Manchester Art Gallery

Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

A major exhibition by Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 18 September 2010–Sunday 30 January 2011

The artworks in Recorders were designed to see, hear and feel the actions of people around them, using technology to create a playful yet ominous experience. This solo exhibition featured seven recent pieces by the artist, including the world premieres of two specially commissioned new installations.

Lozano-Hemmer’s artworks depend on the participation of visitors to exist and develop, as the artist describes:

In Recorders, artworks hear, see and feel the public, they exhibit awareness and record and replay memories entirely obtained during the show. The pieces either depend on participation to exist or predatorily gather information on the public through surveillance and biometric technologies.

Highlights of the exhibition included Pulse Room, which was on show in the UK for the very first time. Premiered in Puebla, Mexico in 2006 and shown to critical acclaim in the Mexican pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 2007, this compelling work is made up of 100 light bulbs which are activated by a sensor to flash at the exact rhythm of participants’ heart rates. Also, the work People on People (a co-commission by Manchester Art Gallery and Abandon Normal Devices festival), a major installation inspired by portraiture and shadowplays, turned the gallery’s temporary exhibition space into one of the world’s most advanced scanners.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer was born in Mexico City in 1967. He studied chemistry, before moving into the realm of visual art and now lives and works in Montreal.

Lozano-Hemmer creates artworks that depend on audience participation to exist. This exhibition recorded the visitor’s pulse, fingerprints, voice and image, and these recordings formed the actual content of the works. The content was entirely crowdsourced, to use internet terminology. In this sense the works were playful, open and inclusive.

However, there was also a more ominous or predatory nature at play. The works used biometric and surveillance technology employed by governments and corporations to profile, control and predict our behaviours in the name of efficiency or safety. These tools have built-in prejudices, as when they are used for ethnic profiling.

In an age of reality TV, mobile computing, virtual economies, Google street view and credit databases, Lozano-Hemmer sees technology as an inevitable part of our culture. His approach is to misuse the technology to create experiences of connection and complicity by using ambiguity, irony, repetition, performance and self-representation.

In creating poetic, critical forms of interaction, his works encourage the public to be an integral part of the art and reflect on our inescapable, playful and ominous, technological experience.

Visit Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s website to find out more about his work.

Works included

Pulse Index, 2010

Digital microscope, pulsimeter, plasma display, computer, custom-made software. Insert your finger into the sensor and wait for it to detect your heart rate, this may take up to ten seconds. When it is done, the system will display your fingerprint, pulsating to the rhythm of your heart beat, together with the recordings from the 508 previous participants. As more people try the piece your own recording travels upwards until it disappears altogether.

Autopoiesis, 2010

Mirror, surveillance camera, laser projector, proximity sensor, computer, custom-made software for face recognition.

The term “Autopoiesis” was coined by Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela. Literally meaning self production or creation, it refers to the way in which living beings are seen as systems that produce themselves, or regenerate, in a ceaseless way. An autopoietic system is at the same time the producer and the product.

When people look at themselves in this small mirror they see the word “Autopoiesis” projected on their forehead. The concept of self-creation described by Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela is an inspiration for all art that depends on participation to exist.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Close-up, 2006

High-resolution interactive display with built-in computerised surveillance system.

As you approach Close-up your shadow is projected on screen. Simultaneously, a surveillance system automatically starts recording and creates video footage of your image, which will be stored with hundreds of images of previous participants.

Your silhouette appears to be made up of a pixelated image, your presence having triggered a massive array of surveillance videos, which feature a series of up to 800 separate recordings of other people who have recently interacted with the piece.

Microphones, 2008

Modified vintage microphones, electronics, computers, loud speakers.

Microphones features ten 1939-vintage Shure microphones. Each one has been modified, to include a tiny loudspeaker and a circuit board in the head, which are connected to a network of hidden control computers. When you speak into one of these microphones, it records your voice and immediately plays back the voice of a previous participant, so the microphones speak back to you, replaying up to 600,000 memories as an echo from the past.

Please Empty Your Pockets, 2010

Conveyor belt, projectors, camera, computers, custom-made software.

Any item up to 20 x 20 x 30 cm can be placed on the conveyor belt. Once the objects pass under a scanner an image is captured and you will see them reappear on the other side of the belt, beside projected images drawn from the memory of the installation.

As a real item is removed from the belt it will leave behind a trace in the form of a projected image. The work remembers over 600,000 objects which are re-played and used to accompany future objects.

33 Questions per Minute, 2000

Computer, 21 LCD screens, internet connection, custom-made software.

