Thursday, 6 January 2011

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at Manchester Art Gallery

Here is my review of 'Recorders' the exhibition by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at Manchester Art Gallery (18th Sept 2010-13th Jan 2011) which I promised a while back! I saw this show in October but all the exhibits weren't working, so I went back for another look recently to see it again and the one that I missed was working but another wasn't, that's life! Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist who creates particapatory works which only 'work' or make sense when someone, you, me or anyone else there does something from a simple walk across a floor, to writing a question, to emptying your pockets or shouting into a microphone.
As the interpretation says "He 'misuse's' technology to create experiences of connection & complicity by using ambiguity, irony, repetition, performance & self-representation."
The exhibition takes up the main changing exhibition space in Manchester Art Gallery, when you first enter you notice the light level is low and a video screen showing fingerprints the work titled 'Pulse Index' came with simple instructions to place your finger in an electronic device, it's a surprise straight off, having to figure out what to do and it comes from watching other people in the gallery, or asking staff. You have to wait for about a minute till the reader acknowledges your print and puts it up on screen, each new print bumps off an old one, always regenerating, making a new image. It becomes a record of who was there before you, who is just in front of you and around the corner, you can see the thing about a person that is unique yet which now comes with conatations of security and police. This works well visually and sets the tone of the audience making the work come into existence but is that it?
A piece I liked better was 'Please empty your pockets' where you could scan anything on a conveyor belt and a projected image of that object would then appear on the conveyor next to previous scans. with this you marvelled and laughed at what people had scrounged out of their pockets wanting to share, my contribution? a cereal bar and a timetable! The simplicty of this was light and refreshing and people stayed around a while 'playing' with it. This play aspect is interesting because it forces you into a situation with strangers which is unlike a normal gallery experience, you are put in a balancing act of participating and enjoying what others participate, you are the performance, you are the artwork and you want to be it, there's none of the age-old, I could have done that, that's not art statements, it's just pure fun and laughter which we all could do with a bit more of!
In 'Pulse Room' you walk into a room lightened by lightbulbs free-hanging over your head and then suddenly you're plunged into darkness, and then in a flash the lights are on again. Moving down the large room you see a contraption which you hold onto for 15 seconds, which monitors your pulse and transforms that into how the first lightbulb will behave. Again it's fun, you're contributing, remembering that technology can be entertaining in a physical way too, but then in the back of your mind there's the 'big brother' aspect and you realise all this technology is used for surveillance and your privacy is being compromised, are you giving away too much, is the system winning or am I being paranoid? This element of sinister darkness is helped along by the low-lighting conditions. Also on my 2nd visit there was about 2 other people in the gallery with me which was un-nerving, you're meant to be a spec in the mass of people but then you're individuality is suddenly intensely heightened.
'People on People' uses CCTV and hidden cameras to watch and survey the room with close up cameras and projections which fill an entire wall floor to ceiling it is overwhelming, embarressing, fun, strange to see your yourself that high, to see how others might be seeing you in a public space. This work only truely comes alive because of the people in the gallery, on my first visit it was busy and so was this work, it was real, people were interacting with there own image thrown back at them. On my 2nd visit it was just me which was unsettling and not fun at all, the fact that I was being recorded and projected really felt like somebody up there was watching me.
Maybe what I took away from the exhibition was that surveillance & technology are an inevitable part of our lives in 2011 and the future, it's what you do with it, your attitude towards it and how you interact with others that is the important thing as well as having a laugh and a smile on your face while you do it!
(see image links for image sources)

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