Mechanical Mirrors Reflect Your Image With Wooden Pixels

Daniel Rozin builds and programs remarkable machines that convert what a video camera sees into kinetic works of art.

Without an audience, Daniel Rozin‘s art is empty. “The piece has no content without the viewer,” he has said of his mechanical mirrors, which reflect the viewer in carefully programmed “pixels” made of trash, rust-covered shingles, or pieces of wood. “This suggests that the important part of this equation is the person, not the artifact.” In a sense, Rozin has more to do with the Situationists of the 1960s than his peers in the interactive art world, many of whom emphasize systems over experience.


Still, Rozin has become a fixture in the interactive art world since he unveiled his first mirror in 1999. Angles, his latest solo show, will be his fifth at Bitforms Gallery, where owner Steven Sacks has pioneered the sale of digital art. His work has that rare mix of conceptual depth and technological prowess–Rozin builds and programs each of his mirrors himself, using custom-built software written in C++ that translates data from a camera into simplified pixels, which play across the face of his sculptures in near real time.

The title Angles references Rozin’s interest in subverting traditional ideas about the picture plane and visual perception. Though they operate along the lines of his past pieces, the new mirrors on view at Bitforms are subtly different in the way they communicate visual information to the viewer. Rather than reflecting images in “pixels” that shift from dark to light, Rozin is experimenting with pixels that rotate and re-align to form patterns, which the eye interprets as contour. In the show’s titular piece, Angles Mirror, dozens of yellow pins mounted to tiny motors rotate like the hands of a clock, shifting in orientation to affect the outline of a viewer standing in front of it. It’s the difference between cross-hatching and shading in traditional drawing.

Fan Mirror is a lower-rez version of the same principle. On the gallery wall, 153 folding fans are mounted to a lattice of steel struts, each with its own motor. Rozin’s algorithm takes input from a camera trained on the viewer and translates it into pixelated data, which is mimicked by the rotation of the fans. The fans were sourced from Korea, China, Taiwan, Spain, and Japan–they look like frail birds, wings opening and closing with a volley of satisfying clicks.

Newcomers to Rozin’s work might find it unremarkable, simply because his techniques have been co-opted by so many other designers since his work emerged in the late 1990s (for proof, see these clocks or this installation). But Angles shows him digging even deeper into what our eyes will accept as an image, versus what an algorithm understands as a piece of visual information. It’s fascinating work–go check it out at Bitforms until April 6.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.