Cameras, tracking systems and biometric techniques have now transformed the public space into a metered matrix where every activity can be registered, stored and analyzed. The mexican-canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer makes use of this technology, but instead of tracking for pre-emptive control he uses it for connecting disparate planes of experience. By creating platforms for participation and self-representation he offers critical, playful and poetic installations that seek complicity and that by definition are out of control, ambiguous and indeterminate.
With “Preabsence”, the HeK (Haus der elektronischen Künste, Basel) presents the latest projects of Lozano-Hemmer. The show focuses on works dealing with the complex interrelationship between presence and absence, motifs usually understood as mutually exclusive or opposites, but here presented as echoes of each other within the tangible traces that data, memory and visitor interaction leave behind.
The show includes poignant political works such as “Level of Confidence” (2015) a face-recognition camera that constantly searches for the missing 43 students kidnapped by the Mexican government in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. In the piece, military and police identification algorithms compare the image of the public with those of the students, finding which student’s facial features look most like the participant’s and giving a “level of confidence” on how accurate the match is, in percent. The project aims to make visible the tragic disappearance of the students, creating empathic links and, crucially, to generate income for the affected community, as Lozano-Hemmer directs all proceeds of the project to them.
Also on display will be “Pulse Room” (2006), an installation where hundreds of incandescent light bulbs blink to the heart rate of participants who hold a pulse sensor. In “Pulse Room” the visitors leave their digital traces behind in the installation and their presence lingers even when they are already absent. The technology makes them accomplices in a game comprising recording and playback, presence and absence.
Likewise, the sound piece “Microphone” (2008) consists of a vintage microphone that has been modified so that inside its head is a tiny loudspeaker and a circuit board connected to a hidden control computer. When a public member speaks into the microphone, it records his or her voice and immediately plays back the voice of a previous participant, as an echo from the past.
The piece “1984×1984” was conceived as an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 30 years after his predicted date for the collapse of privacy, the work shows a grid of hundreds of thousands of random numbers extracted from addresses photographed by Google Street View. As the viewer walks in front of that immense variety of images, his or her silhouette is prepresented within the display and all the numbers inside it count down to the number 1984.
The show features eleven pieces in a variety of media, from sound-sculptures to data-driven displays. Many of the pieces depend on participation to exist and their content is entirely “crowdsourced”. “PREABSENCE” includes the World premiere of “Redundant Assembly” a reactive display which creates a composite portrait of up to nine public members, and also the European premiere of three other works. Lozano-Hemmer perverts the intended application of technologies and with them transforms the supposedly neutral exhibition space into a place of social interaction.
The exhibition is still running until 28.08.2016.