In X no es la nueva Y (X is not the new Y), solo exhibition by Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, seven recent works make evident that absence and presence are not opposite concepts: in Bifurcación, sombra de obra 2 (Bifurcation, Shadow Object 2), the shadow of a branch hanging in the exhibition belongs to an entire tree.
Borders grow blurry when works created by way of algorithms come to be activated through the spectator’s participation. The works have their own life, they are in constant flux and they are constructed through their interaction with the public. According to the artist, “the works are in a constant state of becoming: it’s not that they ‘are’, but rather that they ‘become’.”
Presence and absence coexist in Lozano-Hemmer’s work and definition when the heartbeat of someone who visited yesterday still palpitates today in the form of a light in the emblematic and poetic work Espiral de Corazonadas (Pulse Spiral). During an interval of time, people who don’t know each other share the same space. Their hearts beat tirelessly together, until they are supplanted by a new presence.
The works have a memory and they temporarily save our faces, pulses, fingerprints, eyes, silhouette, or even breath in Último suspiro (Last Breath). The works watch over us and archive our vital signs, at the same time that we participants become observers: in Buscar la detección (Search Detection) we bear witness to news on the Internet that affirm that something has been detected.
There is no doubt that Lozano-Hemmer’s experimental-electronic art has a point of departure in romanticism, solitude, uselessness and alterity, notions that make his pieces visually attractive with realities that occupy the same space, whether this be public or private.
If you think about the 7 pieces that make up this exhibition, do you feel there’s a guiding thread?
RLH: There are several. I coined the term pre-absence, which is the activity of highlighting, as in contemporary physics, that even a supposedly empty and neutral space is a place for intense activity of creation and destruction.
Your work has a lot to do with nature, the universe, like in the case of the sun in your work Ecuación Solar (Solar Equation) or the earth, in Bifurcación…
RLH: I am very interested in natural phenomena, but I advocate more the idea of the relationship between work and spectator, of performance. My work isn’t virtual art, it’s scenic art, it’s not time- based, but event-based. If no one stores his or her breath in Último suspiro, the piece doesn’t exist.
A lot of the pieces relate a bit to life and death, and in a way to memory, too…
RLH: A lot of them do. What’s interesting, I think, is that they connect us to the perennial tradition of art: we’re continually preoccupied with representation itself, the debate about visual art has always been around this point. “To philosophize is to learn how to die”, Montaigne said, creating art is too. In the case of Último suspiro, representation is carried to a more absurd, biometric point, which has to do with making tangible the ephemeral breathing. This piece is sad, a bit perverse. It’s also absurd and fun, since it embodies the idea of maintaining someone’s breath, even after their death.
The pieces you’re going to present are based on literary sources or on specific concepts, but are there direct threads with some philosopher or current of thought?
RLH: Yes. Many of the pieces that are here have to do with Manuel de Landa’s idea that cameras have their own prejudices and they are not neutral tools. Art works have awareness. Duchamp used to say that the gaze is what makes a painting, but now we are more conscious of the art works’ awareness: they look at us, feel us, respond to us. It’s a much more direct relationship.
The Invention of Morel by Bioy Casares, Shadow Works by Octavio Paz and the neurological studies of Maturana and Varela are other sources of inspiration. They say that behind every idea there are more ideas, that everything is a reformulation of previous ideas. As an artist, I don’t like to say, “This is new,” or, “This is original.” On the contrary, I prefer to investigate how my work relates to past experiments. Almost 50 years after Marta Minujín used a live camera in her installation “The Menesunda”, I wonder why we keep pretending that electronic art is new or advanced.