Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Playfully Addresses Privacy and Surveillance in an Age of New Technology

In a new exhibition at bitforms gallery, asks viewers to consider the socio-political implications of contemporary technology through playful participation. The premiere of a new interactive sculpture titled External Interior (2015) is perhaps the best indicator of the artist’s desire to create what he calls “playful landscapes out of technologies of oppression.” The work is a brightly illuminated inside-out disco ball made of 1,600 one-way mirrors mounted on acrylic into which a visitor inserts his or her head. Because the mirrors face inward, participants donning the disco ball are confronted with a wall of fractured images of their own reflection. Meanwhile, other visitors in the gallery can see the person’s head inside the ball. As a result, External Interior cleverly plays on the tension that comes from watching and being watched.
Other new pieces further explore the act and art of being observed or “captured.” Airborne 6: Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes (2015) and 1984x1984 (2014), for example, both use motion-tracking technology to trace a viewer on screen. When gallery visitors step in front of a sensor attached to Airborne 6, a scrolling text written by Belgian scientist Ilya Prigogine floats into a swirling mass of simulated fluid dynamics on the screen. For 1984x1984, another screen shows a random pattern of numbers pulled from addresses captured by Google Street View. When audiences step in front of the display, their silhouettes are redrawn with numbers one, nine, eight, and four in a homage to the canonical literary work of George Orwell.
Please Empty Your Pockets (2010) involves a more nuanced form of participation. At first, the piece appears to be an empty illuminated conveyor belt—the kind one might find at a security checkpoint. Only after visitors have placed an item on the belt to pass underneath a scanner does the piece come alive. Once scanned, the item appears on the other side of the conveyor belt, along with a projection of a small selection of other items that have been scanned and logged over the duration of the exhibition. Meant to look like an airport X-Ray scanner, Please Empty Your Pockets becomes a site of collective or collaborative portraiture. Participation in this work not only makes you reflect on those that came before you, it also asks audience members to consider what they choose to share.

Nicholas O’Brien

Lapsus Lumen” is on view at bitforms gallery, New York, Sep. 16–Oct. 25, 2015.