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Artist Measures Visitor Attention Span With Kinect-Powered Tape Measurers

"Tape Recorders" (2011) by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer from bitforms gallery on Vimeo.

How much time do we spend looking at a work of art when we’re in a museum or gallery? Do we really take the time to reflect and let the work sink in? Or do we simply breeze by in an effort to see as much as possible? Some studies suggest that the average visitor only spends about 5 seconds looking at each work, but Mexican media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has found a different way of measuring this interaction.

Lozano-Hemmer’s new installation Tape Recorders takes a more physical approach to calculating the answer to this question. Composed of a series of automated measuring tapes fixed to a wall, the tape ascends to the ceiling when visitors are present, tipped-off by a Kinect sensor. Once it reaches its peak, the tape crashes down, unable to hold itself up any longer, and is then reeled back in. Visitors can walk past the full spectrum of tape measurers, making them grow in succession as if performing the “wave,” or stand in front of one to force it to its crashing point. It also tabulates the collective time spent in front of the installation and prints out the summation every hour.

The installation’s awareness of its visitors seemingly has the effect of making them stay longer, incentivizing their attention with the tapes’ impending crash and recoil. Since the presence of people is required for the installation to activate, audience participation and appreciation is crucial to the piece—it would’t work otherwise. The longer visitors interact with the work, the more interesting it becomes.

Tape Recorders, along with several other works by Lozano-Hemmer, will be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney through February 12th, 2012.

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