by Nancy Nesvet
The Body in Urban Space: A Conversation with Rafael Lozano- Hemmer about his work at The Armory Show in New York City in March, 2018; “Unstable Presence,” in Montreal; and “Voice Theatre,” his transformation of Augusta Raurica during Art Basel 2018.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s young son recently told him that he was not an artist because he doesn’t draw. Perhaps he does not use the technology of pencil or crayon to reproduce images, but he uses techno-theatre, performance, architecture and science to draw parallels between individuals, modern-day society, surveillance, social interaction, human vs. machine and the threats imposed by all of these.
Winner of every significant art prize worldwide, including representation at biennials and triennials from Mexico to Moscow, New York, Shanghai, Sydney and more, Lozano-Hemmer — by including us in his theatrical, immersive installations — makes us aware of what is happening with and the consequences of our present-day politics, scientific methods, social interactions, urban crowding, and environmental treatment.
“Unstable Presence,” on view through September 9 at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, presents 21 Lozano-Hemmer installations that include music, science, politics, sociology, poetry, and art history. He professes that the exhibition cannot be taken as a career retrospective since, at 50, he has years to create. Raised in Mexico City and now living in Montreal, he is most concerned with social interaction in urban spaces. He received his degree in chemistry, then worked in a molecular recognition lab, researching the basis for all processes in supramolecular chemistry, sorting and organizing components, looking at receptors and binding interactions. There’s hardly a difference between that and his artwork that looks at social and political receptors that sort and bind people, their cultural production and interactions. His work features language integrating artistic disciplines using technology, which he terms, “the language of our time.” Co-presence, meaning live and recorded video and audio data overlapping, both informs and threatens the audience.
Entering Musée Montréal’s space, I first encountered “Pulse-Spiral” (2008, incandescent light bulbs, heart rate sensor, computer, dimmers and custom software). Holding handles for 10 seconds, my heart rate was recorded and added to an array of sounds and lights reproducing other heartbeats recorded before mine. That cone of lights reverberated with the accumulated heartbeats, recording the rhythm of a society. Limited to 300 pulsating light bulbs, it can only retain recordings of 300 participants at a time. If it could be bigger, would we light up the world with heartbeats, uniting us all in a syncopated rhythm? Beginning with a simple machine, a pump resembling the human heart, this exhibit links human bodies with machines, as Lozano-Hemmer continues to explore the similarities and boundaries of human vs. machine.