Category Archives: Urban Installation

Urban Installation: Mark Reed and The Illuminator

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“The Illuminator Debut”, Brooklyn, 2012

Mark Reed is an artist, educator and activist based in Brooklyn, New York. His creative practice is centered around collaborative processes, interventionist strategies, and public engagement. He has worked with numerous artists and art collectives, and in March 2012 he founded the Illuminator collective. Reed’s practice focuses on how artists and social activists can utilize video and other image technologies to produce works that advance the cause of the social, economic and environmental justice. The Illuminator art-activist collective is comprised of visual artists, educators, filmmakers and technologists living and working in New York City. They describes themselves as “The Illuminator: Shining a light on the urgent issues of our time”. Their projects are always interventional, that are exhibited in public spaces. These projects transform the cityscape and the streets from a space of passive consumption and transit into a site of engagement, conflict, and dialogue. In this sense, the Illuminator aligns with Debord’s critique of the passive spectator of society and invites people to participate and engage with urgent crisis that confront our present day society. The Illuminator was born out of the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement as part of the Low Lives: Occupy performance art event. Their numerous interventions in public spaces have been both geographical and virtual and have always been of participatory nature and strive to transform the nature of the street as something greater than simply a site of transit. In this way, like Blast Theory, The Illuminator create situations reminiscent of the Situationists, creating situations that take the art out of the gallery and bring it to the street. Their first intervention took place on March 3rd 2012, as part of Low Lives: Occupy, an evening of online performance. The Illuminator set out for their journey driving across the city, in the Illuminator van, that they hacked with a projector at the top that could be tilted around to project from different angles. Their first top was at Liberty Square. They opened up The People’s Library, and shone the bright bat 99% signal across the surrounding buildings. They moved onto the Whitney, then back downtown, and made their way to the Cooper Union building on 3rd ave. They received that the Yes Man were holding an action at the Chase Bank on 6th ave and 4th street and so they went to meet them to join forces. As they were driving up 6th street, the bat sign shone on the wall above the bank as their music loudly rand from the Illuminator van. They stopped traffic and pulled over to open up their library again. People gathered and pulled books, stickers, posters and pamphlets off the shelves, people danced in the street as cars tried to drive around the “spectacle”. When the cops finally showed up and asked them to move, the Illuminator proudly rolled up 6th ave, projecting the 99% signal throughout Manhattan. The People’s Library is highly evocative of the Situationists’ concept of bringing the art out of the gallery and into the street. The Illuminator brought the books out of the library and into the street, for public use, promoting the idea of knowledge and education as something that should be free and accessible to all. The music they brought along with them added to the atmosphere of street “spectacle” and they succeeded in creating a wonderful and meaningful situation.
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“The Illuminator Debut”, Zuccoti Park, Brooklyn, 2012

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The People’s Library, Zuccoti Park, Brooklyn, 2012

On an evening May 2015, the Illuminator launched their intervention “Guerilla Girls: Not Ready to Make Nice” to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Guerrilla Girls, who joined them in projecting their “Dear Art Collector Billionaire” project around Chelsea and onto the front of the brand new Whitney Museum, on the night of the museum’s opening block party. This intervention directly aligns the Illuminator with the Guy Debord and the Situationists by tackling the issue of elitism the art world. The message that was projected read: “Dear Art Collector: Art is sooo expensive! Even for billionaires! We completely understand why you can’t pay all your employees a living wage!” #poorartbillionaires The Gorilla Girls are famous for their ironic heavy criticisms of female representation in the art world. The Illuminator stood and still stand with the Gorilla Girls in addressing the issue of disparate costs and values apparent in the price of museums, the value of art, and the unlivable wages paid to museum and gallery staff. The Guerrilla Girls wore their gorilla masks and drove the van throughout Manhattan, to the Whitney museum. The Guerrilla Girls placed stickers around the city, on the big galleries, on the big museums and gave them out to people. The Guerrilla Girls and the Illuminator teamed up and successfully created a “détournement” by disrupting the spectacle.
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“Guerilla Girls: Not Ready To Make Nice”, projected onto the Whitney Museum, New York, 2015

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A Guerrilla Girl driving The Illuminator’s van, 2015

