I’ve been watching a video documentation of Two Origins by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: it’s a projection of two texts against the city hall at the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, in 2002, and each text is projected from a different angle, so they’re illegible until someone walks in front of one of the projectors, allowing the other text to be read in her shadow. I read about it at Ratchet Up, which is a cornucopia of wonderful links to digital art, and where there are lots of links to Lozano-Hemmer’s other works.
What fascinates me most about the video is how people are playing with the installation. The square is busy, it’s nighttime, people are happy, and there’s laughter and chance passers by and people jumping up and down admiring each other’s shadows. Perhaps they would have enjoyed the shadow games even without the texts. I can’t read the words, watching the video, but there’s both beauty and pleasure in letters in light and shadow, and in laughter. Norwegian electronic art in public spaces is mostly far less interactive than this, with the exception of a few of the sound works, though it’s also more durable: Two Origins was only displayed for a week or two during a festival. But this work needs an audience to be activated. I like that.
Lozano-Hemmer has done the same thing with images, so probably it’s the concept more than the text that interests him. Yet the text chosen is conceptually interesting: it’s the two versions of the origins of the universe believed in by the Cathars of the 13th century. They were condemned as heretics and annihilated by the crusades, the video’s preliminary writing explains, the idea of duality, two simultaneous possibilities, was presumably too much for a monotheistic religion. In Lozano-Hemmer’s use of the texts, the two viewed at once are illegible, and either one can only be read if the other is obscured. It can be read as both a celebration of the beauty of duality and a denial of duality’s ability to make sense.
Imagine the wealth of stories you could put into a concept like this. My mind, of course, turns to love and hate: his story, her story, incompatible, illegible if viewed together, but if you ignore one side the other can be comprehended, at least in part, for a brief moment until you move. But what happens if you put such an intimate tale into huge letters in a public space?
Interaction is important for Lozano-Hemmer: in his latest project, Amodal Suspension, people will be able to send each other messages in the sky using a website or mobile phone talking with the artwork’s server, but “rather than being sent directly, the messages will be encoded as unique sequences of flashes and sent to the sky with a network of 20 robotically-controlled searchlights.” Beautiful, isn’t it?
Two Origins has something in common with Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Camille Utterback, Clilly Castiglia and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin’s Talking Cure, where three layers of text are revealed in turn and against each other as a camera captures the movements of the reader’s face. In Talking Cure the texts are more intimate, and the levels, the text, and the reflection of the reader’s face are more complex, yet the openness and monumentality of projecting electronic writing in a city square fascinates me. What happens if writers as well as artists (Lozano-Hemmer, Jenny Holzer) think that big?