It sometimes seems like technology is at odds with the art world — a tension between brain and heart. But plenty of artists, from Da Vinci to Cory Arcangel, have proved that’s not true, and continue to prove it as technology evolves. In Technographica, we explore how contemporary artists are using technology in unusual and unexpected ways.
Artist Daniel Rozin likes his most recent work, he just doesn’t love it. “That will take some time,” he says. “When I see it, I remember all the creations that it’s not.”
Rozin says he feels this way about many of his pieces, in the beginning at least. For Rozin, who teaches at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, creating interactive art means work can take on different forms at different times.
The piece in question, commissioned by Nespresso, is a large circular sculpture, about eight feet in diameter, currently installed at Nespresso’s recently opened “boutique concept store” in Manhattan. It’s called Last Chance to Shine, a reference to the recycled aluminum coffee pod lids decorating each tile. Each of the 832 tiles is attached to a motor; the motors are designed as a circuit that responds to 52 controllers and an algorithm. There are four passive infrared sensors attached to the piece, like the kind in a security camera, that can detect movement from heat energy as a person walks by.
Because of the project’s use of scrap aluminum, Rozin sees the piece as a way to reanimate a material that would otherwise have no purpose. The pod lids serve as a color constraint (they only come in teal, orange, silver, and black) while the piece’s simple interaction design serves as a sensory one. “I’m trying to see how can you derive richness out of such a poverty of sensing,” he says. “It’s four sensors just giving me a one or a zero, just saying, ‘A person is in front of it or a person is moving or not.’”
Working with technology can also be a constraint, but it provides Rozin with a constantly evolving set of rules and possibilities. Over the years, Rozin’s artwork has consistently explored motor-powered movement and humans’ interaction with it.
Nearly all of Rozin’s artwork is dynamic and interactive; in the past he’s often worked with mirrors so that a viewer’s own image is reflected directly. When you stand in front of the new piece, the tiles move with you. As the tiles move, they clack against the backboard, creating a smooth rushing noise, as from a giant rainstick. “I use mechanics or kinetics to create my art, and over the years I’ve fallen in love with that,” he says. “So this piece is more about the material. It’s more about the mechanics of the piece. I’m trying to see what kinds of behaviors I can program into it that will be beautiful and rich.”
As the tiles move and hit the light at different angles, the shards of aluminum glued to each tile make Last Chance to Shine look like it’s glowing. Rozin says he tries to make sure his artwork transforms depending on the environment it’s in — even if it’s a boutique coffee shop.
“When you place a piece in a public space, you need to really choreograph the experience,” he says. “I definitely want there to be a surprise.”