Frieze Week 2008: Haunch of Venison

Haunch of Venison: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
written by Ashley Elridge-Ford in London

Haunch of Venison was packed last night, both inside and out, despite the drizzle that always starts to build up to heavy downpours the weekend of Frieze.  The work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian artist, is his first solo show in London.  Lozano-Hemmer has a busy few months in London and this exhibition is testament to all of the projects he is working on here in London, as well as elsewhere.  Making our way into the gallery on the ground floor are two works that are best viewed within a quieter room.  We went straight upstairs to the first floor with the intention of returning later after rush hour.  Ascending to the top of the stairs to the right hand side are two large black plasma screens.  As you move to stand before it, a hand lifts like a flower shoot, the palm upheld.  As you move from one side to the other, the hand detects your presence, and that of those around you, and turns to follow your progression like a sunflower following the sun.  
Due to the number of people, there were several of these hands on screen, each rotating as their movements were detected.  Glories of Accounting, 2005, is meant to signify restriction and inclusion and is supposed to feel slightly sinister.  There is something curious about the open palm following your path from one side of one screen to the end of the other, as though the hands take on a Big Brother personality - a watchfulness - and its placement at the top of the stairs is well chosen.  
Glories of Accounting, image: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
I turn away still uncertain as to the meaning behind the title and hope that the press release will illluminate me further, which sadly, it does not.  Turning left into the gallery the farthest longest wall is covered by a network of light tubes that curve and meander their way across the length of the wall, each side completed by the tubes entering an intercom hung either side, comprising the work Less Than Three, 2008.   As one visitor speaks into one intercom and hastily runs to the other one to see if he can hear himself or strategically places a friend at one end whom he can bellow at, they are disappointed to discover no instant communication carried between the two.  It is only when I place myself at one end, curious to press the silent what-would-be doorbell, that one of the previous participants' sentence is broadcast through the intercom speaker.  Pressing this doorbell or buzzer, let's call it, causes a nonsequential flashing of light through various of the tubes in no particular directed movement.  This random flashing of tubes highlights the possible paths through which communications between intercomes can pass and is very much referential to what takes place in communication daily.
Continuing upstairs to the second floor one ascends into a darkened room that glows with hundreds of minimized headshots from reporters and presenters speaking in a quilt of colour, movement and the soft burble of sound.  Reporters Without Borders, 2008, has been comprised from a database of over 1600 video clips and arranged split on the same wall according to distinctions such as Male/Female or Mexican/US or Light-skinned/Dark-skinned.  It is visually stunning and hypnotic, like watching the television merely to see movement and hear sound but taking in nothing of consequence.  However, the piece becomes more clever because infra-red sensors detect the presence of the viewers standing or moving before the piece and where they are, the faces on screen move and talk animatedly.  Where viewers remain stationary for some time or where people are not, the faces freeze.  There is therefore an ebb and flow of movement constantly taking place across the screens.
Reporters Without Borders, image, artist: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
The weakest pieces in the exhibition is Airport Cluster Plot, 2001, that overlays thirty-five international airports' floor plans.  It is meant to suggest the 'accelerated movement and hyper-activity of the contemporary global condition', however, after all of the clever, responsive and technologically playful pieces throughout the remainder of the exhibition, this piece is static and disappointing because of it.  Continuing past it, we enter the final room in which is Pulse Tank, 2008.  The room is darkened and a table stands in the centre, a perspex box containing a pool of water is its table top.  Four piped tubes dip their nozzles into the water.  When you place your finger within the nozzle, your heartbeat is translated into robotic solenoids - or rather - your heartbeat causes a pulse to ripple the surface of the water.  This movement of the water rippling is reflected onto the ceiling above left and onto the floor below and they are beautiful ethereal effects that would make stunning artworks on their own.
Pulse Tank, 2008, image, artist: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
We return downstairs to the ground floor to see Alpha Blend, Shadow Box 7, 2008, and Microphone, 2008.  The former contains a hidden camera that records in four quadrants an image of the viewer as they pass by or stand before the piece, and merges this record with images of people who have passed beforehand.  As with his other pieces in this exhibition, and his work predominantly as a whole, this work requires the presence and movement of a subject to bring it and its capacity to life.  Alongside this is Microphone: a white circular spotlight is aimed at the wall where the shadow from the vintage microphone is elegantly silhouetted.  As a viewer you are instantly drawn to the inviting openess of the microphone laid out for you.  Like a parrot, the microphone squawks back at you the recording of a previous participant and saves your own input for another unsuspecting visitor.
The exhibition was excellent; playful, thought-provoking and engaging.  Lozano-Hemmer's ideas are fresh and insightful.  I very much look forward to seeing his exhibition, Frequency and Volume, at the Barbican's Curve Gallery (until 18 January 2009) and Under Scan on the northern terrrace of Trafalgar Square (14 - 23 November).
The Haunch of Venison after party in celebration of Lozano-Hemmer at the Bloomsbury Ballroom afterwards was fantastic.  Inspiration from Less Than Three, in the guise of neon blue tubing, welcomed the guests into the party rooms where they were greeted with an array of experimental cocktails and canapes served by waitresses in bicycle helmets delivering pizza box trays with an assortment of nibbles, including pizza, to the hungry guests.  Needless to say, it was a fun night.


Unknown said…
Enjoyed reading your review! We've got some writing about Lozano-Hemmer's Under Scan and the ICA's decision to axe Live & Media Arts from its programming at