October 16, 2008 / 2:18 PM / 10 years ago

Just a Minute With: Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

LONDON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer creates giant electronic art installations in public spaces worldwide, fusing new technology with human interfaces to engage the public.

Rafael’s work aims to provide a critical platform for public interaction, interrupting what he sees as the increasing homogeneity of the urban environment. His Underscan project, set to open in London’s Trafalgar Square November 15, is the world’s largest interactive public artwork in which animated video portraits are projected into the shadows of viewers passing through a 2000 meter squared area of light.

Q. Your work has often been described as “electronic” bridging science, technology and art. Why do you think this fusion is particularly effective?

A. “This idea that different artistic disciplines getting mixed up has always been there, it’s only quite recently that people have been so territorial about it. Now we’re living in an era of networks and globalization and for better or worse a lot of these boundaries are coming down.”

Q. You dislike the idea of “new media” to describe your work. How would you best describe it?

A. “I call it either performing art, electronic art or visual art. The only reason I stand beside the name new media is because I don’t like the word “new.” I think that a lot of what I am doing is more interesting when seen in the context of precedence, “experimental” is a word I like very much, where you are using technology not because it’s new but because it’s inevitable.”

Q. Why is the use of public space so critical for Underscan?

A. “I’m interested in the idea of agency, that people are no longer related to the public space and that somehow public space is becoming homogenous. It’s becoming so alienating there is the need to reconnect the public to each other.”

Q. You use people’s shadows to stimulate the portraits visually. Why are shadows so significant to your work?

A. “The shadow is a very intuitive interface. Every culture has a very sophisticated tradition of shadow play, when we are kids we all do shadow puppets and it’s not something you need to have a lot of instruction for. The shadow is also a metaphor for otherness, for the subconscious, and for a platonic ideal.”

Q. The interactive nature of the portraits offer people an opportunity to engage with the display. What in particular do you want them to come away with or feel?

A. “It’s actually not predetermined. In most of my work I make sure it’s out of my control, contrary to other designers. I take a more experimental approach. I believe the best thing is to let the work flow and offer itself up to people.”

Q. Underscan breaks down the wall between the audience and the performance with the animated portraits. In what way do viewers have the chance to react to the display?

A. “My work is always special effects, everyone knows it’s a simulation and I’m very happy as that helps the people establish and start talking to someone they might not talk to and walk around their city in a different way.”

Q. Are the portrait representations intended to parody how people now communicate, for instance through the likes of Skype and Web cam?

A. “It’s definitely in keeping with the culture of Web cam, Big Brother and yes of self-representation. In the portraits there is no depth to the image, no drama but we gain a spontaneity, a feeling of entitlement as these people represent themselves exactly how they want.”

Q. You describe Underscan as “temporary anti monuments for alien agency” can you explain what this means?”

A. “‘Alien’ is a word I like very much in English, not only am I an alien, a Mexican alien in Canada, but also the idea that it doesn’t belong. There is this tension that is really the source of creative energy, the idea of being able to bundle up in space other memories than the normal or dominant. It’s the unnatural, artificial and the special effects, this is all my work.”

Q. You have had quite the year, being the artist of choice for Dasha Zukhova’s 2008 Moscow launch party and exhibitions all over the world, where to next?

A. “I’m just finishing a project in Mexico, a memorial for the massacred students in 1968. It’s a megaphone in the plaza where when you speak, your voice gets converted into light and hits the top of the ministry of foreign affairs. It bounces off the top of the building and can be seen from a 15 km radius. If you want to hear what the light is saying you tune into 9611FM and can hear what the light is saying uncensored. In a time and place like Mexico where censorship is so common and the media have a very tight relationship with the government, it’s truly exciting because it’s a platform for people to express themselves.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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