On December 4th 2015, The Illuminator action “Visual AIDS” was launched around New York City, to address the AIDS epidemic, in which over 39 Million people have died of AIDS-related causes. Today, nearly just as many people are living with HIV, and the Illuminator recognizes that AIDS is not over. The Illuminator projected artworks onto the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the former site of St. Vincent’s Hospital. The intervention used art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue and supporting HIV positive artists. This action stands in solidarity with HIV positive people, and was created out of the Illuminator’s commitment to fight the stigma these people still face today. The intervention was launched to commemorate A Day Without Art, part of the World Aids Day. The projected piece RADIANT PRESENCE by Visual Aids demonstrates their resilience of its artist members, homaging those who have passed, while also provoking dialogue about the needs and experiences of people living with HIV. This piece really speaks to the socio-politically driven aspect of The Illuminator’s interventional practices. “Visual AIDS” is an extremely powerful and important action, speaking to urgent issues and challenging the art world. For instance, one of the projections read “MY AIDS WON’T FIT IN YOUR MUSEUM”. The projection that read “AIDS ON GOING GOING ON” was displayed throughout Manhattan, raising awareness about the fact that the AIDS crisis is not over.
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“Visual AIDS” projected onto the Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2015

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“Visual AIDS” projected onto the Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2015

These three works prove The Illuminator’s socio-political artistic engagement and demonstrate the power of urban installations to shape a city and the city experience. The Illuminator use art as a tool to communicate and shed light on the most urgent issues of the present time, and do so in an engaging, thoughtful, provoking and participatory manner. The Illuminator collective understands the value and potential of art as a socio-political actor, and fights against the idea of keeping art and information inaccessible to the greater public. Their subversive methods prove their real engagement against the isolating and invisible system.

Urban Instillation: Blast Theory

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“Kidnap”, 1998, England and Wales

            Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the artist group Blast Theory is renowned internationally to incorporate interactive media in their extremely adventurous and groundbreaking pieces. They have worked since the early 1990s to create new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audience across the internet, digital broadcasting and live performance. Their collaborative and interdisciplinary works explore the social and political aspects of technology through art. As the group writes on their website: “Innovation risk is central to our work.”, which reveals their socio-political and artistic engagement. The group has designed games that have been acknowledged and received awards. Their games projects have been extremely groundbreaking in they way they tackle the relation between game and play, and the virtual and the real, which have also forged their art pieces in their approach to performance. Their works have consistently been focused around interactive technologies and have been influential to the way artists approach the relation between technology and art. Guy Debord’s radical and groundbreaking work of philosophy and Marxist critical theory, Society of the Spectacle, 1967, presents and criticizes the concept of the Spectacle. He defines the Spectacle as “the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.” For Debord, authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” Debord’s critique of modern society and modernization is rooted in his rejection of capitalism, the metteur en scene of this Spectacle, in which people have become mere spectators of society. Debord is concerned with society’s passive behavior, “Spectacle is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity”, as he strives to promote new participatory modes of interaction. The Society of the Spectacle is considered a primordial text for the Situationist movement, which seems to have been an inspiration for Blast Theory. The aim of Debord and the Situationist movement is to wake up the spectator “through radical action in the form of the construction of situations,”. For Situationists, situations are created moments that are self-conscious of their environment. Debord encourages the use of détournement, ”which involves using spectacular images and language to disrupt the flow of the spectacle.” In this sense, the artist group Blast Theory can be considered an extension of this movement. Their piece “Gunmen Kill Three” was made over the summer of 1991 by Matt Adams, Lorraine Hall, Niki Jewett, Will Kittow and Ju Row Farr in collaboration with Lucia Gahlin, Nicky Gibs and Bruce Gilchrist. This group describes this piece as “a promenade performance that invites an audience member to shoot at two performers.” and was inspired by their obsession with killing. The piece was prompted by an article in the Guardian entitled Gunmen Kill Three at Mobile Shop, which gave a detailed description of two men’s brutal killing of two women and a man in a mobile shop in Northern Ireland. The only thing that was reported to have been said before the killings was “IRA” (Irish Republican Army). The piece is structured around re-enactment of this killing, and featured live-drumming, live wireless video projections, a sweep of the floor for evidence and appeal for a missing child. This piece is extremely provocative and stimulating, as it is highly interactive. It transforms everyday violence in a participatory performance and comments on the theatrical nature of reality. There is also speaks to people’s voyeuristic desires which seems to comment on the nature of news and their broadcasting. The group was able to reenact the piece in such a realistic manner because of the detailed account of the original killing.
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“Gunmen Kill Three”, 1991, Union Chapel in London

            The piece “Kidnap” is extremely interdisciplinary, mixing performance with commentaries on control and consent. It was inspired by the famous Spanner Trial during which consenting sadomasochists were convicted and sent to prison. The piece was publicly launched on May 15th 1998 and opened its registration to any resident of England and Wales. The piece is composed of three different processes or steps. To enter the lottery, entrants paid a £10 fee and filled out a detailed registration form, which explained the process and a signed disclaimer. In this form entrants were asked to submit a picture of themselves and detail where they lived, where they worked, what type of clothes they wore etc. After registration closed, 10 entrants were randomly selected and put under surveillance. The group found the entrants and photographed them going about their daily lives over two weeks. The first time they realized this was when the 10 entrants received a brown envelope in the mail with the photographs inside. Next, two of the ten were finally selected, at random, for the actual kidnapping. The teams, each made up of a driver and three kidnappers, were accompanied by a support team that was made up of a video maker/photographer and a liaison officer, who talked to members of the public to explain the situation. The police was also informed in advance. The two selected participants were separately kidnapped and brought to a secret location for 48h hours, during which they were fed and cared for by the kidnappers. The process was monitored by a psychologist and a pan tilt zoom camera live streamed audio and video to Blast Theory’s website. The two participants were released at a press conference at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and the project was covered by major broadcasting channels. The participants also had a chosen safe word that they could use at any time to end their participation in the piece. The artistic piece was socially and politically motivated by the alarming 700% increase of kidnappings in Britain. It speaks to ideas of control and consent, media, theatre and lottery culture. The piece is so powerful and complex because it is a conceptual act, a perversity and a psychological investigation all at once. Because Kidnap is a commentary on media and especially news media, the broadcasting of the piece was an essential component. The most interesting aspect of the part is its voyeurism as it addresses surveillance and a form of perversity from both parties involved. Voyeurism is addressed on an additional level as the piece incorporates media technologies and extends it to the internet. This piece is multi-layered as it also conducts a psychological investigation that strives to record a sociological and psychological experiment in human interaction. This piece poses important questions regarding interaction, especially regarding its limitations.
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The Kidnapper and the Kidnappee, 1998

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Two selected participants, secret location, 1998

Can You See Me Now? is one of the groups first location based games, in which online gamers play against members of Blast Theory on the streets. Blast Theory’s runners are tracked by satellites and appear next to players on a map of the city. The runners can track the players through the presence of handheld computers streets. The game is particularly fascinating as it takes on the fabric of the city, that is its central theme. The physical city is overlaid with a virtual city to explore the ideas of “absence and presence”. The online players and the physical runners on the street play together and break the boundary between physical and virtual presence. The key of the game is to avoid getting caught by the runners. The game explores the increasing overlapping of virtual and real words with a sensory and emotional dimension attached to it, because of the live audio stream feed from the streets. In this piece, Blast Theory explores the many possibilities of mobile technologies, when placed in the hands on the demographics usually excluded from new technologies. Can You See Me Now? works in attempt to establish a cultural space on new technological devices and identify the consequences of such technologies in the way they shape the city. This piece explores how such technologies have blurred the relation between the private and public space in crowded cities.
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Runner playing Can You See Me Now?

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Virtual map of the city in the game

Through these three selected works, Blast Theory addresses extremely important social, political and technological themes, that are at the center of contemporary society. Through the use of performance and site-specificity, Blast Theory creates situations that have its roots in real life events or phenomenons. By creating provocative works, the group constantly poses provocative questions that strive to make people think and react. Their works are also highly socially and psychologically experimental, which can serve to record human interactions through technology.

Urban Installation: Jenny Holzer

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“For the Capitol”, 2007, Washington D.C.

