Tools of the Trade: Umwelt III (HOME) at 119 Chambers

Here tech writer Melody Chamlee describes Rob Seward's work Umwelt III (HOME) for Rhizome's ongoing series "Tools of the Trade." - Ceci Moss

Currently on display at 119 Chambers Street is kinetic sculpture Umwelt III (HOME) by artist Rob Seward. Using common fluorescent vacuum tubes to light the sign, Seward says he referenced the Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok definition of an umwelt, a subjective universe which includes meaning producing aspects for all life forms - in this case the narrative of the building inhabitant to the sidewalk passer-by.

On a quiet night, the gliding mechanical display of short white tubes rotates in a seemingly chaotic pattern out the window, slowly aligning and deconstructing the word "home" in bright white fluorescent fashion. The tubes meet and slowly scatter in clockwork formation, generating a slow animation of random pattern display that floats back together in a clear display of the word "home." What seems at first chaotic movement becomes a perfectly formed idea in alignment with viewer recognition. The concept of "home" is presented much the same way a disoriented traveler recognizes a familiar place.

Says Seward, "Before Umwelt III (HOME), I made pieces that spelled KILL and RUN. These where based on flight or fight instincts. The Umwelt III (HOME) piece is part of an earlier series to play on simple, old emotions. Umwelt III (HOME) is inspired by the need for shelter and feelings associated with it."

Rather than compromise between empiricism and rationalism, the sculpture continues to scatter and realign without adding additional context, leaving the viewer to complete the semiosphere with personal significance.

Seward says he was inspired by the idea of an umwelt to display these ideas, and is already working on a new sculpture, entitled WORK WORK WORK. In the new concept, the word "work" aligns in different rows to produce a chanting effect in visual space.

The artist's other experiments include the CONSCIOUSNESS FIELD RESONATOR (CFR) a random number generator that tests for "micropsychokenisis," a theory that patterns manifest more strongly during times of great shared social experience even when, all else being equal, such patterns should not exist. Elevated examples of patterns from the number generator are recorded and considered in relation to national and world events.