With an impressive body of work spanning more than a decade, New York-based artist Ben Rubin challenges artistic conventions combining new media with electronic components to explore different forms of communication. Rubin's early work focused on image projections and interactive sound installations, but over the past five years, Rubin has added light, as both a material and a tool, to his already diverse repertoire that ranges from light sculptures to public art installations.
The piece, which Rubin is perhaps best known for, and the work, which allowed him the first significant use of light in his work, is Listening Post. Started as a research project with statistician Mark Hansen, the duo wanted to find ways they could use sound to do data exploration. Internet chat proved to be an interesting source of data that could be analyzed in terms of length and frequencies of posts, and even the words themselves. In all of Rubin's work it is important that the idea generating the piece have meaning. "We communicate through two senses--sight and sound," he says. "We realized if people could read the words at the same time as viewing the screens, it gelled into a more meaningful piece."
Rubin's recent explorations of light are a series of luminous tube artworks intended for gallery settings. These pieces incorporate light, color, and movement, as images and text are abstracted and scroll across a series of LED tubes. Because this work relies on a vertical plane (a gallery wall) as its backdrop, a spatial interaction is created between the viewer and the artwork. In order to achieve the visual effect he is looking for, Rubin pays careful attention to the diameter and placement of the LED tubes. For Two Lanes, he employed tubes with a thin diameter, which throw their light back onto the wall.
Sandstorm, explores the power of color as a visual communication device. Rubin had wanted to work with a highly saturated orange color for a while. He explains, "I was looking for some content to create that color and I found it in this image of a Baghdad sandstorm." The result is a powerful piece with emotional resonance, further reinforced when the viewer discovers the artwork's source material. "The hope is that it has an immediate visceral reaction because of the color," he says. "Yet, there is this underlying meaning to it that you can dig out--what's causing the changes in the light."
Rubin's work is about "story telling," just with contemporary tools--LEDS and software. Although referred to as a "media artist," Rubin does not place much importance on the title in terms of his work. "It's meaningless really," he says. "Artists have always used whatever tools or media are at hand. The project of communicating through visual and sound media is not so different from what it's always been, it's just that now there is electronic technology." Yet, it is precisely the introduction of electronic components that distinguishes this work from the continuum and legacy of artists like Dan Flavin who pioneered working with light. "The work of Dan Flavin has incredible impact," Rubin states. "He's using the same format of illuminated tubes in sculptural arrangements, but he didn't have the benefit of controlling what is on those tubes--they make light of one color. Electronics allow you to be more expressive with the physical forms. You can bring dynamics and behaviors to what would otherwise be a static inanimate object."
Exploring the overlapping territories of light, color, text, and sound, Rubin finds ways to recombine these elements. With the aid of electronics, the activities of everyday life are "captured," whether they exist in real time or the virtual world. The result is a body of work that expands the idea of what constitutes public and private space, and how individuals engage with their constructed worlds.