American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has created revolutionary urban installations that have been exhibited throughout the world, with a strong focus on visual displays of text in public spaces. Holzer is particularly relevant to the study of urban installations and public art, and has contributed to the ongoing quest to bridge the gap between the public and the private that is inherent to cities. The latest volume of the Urban Screens Reader, edited by Scott McQuire, Meredith Martin and Sabine Niederer, presents a collection of remarkable essays that strive to explore and challenge the nature of urban screens in modern cities. The first part of the reader offers a historical exploration of public media displays and urban screens. In his essay “Messages on the Wall: An Archeology of Public Media Displays”, Erkki Huhtamo discusses commercial billboards: “It really was a huge emblem supposed to imprint an idea – the trademark – into the minds of the passers-by.” (p. 21), and through her subversive artwork, Holzer seeks to counter the capitalist usage of billboards and broaden its social, political and cultural possibilities. By embedding her work in the urban landscape, Holzer transforms her art into a lived and shared experience. Through language, Holzer provokes city dwellers and invites them to be active participants of the city experience, rather than simple spectators of society as Guy Debord would put it. Holzer is best known for her “Truisms”, her statements that are somewhat self-evident, that she projects onto billboards, LED screens, buildings or historical monuments, through the most minimal, raw medium of text. Holzer first projected her “Protect Me From What I Want” piece in 1986 as part of her “Survival” series (compiled in 1983-1985). The piece was installed on an elevated billboard in Times Square in New York City, and the text is lit up by LEDs. The projection addresses, in an ironic yet authoritative manner, the power of consumerism and the frenzy it entails. Through this short and simple statement, Holzer acknowledges the overindulgence and excess inherent to modern society and capitalism. By projecting it onto a billboard in Times Square, Holzer directly challenges this society of consumption and spectacle that we live in. What is so fascinating about this piece is that Holzer succeeds in transforming a self-evident statement into a subversive work of art, by embedding it precisely in the representational emblem of capitalism that is Times Square. The success of this piece lies in Holzer’s achievement to both mock the global consumer as well as herself, through the most suggestive representative display of the advertising billboard. The form and content of the piece also represent a duality that is essential to the piece. The statement “Protect me from what I want” suggests society’s desire for excess, yet the form of the piece could not be more simple. These two elements complement each other and are what make this piece so great: the visual form informs the meaning of its content and vice-versa.
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“Protect Me from What I Want”, 1986, Times Square, NYC

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“Protect Me from What I Want”, 1986

Her project “For the City” (2005) is a series of light projections of selected poems by Wisława Szymborska, Yehuda Amichai, Henri Cole, Mahmoud Darwish, and other celebrated writers. The light installations were projected onto the Rockefeller Center and the New York Public Library. The poems were projected in motion, just like credits rolling at the end of a film, engaging city dwellers to interact with the piece by reading the poems as they moved. In this piece, Holzer displays the power of language through its highest form, poetry, using poems that speak of emotions of hope and pain. Simultaneously, Holzer projected recently declassified U.S. government documents onto the Bobst Library of New York University. By projecting these documents, Holzer speaks to the thin line that separates secrecy and transparency, as well as private and public. The texts projected were selected from the Freedom of Information Act passed in 1966, so here again, Holzer expresses a duality through the form and content of the piece. The name of the act, Freedom of Information, suggests the free access to information, and so, by literally projecting the act onto a public building in a public space, Holzer merges form and content in a way that is particularly subversive yet feels so evident. All of the light projections that constitute this series express ephemerality as the words scroll down the buildings, succeeding each other and then disappearing. Every city dweller that passes by these installations shares a similar experience, but may witness different phrases being projected. In that sense, the project really addresses the relation between private and public, through its content but also through the concept of individual versus collective experience. The project is public, yet one’s experience is unique and individual.
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Freedom of Information Act projected onto the NYU Bobst Library, 2005

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Poem projected onto the New York Public Library, 2005

Her project “For the Capitol” (2007) takes a similar form as “For the City”, composed of light projections of texts. The installation was composed of a series of quotes projected from the John F. Kennedy Center across the Potomac onto the greenery of Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C.. The selected quotes are from the two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt, and scrolled down the greenery onto the water like film credits, just as in “For the City”. The quotes speak to ideas of peace, war, patriotism, the environment, governmental power, the responsibilities of a president, people’s responsibilities as citizens, and the role of artists in modern society. The ephemerality of the piece engaged the public to participate in it by actively reading the quotes, that strived to engender reactions. In this sense, Holzer’s piece aligns with Bourriaud’s view that Liliana Bounegru speaks of in her essay “Interactive Media Artworks for Public Space: The Potential of Art to Influence Consciousness and Behaviour in Relation to Public Spaces”: “Art, therefore, becomes in Bourriaud’s view an urban experiment, no longer something to be looked at, but something to be lived.” (p. 206) The ephemerality of Holzer’s piece is in that regard of essential importance as it suggests the experimental and social quality of the piece. The projection of the piece was not rehearsed or static, and was very much contingent on the presence and participation of the public.
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“For the Capitol”, 2007, projected onto Roosevelt Island

