Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? The scene in which a mirror talked to a wicked queen is unforgettable for most of us. And it came to our minds when we discovered Daniel Rozin’s interactive mirrors, a collection of artworks that mimic the viewer’s movements. By combining technology and art for more than fifteen years, the New York based artist and professor has created incredible pieces whose purpose is to make the public interact with them and enhance the artistic experience. We talk with him about his work and the merge of art and technology.
Your most famous artworks are the interactive mirrors. How did you come up with this idea?
My main interests in my art are image creation and perception, and viewer participation. Interactive mirrors offer an ideal platform to experiment with both these ideas.
Is the creative process closer to the artistic creation or to the technological one? Why?
I think that separating the artistic from the technological is not wanted for an artist whose work revolves around technology. I am inspired by technology and science no less than I am inspired by art, not unlike a sculptor who works in, say marble, and lets the material guide and inspire.
You have worked with wood, different kinds of metal, trash, fans and even penguin toys. How do you choose the materials you use in your artworks?
Some works are about the material and use the intrinsic qualities of that material such as wood, rust, and fur. In other cases, the material is merely a necessity to fabricate the piece and in those cases the materials are more neutral such as plastic and steel.
The technological devices used in your pieces are often hidden. Why don’t you want them to be seen?
In most pieces I hide the digital technology such as computer and wires but expose the mechanics. I find that those relate to people in a more human level. I find that people approach digital technology and computers with a set of assumptions (excitement, fear, familiarity) and these predispose them to view the piece in a way that is irrelevant to the art itself.
Walter Benjamin wrote about the loss of an artwork’s aura when technology offers the possibility of reproducing it ad infinitum. How do you think technology can affect the dehumanization of art? How do you link this to your own creations?
For practical and commercial reasons my pieces are always part of limited editions or unique commissions. However the question is valid, I think that with new viewing and distribution abilities such as software art and online art, art can reach many more people including those that are not the traditional art audience. I think this is wonderful and I think nothing is diminished from an art piece by having more of it. I think this mainly concerns collectors who are worried about the monetary value of their collection.
How do you think interacting with artworks affects people’s perception of art?
I think interacting with an art piece is in many levels taking ownership of it, which is, I think, the best relationship you can have with art. If the art also changes for your point of view or actions, then it makes you a unique and special viewer and hopefully helps you grasp what the art is about.
Why do you want people to play an active role in your creations?
Good question. As an artist, one’s first instinct is to control every last detail of the art. Giving people an active role in the creation of the piece means that certain aspects of the piece remain undefined and unfinished until the moment of viewing. That is a great price to pay for an artist, but for me the reward is worth it, as the participation of people is the reason I make the art.
We live in an era in which narcissism is increasing (people exposing their life constantly on social media, taking selfies everywhere they go, etc.) How do you relate this to interactive art and, more specifically, to your mirrors?
It makes my art more familiar to people, and in a way more integrated into their lives; on the other hand you don’t want the art to be interchangeable with other selfie making devices that perhaps place the viewer in a less contemplative mood. For that reason my art never captures the image of the viewer but rather temporarily presents it, making the point that the art is the moment and not the resulting artifact.
You’ve been producing art with technology and mechanisms for more than fifteen years. How do you see the future of technological art?
I am very optimistic about the future of technological art. Artists have always embraced new technologies and techniques, and the world of digital technology offers such potent tools that artists will adopt these for sure.
Artists in other fields such as Björk and Iris van Herpen have been pushing the boundaries of artistic creation by using pioneer technology. In your opinion, how have they, and others, influenced the artistic community?
It is always helpful when high profile creators embrace a trend and make it visible to many more people. I think this influences the audience more than the art community, that is perhaps more influenced by less well-known creators.
What advice would you give to amateur artists experimenting with art and technology?
“Experimenting” is exactly the right word. Approach this with curiosity and make sure that you are using the new tools for a reason and not just because it’s cool. There is craft involved in all art and this includes technological/digital art, so make sure to work on and develop your craft.
You are a professor at Tisch School of Arts (NYU). What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?
Make sure you are making something significant to you and others, this is true not just for art. The tools of digital technology are very easily used to create apps and services and devices that fill no real need other than their coolness and trendiness, it is a tempting trap because of the hype that surrounds some of the more successful ones, whose creators become rich and famous…