Leah Heiss

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Leah Heiss with Drift. Photo by: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009

Leah Heiss with Drift. Photo by: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009.

Humanising technology

It is easy to see why RMIT lecturer Leah Heiss calls her practice “Emotional Technologies”.

The artist’s work for the Super Human exhibition is Drift – a series of interactive hand-held luminescent pods that gently sing to each other and light up as they are held.

All of the seven little pods look the same but each has different traits. When you pick them up they behave differently and sense movement. Whatever active one is ‘on’ the others will mimic it.

Are we making them react to us by virtue our interaction with them, or would they have a life of their own anyway? These are some of the questions that Drift might raise.

“My work actually brings together my previous studies at RMIT – such as my Masters of Design through the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory at RMIT (SIAL) and my undergraduate degree in communication theory at the University of Canberra,” Heiss said.

“I am interested in what happens when technologies and artefacts take on personalities. The idea is that domestic appliances have computations that are premeditated – you know how your washing machine will behave – but as an artist I can program these devices to do different things in the art sphere and this opens them up to emergent outcomes.”

“I work on an intimate scale but with big ideas!” Heiss said. “I make objects quite quickly and incorporate ‘weird synergies’ “

Heiss said that four main tenants underlie her work – first, she utilises advanced technologies and develops them on a human scale, second, she augments existing objects that we might already have a relationship with, such as key rings, third, she uses the next generation of technology to enrich our experience of the world and finally, she collaborates with others such as scientists and electronic engineers to evolve her art practice.

With Drift, Heiss collaborated with a scientific glass blower to create the pods and then sand blasted them herself. She said she works very much as a designer, creating forms and interaction.

“I don’t work as a jeweller, but I get things prototyped by developing specifications. I use my techniques as a designer and apply them to art,” Heiss said.

“A lot of my work utilises nanotechnology, but what interests me is not the technology itself but the emotional side of how people interact with technology.”

Heiss said she works very much as a designer, applying her skills to art. “There is a broad arsenal of things I know how to do, but generally I design forms and interaction then work on prototypes which I get developed according to my specifications.”

All of her work - even the very small pieces like Drift – is about exploring the relationship between people and things and about the relationship to objects above and beyond the technology.

“I am interested in responsive environments that respond to human presence, and the relationships between spaces and people,” Heiss said.

“With Drift I encourage people to come and pick up the objects and connect to them as they react back. It’s a very playful work.”

For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716
Email: evelyn.tsitas@rmit.edu.au