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“For the Capitol”, 2007, projected onto Roosevelt Island

Urban Installation: Candy Chang

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Candy Chang installing “Before I Die”, 2011, New Orleans

Artist Candy Chang has created a multitude of profound urban installations that reflect on the dynamics between community and isolation, and the ways “shared places can cultivate reflection, perspective, and kinship.” Chang is particularly focused on the relation between individual liberty and social cohesion, and has made great participatory public art works that seek to address this relation. With a background in urban planning, Chang has worked with communities all over the world, and approaches her art from a particular perspective that is not just of the artist. Her involvement in urban planning has forged her art in many ways that speak to the issues Martin de Waal addresses in his book The City as Interface (2014). In investigating the ‘parochial’ and ‘public’ domains, de Waal notices how “as a result of increased mobility and the individualization of lifestyles, parochial and public domains have started to overlap more and more.” (p.16), and he explores the role of neighborhoods in modern cities through those domains. In his chapter “The Neighborhood as an ‘Interface’ in Every Day Life”, de Waal quotes Kevin Lynch’s description of the behavioral and symbolic aspects of city dwellers and the spaces they dwell in, from The Image of the City (1960): “how city dwellers, from their everyday lives also attribute symbolic meanings to places.” (p. 50) This description is essential in understanding the socio-spacial dynamics inherent to all cities and their different neighborhoods. In her works, Chang strives to attribute particular meanings to places, by blurring the line that separates individual liberty and social cohesion. Chang’s installation “Before I Die” (2011) is a participatory public art project, through which she invited city dwellers to reflect on life and death, and share their personal aspirations, anonymously, but in a spirit of unity. This project came from Chang’s personal experience dealing with grief after losing someone she loved. Through this public piece, Chang aspired to connect with her neighbors and connect the neighborhood itself. The project was originally created on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood, which she covered in chalkboard paint. Over the paint, she stenciled the prompt “Before I die I want to _____”. The project was extremely successful and the wall quickly filled up with different yet passionate contributions from city dwellers. In fact, the project was so successful that 2000 “Before I Die” walls have been created since then all over the world in over 70 countries including Iraq, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. This project is extremely powerful in the sense that it asserts how public spaces can become a platform for city dwellers to empathize with each other, even if anonymously. This project creates a communal bridge between neighbors and in a way resolves the predominant urban issue of finding the right balance between individual liberty and community building.
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City dwellers participating in “Before I Die”, 2011

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Completed mural of “Before I Die”, 2011, New Orleans

In her public installation “Grief is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed” (2017), Chang addresses, as in “Before I Die”, the emotional concept of grief. This project came from the realization that modern society has completely turned away from displays of mourning and the contemplation of death, which leads many people to go through this extremely universal emotion in complete isolation. The project was inspired by the Crete myth of the Minotaur and the first installation was created in Heraklion, Greece, in 2017. This installation invites people to meditate on the concept of loss and grief and attempts to provide a public ground for shared experiences. The collage that accompanies the text is built from pieces Renaissance and Baroque paintings, including The Entombment of Christ by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1656); Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio (1609); and Michelangelo’s Pietà (1499). Here again, through a beautiful and poignant piece of art, Chang strives to reconcile the private domain of the psyche and public domain of collectivity through the universal experience of grief, death and life.
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Candy Chang installing “Grief is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed”, 2017, Heraklion

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City dwellers walking past “Grief is a Beast That Will Never Be Tamed”, 2017

