You’re standing alone in a room, towering like a giant over 500 plush penguins. As you move, you realize that the penguins are moving with you, choreographing themselves to draw your likeness, as if you are Kim Jong-il at the Mass Games. These peons are your mirror, pirouetting to expose either their white bellies or black backs to draw real-time pixel art.
This is Penguins Mirror, and it’s one of two new projects that premiered by artist and NYU Associate Arts Professor Daniel Rozin at the Bitforms gallery this May. For the last 18 years, Rozin has been creating interactive mirrors, creating cameras that track the viewer, then reimagining their visage in projected images, or even real, mechanical materials like wood. A technologist by trade, he tells me that when he started, he didn’t even realize he was making art.
When I ask Rozin the simple question, “Why penguins?” He responds, “Why not?” and then lists all sorts of reasons why penguins are obviously nature’s perfectly designed solution to creating a real-time mirror.
“Penguins are black and white, making them an inevitable pixel candidate,” he says. “They huddle in groups. They are birds that don’t fly but they swim very gracefully, in the Penguins Mirror I programmed some transformation animations that resemble flocking of birds and schooling of fish. Perhaps these penguins are dreaming of flying.”
Rozin’s other new mirror is just as intriguing. PomPom Mirror plays off a similar white pixel/black pixel reflection as Penguins Mirror. But instead, these pixels are rendered in 928 bundles of faux fur. While a Kinect camera tracks you, 464 motors push and pull white and black fluffs. On a projector, the effect wouldn’t be so strange. But rendered in this tactile, organic stuff, the mirror seems alive, like a woolly organism hanging on the wall, communicating through mimicry.
Two other notable mirrors play on an idea Rozin calls “evolutionary pressure.” Namely, the artworks themselves are pressured to evolve to the state of you, the human viewer. In one instance, Rozin set up Darwin’s The Origin of Species on a pedestal. It’s filled with animal sketches, but when a viewer walks up, the book is filled with the human silhouette, drawn through randomized “mutations” based upon the book’s artwork.
In another, the Darwinian Straw MIrror, a display renders thousands of rotating straws on the screen. As you walk up, the straws that obscure your image are removed, eventually leaving only those that evolve to your presence intact.
If this seems like a lot of mirrors, know it’s only a small sample of Rozin’s last 18 years of work inside this medium. But for him, mirrors lead to “interesting and magical” experiences that have become an admitted obsession.
“I find the mirror, as interface and paradigm very successful and useful for the creation of participatory interactive art. All technologically based art require an interface and reflection is a very simple and satisfying one,” he explains. “Mirrors are of course also very loaded and interesting objects that allow us to experience our being from the vantage point of others, which is a very different from the way we experience ourselves internally and a unique sensation.”
Rozin’s show ends July 1st, and if you can’t make it, you can still see the work here.
The post has been updated with the proper show end date.