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Q&A: Artist Jamie Zigelbaum at Design Miami/ Basel

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Jamie Zigelbaum may tell you he's an art-and-design-world outsider, but that is likely to change, thanks to this year's Design Miami/ Basel (June 17–22; Messeplatz 1; 41-61/666-6464;

For its Design Commission, awarded biannually to early-career architects or designers, the fair invited the 36-year-old MIT Media Lab alum to create an immersive, site-specific installation in its 30,000-square-foot, Herzog & de Meuron–designed entrance hall—making it the first (and last) work visitors will see and the largest commission for the fair to date.

The piece, Triangular Series, is composed of 59 tetrahedral, crystalline-like white lights that hang from the room's ceiling, changing in intensity and hue in response to the movements of visitors below. Using complex technologies—including dynamic color-temperature LED lighting (which varies from warm to cool tones), advanced sensors and custom software—Zigelbaum explores the concept of entrainment, a phenomenon in which rhythms created by both living and non-living entities synchronize with one another.

Here, he discusses the work, the nexus of design and technology and the importance of fairs like Basel.

Q: What is it about entrainment that fascinates you?
A: Entrainment is a really interesting model for thinking about communication between very different types of things because it's the same phenomenon that will work with organic materials, like the flashing of fireflies, and with inorganic, non-lifelike things, like pendulums and metronomes. So it's this connective, invisible force, which is affecting various systems in very subtle ways, that gives rise to these complicated behaviors.

We've integrated these concepts into the physicality of this piece to create a dialogue between the people in the space and the installation. It is reacting to you and you are reacting to it in ways you don't understand. Those changes in lights are changing your own internal physiology—your heart rate, your breathing pattern. And then your motion in the space is feeding back into the system, changing the rhythm. The lights and the people are in this conversation—before they even know it.

Q: How would you describe the current relationship among art, design and technology?
A: Artists working and engaging with technology in a very authentic and direct way are able to help society process why we should use it. Design is about solving problems, art is asking questions—that's a clichéd answer, but it's fairly true. And technology is science applied. When you have artists working with these things, it allows us to ask why we want them in our lives.

Q: From a visitor's perspective—rather than that of an artist—what do you think is the value of fairs like Design Miami/ Basel?
A: You get to see one slice of the art world, which is the market-driven side. It's this thriving marketplace. A lot of artists are turned off by that, but there's new work being made, being sold—and its able to speak louder. It's a very lively, active environment.

Q: Is there anything you're particularly excited to see or do or experience at this year's Design Miami/ Basel?
A: This will be my third time in Basel and my seventh or eighth experience with Art Basel, including the Miami editions. I really look forward to wandering all the galleries—at Basel, the satellite fairs and museums. There's just so much art and design to see.


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