Sep 1, 2010

Rafael Lozano-Hemer's Vectorial Elevation

Rafael Lozano-Hemer is an artist working with digital technologies and public space. I discovered his work on the Rhizome web site a while ago and have continued to follow his work over the years. One of his earlier pieces, Vectorial Elevations was an interesting mix of interactivity, technology, and particpatory culture. Basically this piece allowed the public to design a lighting scheme through a simple interface on a web site. The designs created were then projected over the central plaza in Mexico City, the Zocalo with high powered robotic searchlights. The designs were ephemera and only lasted for several minutes, but it was photographed and the image was emailed to the participants as a jpeg. This was created in 1999-2000, which is pretty early for this type of innovative participatory digital artwork. He has since exhibited this work around the world in public spaces, most recently in Vancouver, Canada.

I believe that Lozano-Hemer is making an interesting statement about public art and it's relationship to digital technologies. Public sculpture is usually either a representation of a heroic figure or some type of abstract sculpture. This artist uses abstract imagery, lines of light in space, to create geometric designs, but the images are time-based and are only viewed for a short period of time. This changes the artwork into an event rather than a set piece of sculpture. Additionally, Lozano-Hemer includes his audience in the creation of the artwork. This is an interesting development and in a sense makes this artwork somewhat political in my eyes. He gives the viewers agency to project their designs into a public square in the middle of the city. I see this as an important part of his artwork. In reading his website, I noticed that he calls his artwork Relational Architecture, which I am assuming refers to both the spatial quality and the interaction with the public.

Overall, I feel this piece is very successful for the time it was created. It manages to expand digital art out of the computer, and even out of the gallery for that matter. The amount of technological coordination to pull this off is impressive. Also, I am interested in the visual quality of the images created by the lighting designs. 

One critique I have of the piece is that it the amount of liberty granted to the audience is extremely limited. While users are given a voice to some extent, they can only create simplistic geometric patterns. In the end I feel that each design looks very similar to the others. Perhaps he could have included the additional choice of altering the colors of the lights, or the movement of the lights over time. This would provide more options for expression and tap into color associations and patterns of movement in space.

However, given the complexity of the task, and for being produced over ten years ago it is impressive and I believe it is an important step for both digital and public art.