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University of Michigan Museum of Art presents works rooted in performative action
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Wavefunction, Subsculpture 9, 2007, 42 Eames chairs, motors, computerized surveillance tracking system, edition 3/3 + 1 AP. Courtesy of Antimodular Research.

ANN ARBOR, MICH.- Drawn from the Borusan Contemporary Art Collection in Istanbul, Turkey, two complementary selections of works rooted in performative action are on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through July 2017. On view April 22‒July 30, is Wavefunction, Subsculpture 9 (2007), a kinetic sculpture and interactive installation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer playing on the work of mid-20th-century American designers Charles and Ray Eames. It accompanies the exhibition Moving Image: Performance, on view through July 24, 2017, comprising a compilation of four videos by artists Elena Kovylina, Kalliopi Lemos, Roman Signer, and Universal Everything that investigates the relationship between the video camera and the action it records. The exhibition reveals how these artists use dynamic technologies—including digitized images and video—to explore the genre.

Both presentations were organized by Kathleen Forde, Borusan Contemporary’s Artistic Director at Large and UMMA’s Adjunct Curator of Media Arts, as part of a suite of exhibitions representing traditional categories—landscape, performance and portraiture—that find new resonances when explored through the strategies of dynamic technology.

Wavefunction, Subsculpture 9 consists of 42 molded plastic chairs (designed by the Eameses in 1948) arranged in a grid and attached to electromechanical pistons set into metal bases. When visitors approach the chairs, a surveillance system detects their presence and the closest chairs lift gently into the air on the pistons. Adjacent chairs follow, rising up and down, creating a wave-like motion across the grid of chairs. The software controlling the pistons is based on fluid dynamics, so as more visitors approach the grid, the chairs—whose iconic curving contours were also generated mathematically—mimic the complex interaction of multiple waves in water.

“In his practice, Lozano-Hemmer investigates his interest in performance within architectural space. A principal interest is creating platforms for public participation and, as with other works in the Subsculpture series, the behavior of humans in relation to the installation is its key element,” said Forde.

Moving Image: Performance features four international artists. German/U.K. artist Kalliopi Lemos’s At the Centre of the World (2015), positions the camera as a dynamic witness to the efforts of its subject, a woman seemingly caught in a spherical cage whose movement is an ambiguous mix of struggle and choreography. By contrast, in Swiss artist Roman Signer’s 56 Kleine Helikopter (2008), the camera is a static observer of the humorously chaotic action of toy helicopters. In Russian/French artist Elena Kovylina’s Equality (2014), the camera collaborates in a staged procession of people and props that references questions of inequality in contemporary Russian culture. In Presence 4 (2013) by the U.K. digital art and design collective Universal Everything, the camera recedes while the action becomes purely virtual, as a live dance is translated into a digital abstraction.

“At their core, these works are examining the fundamentals of how the moving image operates; how we, as viewers, consume it; and how its use affects our perception of the content and meaning it delivers. All four artists are not only presenting an action by way of the camera, but also an argument about how the tools of their art function. The performance, dance, and action captured in these videos are vastly different experiences for viewers than if they were witnessed in real life. Instead, we are offered a uniquely mediated and manipulated relationship to time-based behavior,” said Forde.

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