Interactive video, robotics, computerized surveillance, photography and sound sculpture make the viewer a part of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s artwork about data and privacy.
For example, a bright grid of random numbers greets visitors at the beginning of the Gund Gallery’s new exhibition of Lozano-Hemmer’s work. The grid changes when someone walks in front of it: a camera captures the person’s outline, and within that shape the numbers all change to “1984.” Yes, it’s a reference to George Orwell’s novel that warns about a surveillance state, but Lozano-Hemmer has connected Orwell’s theme directly to the individual viewer.
“It’s a look at our loss of privacy, when we actually know that our privacy no longer exists. The question is what happens when we are open to that kind of probing. If we had a government that was intentionally misusing all this data, we’d be in much more dire straits,” the artist said. “But it’s not like I’m moralizing. The benefits of all this data in the age of Google Street View is obvious.”
“Transition States” features 15 pieces in multiple rooms that involve viewers in shadow play, voice recording and randomly generated data sets. The exhibition runs through Jan. 2.
It is part of the Gund Gallery’s fifth anniversary celebration. Lozano-Hemmer’s work is ideal for the commemoration, said Natalie Marsh, director of the Gund Gallery.
“One of his pieces was included in our inaugural exhibition in 2011, a group show based on the theme of and entitled ‘Seeing/Knowing.’ This solo exhibition now allows us to more deeply consider his work in the context of the rich interplay between art, humanities, science and social science in the liberal arts tradition at Kenyon,” she said.
Since opening in October 2011, the gallery has exhibited 303 artists, students and collectives, welcomed more than 73,000 visitors and hosted more than 300 free films, lectures and events.
Marsh said, “The fast growth of the Gund has been a remarkable journey to reflect upon. We have such an extraordinary mix of supportive alumni, trustees, faculty, students and community members who have embraced the integration of exhibitions, programs and collections into their entire liberal arts curriculum, including math and science.”
Born in Mexico City in 1967, Lozano-Hemmer earned a bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry from Concordia University and today does some of the programming for his artwork. All of his pieces are based on original programming, he said.
His 2012 work “Zero Noon” shows a clock that measures not seconds but 1,300 different sets of big data, from how fast Madonna earns money on her recordings to how quickly HIV infections are still occurring.
“It was brutal to program this. There are thousands of data points we had to check and update, and we still add to it when we have time,” Lozano-Hemmer said. “A lot of statistics are numbers that are abstract. But this makes it relatable. You can see the data as it happens. The measurement of time is a convention: seconds. We can actually measure time in anything we want.”
“Microphone” appears much simpler: a vintage microphone stands alone in the center of a soundproofed room. But it also contains a circuit board and a speaker, so that a visitor to the exhibit who speaks into the microphone will have their voice added to recordings that are randomly played back as soon as the new recording is made. This piece now holds more than 600,000 recordings.
“Artwork is a platform. It is a place where people can self-represent,” Lozano-Hemmer said. “If you look at this piece, it’s just a microphone that’s standing there. There’s nothing to see. It’s only when you participate that you get something from it.”
Lozano-Hemmer has exhibited internationally since the 1990s, and the Gund exhibition includes his 1992 piece “Surface Tension,” in which a large video screen shows an eye that follows the viewer as they walk in front of the piece.
He has most recently been featured in solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the MUAC Museum in Mexico City and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. He is a faculty associate of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.
The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.