Interactive Art Installation Brings Life to Park Avenue Tunnel
New Yorkers are known for being outspoken, but this artistic endeavor takes bluntness to the next level. Stroll into the middle of the Park Avenue Tunnel, utter something short and sweet (or not) into the silver intercom, and witness your words pulse through the tunnel in mesmerizing waves of sound and light. The pitch and volume of your voice will determine the intensity of each beam, with messages emerging quickly, one after another, until they vanish to let the next statements shine.
This is Voice Tunnel, the latest creation of electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who explains, “What makes the experience valuable is the fact that it’s ephemeral.” Voice Tunnel, he says, “allows us to remember that we are on earth for a very brief period of time…it helps us live perhaps more intensely. We’re more alert to the fact that it ends, that we’re getting recycled, that there is a flow.”
Lozano-Hemmer was born in Mexico City and received a B.Sc. in Physical Chemistry from Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. His primary interest is in “creating platforms for public participation” by altering technologies such as robotics, computerized surveillance or telematic networks. The artist’s installations explore “the intersection of architecture and performance art.”
Years before this project was a reality, Lozano-Hemmer reflected in a conversation with another artist, “Pieces of art are in a constant state of becoming. It’s not that they ‘are’ but that they are ‘changing into’. I think the artist no longer has a monopoly over their work, or an exhaustive or total position over its interpretation or representation. Today, it is a more common idea—an idea that I defend—that the work itself has a life.” Voice Tunnel appears to be an apt example of this conception of art as a living, changing being, with an audience that has the power to literally morph Lozano-Hemmer’s creation.
The Huffington Post calls Voice Tunnel a “must-see,” but not everyone was thrilled about the free speech free-for-all. The New York Police Department initially requested the artist to install a time-delay to regulate the messages, with worries of dangerous or offensive remarks being broadcast. “In authoritarian regimes, that can work,” Lozano-Hemmer responded. “But not here. This is the place for people to express their views. That’s what this project is about. And if you want to censor it — I’ve never in my life censored a work, and I won’t do it.”
A compromise was reached in which the artist agreed to allow a person to monitor messages as they are spoken, with all speech being permitted aside from anything that could cause panic, i.e. Bomb! Fire! “We have a little delete button,” the artist said. “Hopefully we don’t have to use that.” Jonathan Jones of The Guardian adds, “New Yorkers seem to say what they want where they want – it’s unlikely anyone will walk into the centre of a tunnel just to say the unsayable. And the art audience that gathers will likely create its own civil context.”
Have you ever had to censor your work as an artist? What’s your take on this installation? Are you an electronic artist yourself? We encourage you to share your insights in the comments!
The Park Avenue Tunnel, which runs from 33rd Street to 40th Street, will be open to pedestrians at the 33rd Street entrance only between the hours of 7:00 am and 1:00 pm on the three Saturdays of August 3rd, 10th, and 17th; outside of these times normal car traffic will be underway.