist
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a new media and electronic artist, who was born in Mexico City in 1967 and majored in physical chemistry in Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He became famous for the architecture, technological performing arts, installation, performances, and public art pieces in which various media are used including lights and sound. As an artist, he has led a distinctive career of being the Guest Editor of 『Leonardo』 and Co-Editor of 『Mediamatic Interactive Publishing in Amsterdam』, along with writing multiple books about art and media. His artworks are housed by top art museums in the world including Musee d'art contemporain de Montréal and Museo de Monterrey in Mexico. The artist received Honorable Mention at Prix Ars Electronica in 1995 and 1998. He was also granted “Best Installation” at the Interactive Digital Media Awards in Toronto and a Cyberstar award in Germany.