Events, Objects, Review
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Voice Array and Last Breath by Rafeal Lozano-Hemmer

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Rafeal Lozano-Hemmer is largely known for his large scale installations that invite audience participation. An extension of this participation is also how he takes elements of physical interaction and gives them digital or technological corollaries. His latest show at Bitforms Gallery is no different. Although, ironically, rather than taking something inherently physical, it takes the more ephemeral qualities of the human body and extends their lifespan.

Last Breath and Voice Array take the voice and breath, respectively, and ‘show’ them, vis a vis a physical installation. For example, Last Breath is a clinically alienesque device pumping the single breath of an individual in an out of a brown paper bag through a series of hanging tubes. It is activated 10,000 times a day to mimic the respiratory frequency of an adult at rest and also includes 158 sighs. Of course it is not a perfect facsimile of this process insofar that it is the same breath continually breathed over and over again. Rather than truly represent the process of breathing over the course of a single day it extends the life of a single breath by breathing it in and out of a physical object. The brown paper bag that it is breathed into becomes a representation of the breath itself while the installation it is connected to enables its continued existence. A single breath is normally expelled and is gone forever, but this machine allows something inherently fleeting to last for as long as the operator of the installation wishes. Rather than simulate the 10,000 unique breaths in a series it uses one breath to represent  each through its repetition.

Similarly, Voice Array takes the human voice and translates it into a horizontal series of flashing lights. Spectators speak into an intercom and their voices are transformed into shards of spiking light that travel down the wall. In all, it can hold up to 288 voices that accumulate and flash together on the installation. The cumulative sound of all the voices together creates a layering affect as well. The voices continue to exist as something separate from the body but contained within the installation. The Voice Array, like the brown paper bag of Last Breath, contains the voices of the participants extending their lifespan beyond the original utterance. The vocal cacophony is like a sampling of voices culminating into music.

To that point, as part of the opening, the gallery had invited legendary beatboxer and member of the Roots, Rahzel to perform into the Voice Array. Rahzel is able to produce several sounds at once that mimic actual music to startling effect. When he began using the Voice Array it became an extension of his own voice and he transformed it into a kind of audiovisual musical instrument. As he played with the installation it was as if he was sampling himself and listening to the interplay between the sounds he was feeding into it and his own voice. It then created a feedback loop wherein he would modify how he would beat box into it while he watched and listened to the installation.

Both installations take something that humans do that doesn’t necessarily have a perceivable shape and imposes one upon it so as to make it controllable. We can extend the life of something that should not last longer than a moment by way of supplemental technologies. A breath can last forever even beyond the lifespan of an individual as contained within an object. Even one voice can be come an entire choir by way of an intercom and a physical installation. While the lights of Voice Array may not last as long as the breath of Last Breath in each the effect is largely the same. Something that passes by so quickly we don’t give it a thought is given a new perceivable existence that augments our perception of it. In doing so we are given more mastery over its form and duration.

The show is on display at Bitforms Gallery in New York City through October 13th.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer