Overview

The San Francisco artist internationally recognized for his pioneering exploration of electronics as an art form died at age 60 on October 27, 2020 after battling a rare form of multiple sclerosis for many years.

 

Beginning in 1985, Rath made sculptures with robotics and computer-generated video animations, which he designed, machined, and programmed himself. Formally elegant and meticulously crafted, yet playful and unpredictable, his leitmotif was the relationship between the mechanical/technological and the human body and behaviors.

 

Rath's mechanical sculptures are infused with uncannily life-like characteristics. LCD screens mounted on sculptural armatures display body parts moving in algorithmically generated sequences of shifting colors, tempos, and orientation. The features portrayed are those particular to perception and expression, such as eyes, mouths, and hands. Programmed with an infinite progression of permutations, the imagery on the LCD screens slowly changes over time, in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Although we recognize these as mediated digital images, the essential animate qualities depicted, integrated into elegantly crafted structures, impart a certain mechanical consciousness, both humorous and eerie.

 

Though often viewed solely through the lens of "digital art" or "new media," Rath's work is first and foremost sculpture, constructed with a deeply refined sense of formal elegance and a broad understanding of art historical context. The formal sophistication extends into the smallest of details, with a remarkable attention to functionality. Rath ingeniously designed and assembled every component of a work such that it can be easily dismantled, transported, and reassembled without the need of tools. He was also a key participant in the discourse around preservation of new media artwork against the inevitable course of technological evolution and obsolescence, and these concepts were incorporated into the fabrication of every aspect of his work.

 

To Rath, the human and the technological are inseparable - it is merely our perception that technology is external and different. "Machinery is not unnatural," he has said. "It's a reflection of the people who make it." In a poetic integration of art, nature and technology, Rath's sculptures communicate with us beyond the confines of language.

 

Rath received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1982. His contributions to the field of contemporary sculpture and new media have received significant acknowledgement worldwide. His work is in such major collections as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Hara Museum (Tokyo).

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