MAC Exhibition Marries Art & Technology – Unstable Presence by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
MAC – People often think of contemporary art as a rarefied topic for a niche market of artistic consumers. However, for more than 50 years the mission of the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC) located in the Quartier des spectacles has been to make all types of art available to the public. Unstable Presence by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the MAC until Sept 9th marries art and technology in a unique interactive exhibition that is at once novel and thought-provoking, accessible to technically savvy art enthusiasts seeking to understand and explore new forms of creative expression at the juncture of art, space, and viewer participation.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a leading international figure in participatory and digital media practices. His sophisticated sculptures and installations integrate various artistic disciplines through technology which he describes as “the language of our time”, the use of which has become “inevitable.” Robotics, surveillance, and computers undergird his multi-disciplinary approach. “Limitless talent, ambition, and intellectual curiosity animate Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s enormous and wide-ranging output,” says John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator at the MAC.
The Mexican born artist who now calls Montreal home earned a degree in chemistry before he began developing theatrical performance incorporating sound, projections, and tracking systems into his innovative artworks that are pure engineering feats. In an era when science is often marginalized and art is underrated Unstable Presence is a must-see event opening vistas into so many areas of our shared human experience and personal existence.
One of the most enchanting sculptures is a huge light installation on the main floor. Pulse Spiral, 2008, has 300 light bulbs and many kilometers of wires configured to reproduce, through light, the beating hearts of the Museum’s visitors. Lozano-Hemmer was inspired to create this particular sculptural installation when he first heard the heartbeats of his twins in-utero. These days there are a number of apps in the digital marketplace that can track baby’s heartbeat for the mamas and the papas but none to quite so stunning effect as this monumental sculpture reflecting the syncopated heartbeats of hundreds of onlookers. Another delightful installation is Call on Water, 2016. This “poetry machine” literally vaporizes the words of the celebrated Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who was the artist’s uncle, turning the fountain’s water into mist by ultrasonic atomizers, a visual metaphor for the spiritual dimension, resonating with the exhibition’s theme of “co-presence.”
Not all of the exhibits are so pleasant. Vicious Circular Breathing, 2013, is deliberately disturbing and uncomfortable. This large-scale sculptural installation makes use of a giant musical wind instrument similar to an organ, brown paper bags that inflate and deflate at human breathing rates, a set of motorized bellows and valves that control the bags, and a sealed glass room with a decompression chamber. Despite its musical allusions, this is definitely not entertainment. The exhibit includes warnings about the risks of asphyxiation, contagion, and panic for those who choose to engage with it in an interactive fashion. Perhaps not surprisingly, the piece can be interpreted as a statement on the limits of the planet’s resources but is also intended as a commentary on the supposedly empowering culture of participation.
An old saying goes that “seeing is believing.” Unstable Presence includes several other pieces rich with many layers of meaning that must be experienced as well as viewed in order to be truly appreciated. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has already left his mark on the MAC and Montreal with two spectacular installations. As part of the Quebec Triennial 2011, he lit up the downtown skyscape with Articulated Intersect: Relational Architecture 18, a major work designed specifically for the Place des Festivals. In 2014, he also presented Pulse Room before going on to win the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts. Later this year he will present a large-scale outdoor artwork using interactive light to interconnect El Paso and Ciudad Juarez across the US-Mexico border.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the MAC:
An embodied experience
Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal
185, rue-Sainte-Catherine Ouest
T. 514 847-6226
Feature image: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Vicious Circular Breathing, 2013 Glass room, bellows, tubes, 61 brown paper bags, manifold valve system. Courtesy of Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul © Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / SODRAC, Montréal / VEGAP, Madrid (2018) Photo: Guy L’Heureux