A computer program generates 55 billion grammatically-correct questions at a rate of 33 per minute – the threshold of legibility. The software has been programmed to avoid repeating the same question, and will take over 3,000 years to present all the possible word combinations.

Using the keyboard, you can introduce any question or comment and your participation will show up on the screens immediately, most often in the form of absurd or surreal questions, though the wordplay sometimes turns up questions that do have meaning. In this work it is impossible to determine if a question was posed by an individual or by the computer, making it hard for the authorities to censor critical content.

It was originally created for the Havana Biennial in 2000. Inspired by the Turing Test, both human and computer generated questions are shown at the same rate and anonymously, so it’s impossible to determine if a question is computer generated or entered by a human being.

Pulse Room, 2006

Incandescent light bulbs, digital voltage controllers, heart rate sensors, computer and metal stand.

Pulse Room employs biometric technology to transform the gallery using incandescent light bulbs that visualise your heartbeat. As you hold the metal sculpture, sensors record your pulse, immediately setting off the lightbulb closest to you, which flashes to the exact rhythm of your heart.

The moment the sensor is released all the lights turn off briefly. The flashing sequence then advances by one position down the queue. Each bulb represents one person, so each time someone touches the sensor their heart pattern is recorded and is sent to the first bulb on the grid, which then pushes ahead all the existing recordings.

The one hundred most recent participants’ heartbeats become part of the  sequence you experience. As more people try the piece your own pulse travels upwards until it disappears altogether.

People on People, 2010

Computerised tracking systems, projectors, custom software with face tracking, live compositing and rotoscoping.

On entry powerful projectors cast your shadow on the wall to create what appears to be a giant shadow-puppet theatre. A portrait gradually emerges inside your silhouette, but the person staring back is not you.

Images of other people, gathered by a sophisticated surveillance system, are shown within our shadow and these images become animated and look out at us when they are revealed by the shadows, creating an uncanny and unsettling effect. The portraits that you see are not passive subjects, as they very often are in traditional portraiture, instead they are looking at you, looking at them.

This raises the issue of who is the observer and who is the observed. Lozano-Hemmer often uses shadowplay to engage the public and encourage interaction on a personal and a communal level, usually as large-scale outdoor installations in public spaces.

People on People was a co-commission between Manchester Art Gallery and Abandon Normal Devices (AND) festival. AND is a regional festival of cinema and digital culture and formed part of WE PLAY – the Northwest’s cultural legacy programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Blogs and reviews

The exhibition is watching you

New Scientist, November 9 2010

“Who will see me, and how long will my image be stored?” you may wonder. No answers are provided. And while interacting with these installations is fun, it is hard to ignore the parallels with the intrusions of security cameras and the feelings of powerlessness that they engender.”

Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Manchester Art Gallery

The Independent, November 5 2010

“Our own petty lives have been transformed into a theatre of ever shifting electronic possibilities. We feel unnerved, diminished, troubled, excited.”

An interactive show with unsettling devices

Financial Times (ft.com), September 17 2010

“It’s a show that seems, superficially, to be about technology but which makes you acutely conscious of your physicality. But though you may feel awkward, there’s no need to feel shy. The ghosts in these machines are just people.”

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: visitor virtuoso

Guardian online (guardian.co.uk), 17 September 2010

“Mexican-Canadian electronic artist’s exhibition perfectly embodies his idea that the crowd is the key to art.”

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: ‘In order to see something you must give something’

Guardian online (guardian.co.uk), 17 September 2010

“Adam Gabbatt meets Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, arguably the world’s most famous electronic artist.”

Artist incorporates biometric data into live exhibits

Wired (wired.co.uk), 20 September 2010

“Lozano-Hemmer’s overarching focus is on technologies used to record our data but, unlike CCTV, have been given some sort of executive power. His attention is drawn by computers making choices, one example being the border control technologies programmed to scan for (and raise suspicion of) particular ethnic groups in the wake of 9/11.”

Audioboo: Jonathan Schofield talks to Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Creative Tourist (creativetourist.com), September 16 2010

“As the Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer put the finishing touches to his new solo show at Manchester Art Gallery, he took a few minutes to talk to Jonathan Schofield.”

Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer @ Manchester Art Gallery

Run Paint Run Run, October 11 2010

“Recorders reminds you of your humanity, simultaneously evoking your biological uniqueness and your puny organic commonness, like a kindly robotic overlord. This exhibition is delightful, if you are not too serious about art or technology.”