Rafael Lozano-Hemmer brings surveillance tech to Recorders show at Manchester Art Gallery

By Mark Sheerin | 05 October 2010
Photo of a woman holding onto a pair of sensors as lightbulbs flash on overhead
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Room (2006). Image courtesy Brunswick Group© Peter Mallet
Exhibition: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Recorders, Manchester Art Gallery, until January 30 2011

Science museums like to offer the chance to get hands on, and if you couldn’t get hands on with science you might feel crushed by the sheer weight of knowledge.

In a similar vein, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer puts on one of the most playful art shows around. Scanners take your pulse and photo your fingerprints, microphones record your voice and cameras capture your image and project it 10ft high on the wall.

It feels somehow educational, like a demonstration of how much fun can be had with the technologies involved. But when you consider that all this science is the science of surveillance, the exhibition takes on a darker aspect.

Complete with moving conveyor belt, Please Empty Your Pockets looks like airport security. As the contents of your pockets pass through the unit, they leave a crisp projected image on the glowing white belt. The piece is bright and hard to resist and it will remember up to 600,000 personal affects for an indefinite span of time.

Photo of a woman speaking into one of a ring of mics on stands
Rafael Loazano-Hemmer, Microphones (2008). Image courtesy Brunswick Group.© Peter Mallet
Nearby, a spotlit ring of vintage microphones at varying heights invite you to sing, or the very least talk. But these too hold up to 600,000 memories, a fact they prove by turning into speakers and playing back sounds from other gallery visitors at random. By the time you realise you helped someone somewhere compile a database, it is too late.

In Pulse Room, they are collecting medical data. Viewer-participants are requested to take hold of two sensors for long enough to record their heart rate. The frequency and strength dictate the behaviour of incandescent bulbs overhead, where your own pulse takes its place alongside that of more than a hundred other visitors. This electronic momento mori is more sobering than any number of historic painted skulls.

Most will feel that, in for a penny, in for a pound, all the exhibits here are to be fully explored. This not science, so the risks are minimal. Lozano-Hemmer has taken that sheer weight of knowledge and counter-balanced it with his hand-on art.

Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. Admission free.

Read what Rafael Lozano-Hemmer had to say about the piece People on People in his Artist's Statement for Culture24.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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