Pamble – Looking Outwards 01

Rafael Lozano Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist working mainly in large-scale interactive installations. In his 2013 Eyeo presentation, Hemmer covered a plethora of different projects across a very prolific career (even managing to break a rib in the middle of his presentation), which I won’t describe in their entirety, but rather focus on a few key projects, and some underlying principles which I found important and unique among artists dealing with interactivity.

The first project that piqued my interest was Body Movies. Inspired by the long tradition of shadow plays, Lozano Hemmer used a multi-projector setup to project giant 70 foot portraits of local people onto large facades in public plazas(he did iterations of the project in Rotterdam, Wellington, London, and beyond), and then also project people’s shadows onto those sets of portraits. He said that, in his work, it’s important to not tell the audience exactly what to do, but rather create an open space for them to explore, express themselves, and sometimes to communicate with others. I think this notion is very important when working in the field of interactive art. Interactive art can be really drab when the viewer’s experience consists simply of “getting the joke,” and figuring out whatever finite trick the artist had up their sleeve. In Body Movies, Lozano Hemmer’s projectors serve as the medium for the audience’s humor and creativity; viewers act out skits with each other and collaborate to animate the figures. There is a very short period of figuring out how to interact with the piece before the viewer is able to creatively explore its potential.

In making interactive art, it seems important for the artist to “get out of the way,” in a sense, and let the viewer express themselves through the piece. The artist’s job becomes to create a powerful, dynamic platform for the viewer to introduce and manipulate their own content. The piece where Lozano Hemmer most effectively “gets out of the way,” in my opinion is Voz Alta (“Out Loud” or “Loud Voice”). He was commissioned to make a work for the 40th anniversary of the student massacre in Tlatelolco, and decided to install a megaphone in the Plaza De Las Tres Culturas, allowing people to speak freely into it, sharing personal accounts and stories of the massacre. The megaphone was connected to a searchlight pointed at the ministry of foreign affairs which would flash every time someone spoke, along with three other searchlights pointed out across the city. The words spoken into the megaphone were broadcast uncensored over FM radio. I love this piece because Lozano Hemmer does such a good job of amplifying the voices of the participants and creating a warm and powerful platform for others to speak, while simultaneously making a few simple but poetic aesthetic choices, which complement rather than compete with or exploit the people participating.

pamble- First Word Art Last Word Art

While I do appreciate the way this phrase can illuminate certain discussions about art and technology, it is, I think, an ultimately limited tool for categorizing and evaluating which excludes and/or misunderstands a great deal of the art on this lil ol planet. (Of course, what phrase that attempts to summarize art doesn’t fail at least partially). In the universe of this phrase, one can venture to innovate and create a new form, or to perfect a pre-existing form. Meanwhile, content and context barely factor into the phrase at all. For instance, a relief print made in 2016, which doesn’t really turn the whole world of printmaking on its head, but which perfectly encapsulates and communicates, say, the experience of someone living in Flint Michigan- this certainly doesn’t constitute first word art, and I don’t think last word art is a great word for it either. The hypothetical print I’m talking about is one that is more focused on content and subject than craft and medium. The medium was picked because it seemed fit to carry the content. The way I understand last word art is sort of the opposite of the hypothetical print: finding the perfect content to fit the medium constitutes the last word in the ongoing discussion of that medium. I suppose you could tailor firstword/lastword to talk about content instead of medium/form, but then that sets up a somewhat gross race to make the BEST Flint related artwork, before abandoning the subject altogether after someone gets the last word. I think it’s best to think about form and content simultaneously, to listen to a medium tell you what it’s most fit to say, and to listen to content reveal its own grammar.