Chang’s installation “The Atlas of Tomorrow: A Device for Philosophical Reflection” (2016), is an interactive mural that offers an opportunity for self-reflection and guidance in a society where emotional well-being is far too often disregarded and swept under the rug. City dwellers who walk past this mural in Philadelphia, where the installation was created, are invited to spin a dial to select one of the sixty-four fables along the wall for introspective guidance. This project was designed through the idea of art as meditation, and is composed of numerous stories and artworks that speak to the inner turmoil one is often forced to experience alone, without guidance. The installation consists of over 200,000 dots finger painted by Chang and the Philadelphia community. In that sense, the creation of the project is itself an act of meditation on what it means to belong to a larger group of human beings, and how we all shape each other in various ways. This project is extremely touching and offers a hopeful perspective on the place of humanity in modern society.
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“The Atlas of Tomorrow: A Device for Philosophical Reflection”, 2016, Philadelphia 

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City Dweller interacting with the wheel, 2016

Through her artworks, Chang offers a creative yet highly philosophical contribution to urban life. In many ways, her pieces help develop a “web of public respect and trust”. (p. 52) It seems as though Chang aligns with sociologist Jane Jacob’s perspective: “Jacobs considered it important to achieve a certain harmonization between a neighborhood’s private, parochial and public domains.” (p. 53) Chang’s contributions to the urban landscape seem to offer a perfect balance between the private, parochial and public domain, through experiences that are highly individual yet extremely communal and powerful.  

Urban Installations: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

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“Re: Positioning Fear”, 1997, Landeszeughaus, Austria

Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, has created exceptional urban installations that have helped transform the ways in which we interact with our cities. He uses new media technologies to work with ideas of architecture, technological theater and performance. In 1994, Lozano Hemmer coined the term “relational architecture” as an aim to transform the dominant narratives of urban settings and re-contextualize them. In his introduction to The City as Interface, 2014, Martijn de Waal introduces the collective term “urban media”, a term used in his book for “media technologies that in one way or another can influence the experience of a physical location.” (p. 8) Media technologies have been, in fact, influencing one’s experience with physical locations and especially cities as seen through Lozano-Hemmer’s work. De Waal raises important questions in his introduction, when exploring the idea of making cities smarter and more efficient through urban media: “Will city dwellers still enter into relationships with their physical surroundings? Will they still participate in community life or will they withdraw completely into the ‘cocoons’ they create with their mobile phones, thereby transforming the city into an extension of their private domains?” (p. 9) The fear of city dwellers roaming the city through the sole presence of their bodies is very prominent for architects, artists, and other dwellers concerned with the community spirit that is inherent to any city. And this is where artists like Lozano-Hemmer step in; to reconnect these city dwellers to their cities through the very use of urban media, therefore reshaping the city and one’s relationship to it, by using new media technologies as urban and ideological tools. In The City as Interface, de Waal explores the possibilities of our cities as interfaces; he explores how urban media can further the ‘libertarian’ urban society, but studies how new media can also help create a new definition of the public sphere and transform it to develop a ‘republican’ urban society into a ‘community of strangers’, but a community nevertheless. De Waal asks the question: “How does the rise of urban media change the way in which public spaces can emerge?” (p. 24) and Hemmer brings an artistic yet socially and ideologically charged solution to it. By posing the important question of agency, in the sense of who has the power and opportunity to influence the way in which the city as an interface is shaped, artists who create urban installations contribute to this ongoing quest in a meaningful and crucial way. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer comes from a scientific background, which is extremely important knowledge when studying his installations. His scientific background has, in many ways, influenced his work and venture as an artist. His works are very interactive and heavily rely on the audience’s participation, and therefore create a shared public experience among strangers, contributing in many ways to de Waal’s analysis of the republican society.

“Re: Positioning Fear”, 1997, Lozano Hemmer’s third Relational Architecture piece, is a large scale installation on the court yard facade of one of Europe’s largest military arsenals, Landeszeughaus, in Austria.

