Gallery Glance: ‘Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Topology’ at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Digital rendering, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Topology, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (© Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and courtesy of Antimodular Studio)

Digital rendering, “Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Topology,” Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (© Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and courtesy of Antimodular Studio)

Immersive experiences are becoming a mainstay for public institutions. With offerings featuring everything from old masters to contemporary darlings like Yayoi Kusama, people are flocking to explore these novel encounters as they begin to venture once again from home. At Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, visitors are treated to a dazzling spectacle of light and sound that is profoundly moving in the exhibition “Pulse Topology.” The desire to reclaim human connection has been a universal theme of the last year or so, and here is offered a balm for that longing without the necessity of physical contact.

Media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexican Canadian, b. 1967) is known for creating architecturally engaged, interactive works that sit at the intersection of art and science. Lozano-Hemmer uses cutting-edge technology to create breathtaking visual and sensory displays in his “Pulse” series, evolving since 2006. The heartbeat, our internal rhythm of life, is the basis of his explorations. In this largest and most technically ambitious undertaking in the series, Lozano-Hemmer’s vision transforms Kemper Museum into a site-specific performance space of shared humanity. Visitors are immersed in the visual experience of the life force of all those around them.

The exhibition is spectacular in both size and technical prowess. Such a high-tech marvel was challenging to install, particularly given that the artist supervised and programmed the infrastructure remotely. “Pulse Topology” comprises 3,000 LED filament light bulbs suspended from the ceiling to form a rolling, inverted landscape encompassing the entire gallery space.

In this latest iteration of the “Pulse” series, new touchless remote technology called photoplethysmography (PPG) has been incorporated.

PPG uses a light source and a photodetector to extract biometric information and is often used in heart-rate monitoring equipment. In the Kemper piece, rather than the touch sensors previously employed in the “Pulse” series, PPG and computer vision algorithms optically detect participants’ heartbeats, translating them as lights blinking in rhythm. The gallery comes alive as thousands of heartbeats pulse collectively, while a sound component provides a soothing complement.

The exhibition came to fruition in June following more than two years of planning. The show date was pushed forward due to complications of the global pandemic, and the museum shuttered from March to October of 2020. The Kemper team believes the show is well worth the wait, and Lozano-Hemmer’s use of this breakthrough technology is especially timely. “The exhibition celebrates being together again in public space with the relevant consideration of Rafael’s innovative use of technology that does not require visitors to touch anything to participate — a mindful response to the global pandemic,” commented Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs.

“Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Topology” opened June 25 and continues through Jan. 4 at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Free timed entry tickets are required. For tickets and more information, www.kemperart.org or 815.753.5784.

C.J. Charbonneau

C.J. Charbonneau (she/her) is a writer, curator, artist, and advocate based in Kansas City. She holds a master’s degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and is the co-director/co-curator of plug, an independent artist-run space.

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