Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Find out more about the individual works on display in Recorders by reading the text from our exhibition labels.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer was born in Mexico City in 1967. He studied chemistry, before moving into the realm of visual art and now lives and works in Montreal.

Lozano-Hemmer creates artworks that depend on your participation to exist. This exhibition records your pulse, fingerprints, voice and image, and these recordings form the actual content of the works. The content is entirely "crowdsourced", to use internet terminology. In this sense the works are playful, open and inclusive.

However, there is also a more ominous or predatory nature at play. The works use biometric and surveillance technology employed by governments and corporations to profile, control and predict our behaviours in the name of efficiency or safety. These tools have built-in prejudices, as when they are used for ethnic profiling.

In an age of reality TV, mobile computing, virtual economies, Google street view and credit databases, Lozano-Hemmer sees technology as an inevitable part of our culture. His approach is to "misuse" the technology to create experiences of connection and complicity by using ambiguity, irony, repetition, performance and self-representation.

In creating poetic, critical forms of interaction, the works encourage the public to be an integral part of the art and reflect on our inescapable, playful and ominous, technological experience.

“In Recorders artworks hear, see or feel the public; they exhibit awareness and record and replay memories entirely obtained during the show. These works emphasize that absence and presence are not opposites, and that several realities co-exist at any given time."

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Pulse Index, 2010

Digital microscope, pulsimeter, plasma display, computer, custom-made software.

Insert your finger into the sensor and wait for it to detect your heart rate,

this may take up to ten seconds. When it is done, the system will display your fingerprint, pulsating to the rhythm of your heart beat, together with the recordings from the 508 previous participants. As more people try the piece your own recording travels upwards until it disappears altogether.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Autopoiesis

Autopoiesis, 2010

Mirror, surveillance camera, laser projector, proximity sensor, computer, custom-made software for face recognition.

The term "Autopoiesis" was coined by Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela.

Literally meaning self production or creation, it refers to the way in which living beings are seen as systems that produce themselves, or regenerate, in a ceaseless way. An autopoietic system is at the same time the producer and the product.

"When people look at themselves in this small mirror they see the word "Autopoiesis" projected on their forehead. The concept of self-creation described by Chilean biologists Maturana and Varela is an inspiration for all art that depends on participation to exist."

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Close Up

Close-up, 2006

High-resolution interactive display with built-in computerised surveillance system.

As you approach Close-up your shadow is projected on screen. Simultaneously, a surveillance system automatically starts recording and creates video footage of your image, which will be stored with hundreds of images of previous participants.

Your silhouette appears to be made up of a pixelated image, your presence having triggered a massive array of surveillance videos, which feature a series of up to 800 separate recordings of other people who have recently interacted with the piece.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Microphones

Microphones, 2008

Modified vintage microphones, electronics, computers, loud speakers

Microphones features ten 1939-vintage Shure microphones. Each one has been modified, to include a tiny loudspeaker and a circuit board in the head, which are connected to a network of hidden control computers. When you speak into one of these microphones, it records your voice and immediately plays back the voice of a previous participant, so the microphones speak back to you, replaying up to 600,000 memories as an echo from the past.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Please Empty Your Pockets

Please Empty Your Pockets, 2010

Conveyor belt, projectors, camera, computers, custom-made software

Any item up to 20 x 20 x 30 cm can be placed on the conveyor belt. Once the objects pass under a scanner an image is captured and you will see them reappear on the other side of the belt, beside projected images drawn from the memory of the installation.

As a real item is removed from the belt it will leave behind a trace in the form of a projected image. The work remembers over 600,000 objects which are re-played and used to accompany future objects.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 33 Questions Per Minute

33 Questions per Minute, 2000

Computer, 21 LCD screens, internet connection, custom-made software

A computer program generates 55 billion grammatically-correct questions at a rate of 33 per minute – the threshold of legibility. The software has been programmed to avoid repeating the same question, and will take over 3,000 years to present all the possible word combinations.

Using the keyboard, you can introduce any question or comment and your participation will show up on the screens immediately, most often in the form of absurd or surreal questions, though the wordplay sometimes turns up questions that do have meaning. In this work it is impossible to determine if a question was posed by an individual or by the computer, making it hard for the authorities to censor critical content.

It was originally created for the Havana Biennial in 2000. Inspired by the Turing Test, both human and computer generated questions are shown at the same rate and anonymously, so it’s impossible to determine if a question is computer generated or entered by a human being.

Pulse Room, 2006

Incandescent light bulbs, digital voltage controllers, heart rate sensors, computer and metal stand

Pulse Room employs biometric technology to transform the gallery using incandescent light bulbs that visualise your heartbeat. As you hold the metal sculpture, sensors record your pulse, immediately setting off the lightbulb closest to you, which flashes to the exact rhythm of your heart.

The moment the sensor is released all the lights turn off briefly. The flashing sequence then advances by one position down the queue. Each bulb represents one person, so each time someone touches the sensor their heart pattern is recorded and is sent to the first bulb on the grid, which then pushes ahead all the existing recordings.

The one hundred most recent participants’ heartbeats become part of the  sequence you experience. As more people try the piece your own pulse travels upwards until it disappears altogether.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, People On People

People on People, 2010

Computerised tracking systems, projectors, custom software with face tracking, live compositing and rotoscoping

On entry powerful projectors cast your shadow on the wall to create what appears to be a giant shadow-puppet theatre. A portrait gradually emerges inside your silhouette, but the person staring back is not you.

Images of other people, gathered by a sophisticated surveillance system, are shown within our shadow and these images become animated and look out at us when they are revealed by the shadows, creating an uncanny and unsettling effect. The portraits that you see are not passive subjects, as they very often are in traditional portraiture, instead they are looking at you, looking at them.

This raises the issue of who is the observer and who is the observed. Lozano-Hemmer often uses shadowplay to engage the public and encourage interaction on a personal and a communal level, usually as large-scale outdoor installations in public spaces.

Co-commissioned by Manchester Art Gallery and Abandon Normal Devices (AND) Festival of New Cinema and Digital Culture

Artist's talk

Rafael Lozano Hemmer presenting at the Whitworth Art Gallery
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer delivered an illustrated talk about his work on 18 September 2010. Watch it on Vimeo.

Make It Yourself

Make it yourself
An exhibition of inventive Arduino and DIY electronic-circuitry projects to accompany Recorders: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.