Why these dancing penguins are a summer must-see

The deeply interactive works featured in this series of exhibitions are a powerful testament to the advancement of and growing interest in digital art as well as its unique ability to nurture creativity and curiosity through technology.”

— Aimee Marcereau Degalan, chief curator, Dayton Art Institute

If a recent encounter with the penguins at the Dayton Art Institute is any indication, museum members and guests have an unusual treat in store this summer. The little guys — or girls — are both delightful and intriguing.

Thanks to the wonders of technology and a creative New York artist by the name of Daniel Rozin, the 450 penguins ensconced in the museum’s gallery are always on the move. They interact with visitors and do their special “penguin dance” for your entertainment. Wave your arms or legs in front of the penguins, and you’ll see your own image reflected in the colony.

Once you’ve met the penguins, you’ll find it hard to pull yourself away. You’ll keep wondering what they’ll all be doing when you leave the gallery. Happily, you can purchase a penguin in the museum gift shop to take home — through we can’t guarantee your “Bibs” will be as active as its museum counterparts.

“Year of the Elements”

The penguins are one of the main attractions in the museum’s 2016 themed exhibitions titled “Year of the Elements.” The series of three shows, locally produced and curated by the Dayton Art Institute curators Aimee Marcereau DeGalan and Katherine Siegwarth, focus on the classic elements (fire, air, earth, water and ether) in a contemporary way.

This newest show “The Antarctic Sublime & Elements of Nature” highlights the element of water through three individual works of art — the penguins, a giant photo and a digital waterfall. It will be on display through Oct. 16.

“The overall idea is to spend a year focusing on the elements with 21st century artists whose work incorporates or responds to the elements in some way,” explained DeGalan. She and the other museum staff members took a huge risk when they decided to forego traditional art museum fare and go in a completely new direction. The hope was to attract new and younger audiences as well as visitors who haven’t been to the museum in the past. “The museum is supposed to offer something for everyone, and we wanted to make good on that,” DeGalan explains.

Judging from the last exhibit, the grouping of interactive and immersive light experiences, the new formula seems to be working.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, says DeGalan. “We reached a new audience, and it was popular for non-members as well as members. We saw young adults and families in the galleries and we were pleasantly surprised by the number of first-time museum visitors. It was great!”

What you’ll see

The mesmerizing 12-foot digital waterfall was created by an interdisciplinary group of Japanese ultra-technologists known as teamLab.

Titled “The Universe of Water Particles,” the beautiful artwork is rendered five times that of full high definition. The computer-generated water consists of hundreds of thousands of water particles that are virtually poured onto a virtually sculpted rock. As you’ll learn from the wall text, the computer calculates the movement of the particles to produce a simulation of water that flows in accordance with the laws of physics.

In another gallery, you’ll encounter a 13-foot-wide photo of the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentinian Patagonia by Berlin-based photographer Frank Thiel. That installation also incorporates the sounds of an iceberg breaking loose and crashing into the water.

“Thiel photographed Berlin when it was changing and did these monumental cityscapes,” DeGalan said. “Then he switched to nature photography. He says both are about our relationship to something that’s always changing and shifting.”

The impressive iceberg you’ll see in the photo is one of the three in the world that is still actively growing. In the same gallery, in order to demonstrate the ways in which different artists offer different perspectives on the same topic, there are two reproductions — one by Frederic Edwin Church of his painting “The Icebergs” and a photograph of the Perito Moreno glacier taken by DeGalan’s sister Jennelle Marcereau, a landscape photographer.

This show isn’t limited to a specific exhibition space; it requires visitors to move around the museum to view the three main attractions. Because the three pieces don’t take long to view, it’s a good opportunity to explore the museum’s permanent galleries as well. Check out ”Water in Japanese Art,” a complementary exhibit that showcases the museum’s important collection of woodblock prints and Japanese screen paintings. Kimonos are on display as well. You’ll find all of these in Gallery 105 of the Patterson-Kettering Wing of Asian Art.

Meet Daniel Rozin

We first introduced readers to Daniel Rozin when two of his works — “Snow Mirror” and Brushed Metal Mirror” — were featured in the recent light show “Into the Ether.”

This time Rozin was in town to install his penguins and introduce the new show. “All of my work is about creating images and I’m always looking for contrasts,” he explained. “Penguins were perfect because they have white bellies and black backs.”

He said he did a lot of scouting before he found the perfect 8-inch-tall plush toy penguins for the show. “I didn’t want them to be too cute or cartoonish,” he explained. “I wanted them to look more like real penguins.” He calls his piece a “Penguin Mirror” because it reflects the viewer. When you stand in front of the penguins, they rotate and create images in black-and-white. They do what Rozin calls their “dance” as you walk away.

“There’s a sensor in the middle of the piece, and that camera sees us,” Rozin explains. “If it detects we’re not there, they do their dance.”

Rozin, who has been creating interactive art for the past 17 years, was born in Jerusalem and studied industrial design in Israel. He has a Dayton connection: between 1992-1997 he worked with a company called Scitex Digital Printing that was later sold to Kodak. “I used to come here a few times a year and work with them in the design of their products,” Rozin recalls.

Rozin, who has used a variety of materials in his own work, now teaches students at New York University to use the tools of technology to communicate and “to make the world a better place.”

“My installations are all sculptures that I call mirrors because you see yourself in them,” says the artist whose work is represented in museums, corporate and private collections. The 21C Hotel chain, with penguins perched on their exteriors, will be installing a group of Rozin’s penguins in one of their hotel lobbies. Fun!

Rozin says his work connects with visitors on a variety of different levels. “A 5-year-old might run back and forth to see the penguins respond,” he says. “These plush toys are part of their world. A 12-year-old will understand the reflection and will wonder — along with the adults — how it all works.”

The explanation, he says, is that in the center of the piece is a camera, a sensor that’s connected to a computer. The computer takes the picture for the camera. “Every penguin is assigned a single pixel,” Rozin explains. “If it needs to be dark, that penguin turns his or her back to us. If the pixel needs to be bright, the penguin turns its belly to us.”

All of Rozin’s artwork, he says, has two core elements. “One is this creation of image. I’m trying to create images in different ways. The other is the participation of the viewer. I want the viewer to participate in the creation of the piece. This piece is not complete until there is a person in the space with it. And it won’t be the same for any two people.”

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