Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Mexican-Canadian, born 1967

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (he/him/his) is a media artist who develops platforms for public participation in urban, digital, and performative spaces. He has had major solo exhibitions at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico (2020); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2019); and the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, Canada (2019).

See more of Lozano-Hemmer’s work at his website: lozano-hemmer.com.

“Despite all of the technology that is in our lives, I feel that we live in extremely solitary times. I think that the maximum objective of art, as American composer Frederic Rzewski said, is for people to come together.” —Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Level of Confidence, 2015

Facial recognition system displayed on monitor
Courtesy of the artist

“This work is not so much an artwork as it is a campaign. We routinely use facial recognition at the studio to make artworks; I thought, what would happen if we use these algorithms to “make a mirror that searches for the missing students? The search is internal, too: looking for somebody who could have been us is a search for a fraternal connection, inside of us.”
—Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

The artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (he/him/his) launched the interactive project Level of Confidence to mark the six-month anniversary of the tragic disappearance of forty-three rural students from a teachers’ college in Iguala, Mexico. The webcam attached to the monitor scans your face and then compares it to a database of the faces of the missing students. On the screen, you will see your most likely match, as well as the system’s “level of confidence” in that match displayed as a percentage.

Lozano-Hemmer describes Level of Confidence as an activist campaign. The source code is freely available online, and he redirects any compensation for selling or exhibiting the piece to individuals and organizations working for human rights in Mexico. Still, the program’s fruitless searching poetically conveys the frustration of communities seeking justice. It also exposes the fact that facial recognition technologies are rarely used to solve crimes against disempowered groups; many don’t even have access to these tools, thanks to the digital divide. Ultimately, Level of Confidence questions the confidence we have in technologies that emphasize our differences instead of the common humanity that we find while searching for ourselves in the faces of strangers.

Suddenly, one notices that it’s possible to find some common aspect with any of the students, even the ones whose faces seemed, at first glance, to not resemble one’s own. The thought is disconcerting, of course, because it leads, inevitably, to this one: What if I was one of the disappeared? And with that, the news doesn’t seem quite so distant or impersonal.

Julie Schwietert Collazo, “An Artwork Forces Us to Face Mexico’s Disappeared Students”

An Artwork Forces Us to Face Mexico’s Disappeared Students

Julie Schwietert Collazo

“People who have the luxury of not being directly affected by the world’s many injustices often feel fatigued by so much bad news. Unrelenting updates notifying us of senseless murders, police abuses, and other devastating stories have a blunt impact, testing the limits of our ability — and, if we’re honest, our desire — to empathize and identify with victims. How much of others’ pain can we absorb?…”

Read the full review here.

Technology and Public Art with Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Art in America editor Brian Droitcour speaks with Lozano-Hemmer and writer Dorothy Santos about technology and bodies in public space.