MIT-educated director of the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry and associate professor of Electronic Time-Based Art at Carnegie Mellon University, Golan Levin is known for his collaborative technological installation and performance works. Displayed around the world, from The Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei to the Whitney Biennial in New York City, Levin’s art continues to challenge the contemporary viewer to redefine his relationship to and generate awareness of the machine in the everyday.
In his 2009 TED talk titled ‘Art that looks back at you,’ artist Golan Levin displayed a 1967 letter from Artforum stating, ‘we can’t imagine ever doing a special issue on electronics or computers in art.’ Levin then goes on to state, ‘and they still haven’t,’ to the amusement of the audience before him. Part engineer, part artist, Levin utilizes art and technology as interdependent means to the same end, interconnectivity. In doing so, the physical space Levin lives in and cyber platform he manipulates, render experiences where the two realms can’t help but seep into each other.
Interactive in nature, Levin’s collaborative performance media, installations and online works are often dependent upon the participation of audience and exhibit viewers alike. One of his first landmark performance pieces, ‘Dialtones: A Telesymphony‘ (2001), exemplifies this participatory aim by manipulating a common isolated event into a shared experience. By transmitting new ringtones to the cell phones of audience members, the performers of ‘Dialtones’ were able to call and render multiple ringtones simultaneously. The result was, as the name of the performance hints, symphonic. From ‘Dialtones: A Telesymphony,’ Levin began to create a variety of interactive pieces that call the viewer to utilize his own body, gestures and speech as a platform for reactionary art.
‘Re: MARK‘ (2002) entails that the viewer look at voice in a novel way. With the help of voice analysis technology, the piece conjured words and shapes upon the utterance of the viewer’s speech. By augmenting the relationship between a sound and that sound’s associated shape, Levin exposed an often-unrecognized cognitive relationship. Through ‘Interstitial Fragment Processor‘ (2007), Levin continued to expose veiled associations. Only instead of voice, Levin derived inspiration from gestures, or rather, the negative space those gestures create. What resulted was the creation of objectivity from a previously space-less presence. After focusing on this association of body and the space around it, Levin turned to the face, or rather, its gaze.
The exploration of the gaze is a look at, as Levin’s 2009 TED talk is titled, ‘art that looks back at you.’ ‘Opto-Isolater‘ (2007) illustrates this fabricated phenomenon. A single mechatronic, human-scaled blinking eye, ‘Opto-Isolater’ responds to the viewer by blinking one second after the participant blinks. ‘Double-Taker (Snout)‘ (2008) continues to work with Levin’s examination of the gaze. An eight-foot-tall robot arm fashioned to resemble an elephant trunk with one eye in its center, ‘Snout’ followed the movements of passersby while positioned atop a building. This interactive installation communicated a voice-less reaction to the movement of those it viewed. In doing so, Snout and his creator Levin formulated an experience that simultaneously augmented the presence of both gaze and surveillance.
From the human and machine-made gaze, Levin continued to stretch the possibilities of the physical realm by manipulating the form of the human body via the technological domain. The collaborative work ‘Re: FACE, Anchorage Version’ (2010) displays this endeavor. By digitally splicing the ethnically diverse faces present in Anchorage East High School, Levin and his collaborators render portraits that are an impossible amalgamation. Like ‘Re: FACE,’ Levin’s most recent work, ‘Augmented Hand Series‘ (2014), continues to find inspiration from the digital manipulation of the body. Only instead of a face, the installation reconfigures and reimagines a participant’s hand. Uncannily stretched, with fewer or perhaps greater fingers or knuckles, the ‘Augmented Hand Series’ finds momentum by separating the subject from his own body. In doing so, Levin works to expose viewers to philosophical concepts that question whether it is possible to perceive the body outside the limits of the brain itself.
Living in a physical world that is saturated and increasingly dependent upon what can be conjured within cyberspace and via technological innovation, Golan Levin’s work challenges the passivity of the user into that of active agency. Technology, in turn, becomes more than a tool of the everyday. It becomes an educator, revealing the nature of its own existence. Only Levin’s exposure does not stop at the threshold between human and machine. By recreating this relationship through the filter of art, Levin also instigates an awareness of what is sometimes lost in the digital, the physical body and its relationship to the mind that perceives it.
By Yazmine Mihojevich
After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography, Yazmine moved to New York to work at an environmental non-profit. She spends her free time wondering how the NYC subway system was built, absorbing chill vibes in overpriced coffee shops and bracing herself for her first real winter.