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Close-up on “Re: Positioning Fear”, 1997

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“Re: Positioning Fear”, 1997, Landeszeughaus, Austria

The installation is an interface projecting shadows of city dwellers, finding themselves in front of this fortress. The shadows of the dwellers were automatically focused, and generated sounds through the use of a tracking system. The shadows projected onto the military interface were accompanied by a real-time IRC (Internet Relay Chat) discussion about the transformation of the concept of “fear”, as the title implies, between thirty artists and theorists from seventeen countries around the world. The interface, called “Teleabsence” only allowed the text conversation to appear where the physical participants placed their bodies in front of the facade. The participants had to use their bodies to read the text, making it a highly interactive piece, both through the physical presence of the audience, and the virtual presence of the Internet contributors. A numerical count also followed the shadows wherever they went, calculating their distance to the facade, confronting the participants with the eery and fearful reality of surveillance technology. The sound accompanying the installation also fortified this contemplation on fear and made the experience all the more sensory. The title of the installation also deserves attention in studying this piece. Lozano-Hemmer along with all the artists and theorists involved literally made the participants reposition fear; both bodily and intellectually. Through this installation, fear is explored as both a collective and personal concept, projected onto a historical military landmark to invite the participants to consider and question it within that historical realm, but also outside of it, through the IRC discussion. “Under Scan”, 2005, Lozano-Hemmer’s eleventh Relational Architecture piece, is an interactive video art installation created for public space, in which city dwellers within that space are detected by a computerized tracking system, which simulates video-portraits projected within the dweller’s shadow.
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“Under Scan”, 2008, Trafalgar Square, London

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“Under Scan”, 2008, Trafalgar Square, London

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Tracking system of “Under Scan”, 2008

                          This installation is truly amazing in that it speaks to the concept of surveillance that is increasingly inherent to our cities today, while also serving as a live performance art piece. As the dwellers walk away from their shadows, the video-portrait looks away and eventually disappears if no one activates it, establishing a sense of ephemerality and anonymity, which reflects on the concept of the city being a public sphere and terrain for complete strangers that are nonetheless linked by their shared spaces. Over one thousand portraits of volunteers were taken, and in the presentation of the installation in Trafalgar Square in 2008 the portraits appeared at random locations activated by the dwellers’ shadows. Every seven minutes the piece stopped and reset, to reveal the computerized surveillance tracking system during a brief intermission lighting sequence. This is extremely important to the piece, as it directly confronts the audience with the reality of surveillance and tracking technologies.

Lozano-Hemmer’s sixteenth Relational Architecture installation, “Solar Equation”, 2010, is a large scale public art installation featuring an animated three-dimensional maquette of the Sun, visible at night. This installation premiered at the “Light in Winter” Festival Federation Square, in Melbourne Australia from June 4 to July 4 2010.

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“Solar Equation”, 2010, Melbourne

Solar Equation

Close-up on “Solar Equation”, 2010

“Solar Equation” consists of an authentic simulation of the Sun, only 100 million times smaller than our actual Sun. Lozano-Hemmer created the word’s largest captive balloon and animated it using five projectors. The solar animation of the balloon is generated by live mathematical equations, simulating the visual surface of the Sun, which emphasizes the importance of Lozano-Hemmer’s scientific background. These equations produce a display that never repeats itself and that give the viewer an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the beauty of our most beloved planet, the Sun, otherwise only observable at the solar surface. The installation uses the latest SOHO and SDO solar observatory imaging available from NASA, overlaid with live animations derived from various equations. While viewing the installation, viewers have the ability to interact with it in real-time by using an iPhone or other device which disturbs the animations. This installation creates a highly interactive experience. This piece is extremely powerful in the largeness of its scope. It invites the audience to experience the Sun in a variety of manners: to experience its romantic quality inherent to its ephemerality, to perhaps contemplate the urgent question of global warming, but also to create their own personal narrative around the piece. Its scale and beauty engage the viewer to interact with the piece, yet its design assures the minimum urban disturbance. The balloon being tethered 20 meters above the ground, the audience is able to roam freely under it, during night and day, making it extremely subtle yet so powerful. Its power is expressed through this very subtleness: city dwellers can decide weather to be impacted by the work, which mirrors the very nature of the Sun; everyone is aware of its presence, yet its distance prohibits it from being forced upon us. The piece is also accompanied by sound; a live channel or rumbles, crackles and bursts, that is a live software simulation of solar activity, heard only faintly under the maquette. By bringing an audience together under this installation, Hemmer seems to make a metaphor about the very nature of the Sun in relation to society; we are collectively constantly standing under it, no matter where we are in the world, and it connects us without having to interact directly. This places his installation at the intersection of architecture and performance art and through this work, Lozano-Hemmer embraces urban media technologies to create platforms for public participation.