Random International, a collective of artists, engineers, and mad scientists, has taken over Pace Gallery in New York with interactive objects that push the boundary of art & technology. The group is most famous for Rain Room, an indoor space with a constant downpour EXCEPT wherever any visitor walks (it’s like a magical hands-free invisible umbrella). Rain Room hit MoMA a few years ago with 8 hour lines to enter, and is currently active at LACMA in Los Angeles. This new gallery exhibition in New York includes projects since that monsoon success.
For the unbelievable “Study for Fifteen Points / I” (above), concentrate only on the white lights (squint your eyes if it’s helpful), to see the perfect strut of a human figure in motion. The GIF above was sourced from this video interview, in which you can hear the extreme ambition and relief of its creation after a 2-year residency at Harvard, from founding member Hannes Koch: “And our big question over the 2 years of this residency, was whether that would actually work… and yes, last night, we found out it does work, which was (sigh), a huge relief”.
The exhibition also debuts this “life size” version of the smaller study for “Fifteen Points”. The motion is not as smooth, likely due to the larger mass and greater mechanical complexity. The machine is also “out of order” every few days. Those “failures” don’t disappoint. The joy of this show is the feeling that you are looking at the VERY edge of experimental robotic art, that Random International is stepping into new territory, taking extreme risks, and is fully willing to push just SLIGHTLY too far. Perfect or not, it’s exciting as hell.
A MAJOR success is “Fragments” (which I’ve personally nicknamed “Vanity Mirror”), a mosaic mirror with facial recognition software to identify a viewer and robotically tilt select squares toward them. The fluid real-time motion (watch the video) feels as natural as an alien life form responding to your presence.
NOTE: The image above is not a mistake: the camera is focused correctly, and the photographer is purposefully in view. This second mirror piece, appropriately named “Blur Mirror“, obscures rather than multiplies as it identifies the viewer and blurs their reflection by vibrating select squares at high speed. The photographer is pictured to demonstrate what the mirror looks like when it doesn’t recognize a human.
“Self and other” is a series of vertical glass sheets that are embedded with LED lights that reproduce the viewer with a slight delay. Most visitors are so quick to strike a pose and continue on, that they miss the coolest part: that it is “reflecting” you in FULL 3D. The gallery is a bit too bright to see beyond 5 or 6 layers deep at first, but wait a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to see the full volume of yourself extending into the darkness.
Whether these sculptures are made of actual mirrors, cameras to capture your form, or are just a representation of human movement, it’s impossible not to see yourself in all of them. And like all reflections, they only work if you stand in front of them yourself.