Neo Watcher V, 2002Alan Rath (American, born 1959)
In his sculpture, Alan Rath explores the tendency of scientists, visionaries, filmmakers, and others to make machines in the human image. He also probes the moral and ethical dilemmas created by our hunger for new technologies. The MIT-educated artist in no way desires an “unplugged” world. He instead projects onto his fanciful electronic productions those human qualities that imbue gadgets with what we experience as personality. Rath’s creation of digitized blinking eyes that spring to life when a gallery visitor triggers a motion detector animates an electronic setup otherwise as mute as any security camera. In this transformation, the artist playfully gives us a face to address, with each sculptural element completing its overall physical presence. By bestowing such anthropomorphic qualities to what he calls his “e-sculptures,” Rath performs a variation on the mechanical surveillance we experience daily, with one profound difference: Neo Watcher does not record us. Instead, its monitors seek to engage, entertain, and even unnerve.
By using computer code and parts, Rath’s creative work broadly departs from the achievements of video art during the 1980s by artists such as Nam June Paik. In fact, Rath develops all the circuit and software designs for his sculptures. Neo Watcher features a 30-year programming loop that promises there will be surprising, unannounced changes appearing on the LCD screen “eyes.” While such an event does seem improbable, it is exciting to anticipate that the lulling monotony of eye blinking could, on one predestined day, be replaced by a running figure or display of 4th of July fireworks.