A Window on the Wall: Art, Technology, and New Imaginaries with Edson Pavoni

Written by Leigh Pennington

The intersection of art and technology is an occurrence we see and experience daily. It is sometimes noticeable and other times concealed. While the two disciplines are generally considered to be divergent, in terms of their purpose and execution, there are some who would argue that art and engineering are far more alike in their manner to create new realities and push into fresh frontiers of thought.

So what are the possibilities of creating and disseminating messages and meaning through public facing and groundbreaking works of technological art? How can technology be employed in an artistic message to create new optimistic futures for all of humanity?

So what are the possibilities of creating and disseminating messages and meaning through public facing and groundbreaking works of technological art?

Edson Pavoni is one such artist that has explored and acted on these questions for nearly two decades. His works utilize technology along an artistic avenue to provide a window on the wall, a glimpse into a more positive future where technology can be used for human connection. He says, “Our imaginaries of the future concerning technology are very dystopian. This is not in our favor. We can only go in the directions we can imagine… If we only have imaginations of dystopian futures, we keep moving toward. What I try to do with my works is build those very sensitive, very fragile glimpses of imaginaries of the future that are not dystopian.”

Pavoni was very young when he learned the benefits of using technology to provoke small but positive impacts in his personal world and within his larger community. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the outskirts of the city, in a neighborhood called Vila California, “since I was very young and living in a house full of people, I saw some people in my family die, because of the war on drugs, or had been murdered. Some people in my family are in jail. I knew that from the very beginning and I’ve dealt with this, so I knew that I needed to escape, and provide an escape for the people that I loved.”

Pavoni was very young when he learned the benefits of using technology to provoke small but positive impacts in his personal world and within his larger community.

It was during those early years that Pavoni’s step-father began to teach him how to repair electronics. “My stepfather would fix VCRs and TVs, this was his job. I started to learn how electronics work…and I started to become very confident with open machines. So, I grew up on that.” Pavoni continued to expand his electronic skills repairing friends of friend’s computers and even built one for himself from composite parts.

At sixteen he decided to take a shot at coding and fell in love with a whole new avenue of creativity. He began taking on small software projects to earn a living and gained significant recognition. One year later, at the age of seventeen, he opened his own software company with his friend Joao. By the time the pair were nineteen, they had a staff of seventeen coders and designers.

Pavoni recounted, “We were doing websites, systems, CRMs, That was crazy, I had no idea how to run a company. I didn’t go to college at the time. When I was eighteen, I already made more money than my parents. It was very shocking that I could actually move out and start to help them through technology. So I grew up in a dystopia, I believe that my place, my street, my neighborhood is a dystopia. It’s fear. It’s difficult. People do not get out of there. Then technology kind of helped me get out and get people that I love out. I was actually doing important work for people, for very small companies that were our neighbors…So I think the seed of this known dystopian future activism is somehow connected to that.”

“So I grew up in a dystopia, I believe that my place, my street, my neighborhood is a dystopia. It’s fear. It’s difficult. People do not get out of there. Then technology kind of helped me get out and get people that I love out. I was actually doing important work for people, for very small companies that were our neighbors…So I think the seed of this known dystopian future activism is somehow connected to that.”

Pavoni was also a devout Christian during this time. An experience that had a lasting affect on his work as an artist. He described his introduction to Christianity as “part of escaping poverty. It’s a very insecure place, you are very fragile. So I connected this with spirituality, because they balance each other, they push each other, if you are very afraid, you need something, you need to escape somewhere. I think that Christianity kind of gave me the framework.”

At twenty-eight Pavoni had grown his operation from two high school boys on the outskirts of Sao Paulo to a company of 150 employees. During this time he was already playing with humanistic approaches to technology, coding to play music and make art. Pavoni also gave public talks on what he calls “the philosophy of technology,” a branch of thought guided by the transparency of all things technical. As Pavoni explains,“If you think of technology as a being, as something that has a will, it will always grow to be transparent. Everything that we understood as technology in the past, now it’s not. A hammer used to be technology. We talk as if technology never changes, but this idea is changing a lot.” Reality shapes what is defined as technology, and in turn, technology comes to define new realities.

After nearly a decade of success, Pavoni started to question the directions of his religious life and his career. “I was leaving the company and my partner. I started to question everything. When God dies, art enters.” He soon met Olivia Yassudo, who commissioned him to create an artistic work tied into his philosophy of technology.

“I was leaving the company and my partner. I started to question everything. When God dies, art enters.”

In 2013, Pavoni created his first large public work, A Place to Departure, in Beijing and Sao Paulo. Twin installations that functioned as sensory bridges. The work is made up of a pane of glass intersected by an intricately carved wooden panel. The panel contains lidar sensors, the same used in driverless vehicles to detect obstacles, as well as transducers, which convert electric energy into vibration, most commonly found in speaker systems. Transducers can be programmed for specific frequencies and Pavoni designed the frequency so that the glass could vibrate without making any sound. When one person in Beijing touched the glass and another in Sao Paulo, they were able to feel the touch of their counterpart. A Place to Departure functions as a means for hopeful human connection through very small changes to the participants’ sense of touch. The message doesn’t need people to think on the meaning, they literally feel it on their fingertips, the activism and the message is baked into the bones of the work.

Pavoni describes the experience of A Place to Departure as a gentle absorption, a guiding principle for the majority of his creations, and a reflection of how Pavoni approaches the world as a human first and an artist second. The energy and aura of his work he said “comes very curved. It’s not really masculine. I feel like the masculine energy is just so straight, and feminine energy is more curved like a river….it looks at you first and asks your permission. It’s a different approach to life.”

The energy and aura of his work he said “comes very curved. It’s not really masculine. I feel like the masculine energy is just so straight, and feminine energy is more curved like a river….it looks at you first and asks your permission. It’s a different approach to life.”

A Place to Departure was presented again in 2015 in two different districts of Dubai. Pavoni was working to install another chapter of this work in 2023 in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, two weeks before war broke out in the region on October 7th. The message of the work as a means to technologically create a soft yet impressionable link between persons by engaging one of the most essential and affecting senses, is perhaps more vital now than ever. It reminds participants that we are all feeling and experiencing beings, bonded in humanity rather than our external differences.

When used correctly, Pavoni views touch as one of the most simple yet effective methods for transferring meaning. In 2015 he produced his photography series First Sense which captures human responses to contact and the positive connections that can be formed from simple touch.  He explained, “touch feels like the natural thing for a Brazilian maybe…I think this is definitely my first and most beautiful gesture that I’ve ever done in an artwork, because it’s just like, it’s so simple. It works so perfectly. People feel connected. You know, they don’t think they feel connected. They don’t have to think about–think they just feel it. This informs all my work.”

“Touch feels like the natural thing for a Brazilian maybe…I think this is definitely my first and most beautiful gesture that I’ve ever done in an artwork, because it’s just like, it’s so simple. It works so perfectly. People feel connected. You know, they don’t think they feel connected. They don’t have to think about–think they just feel it. This informs all my work.”

The concept of touch or feel as it relates to connection can have numerous definitions. Today, the brand of instant connection that is a running undercurrent of Pavoni’s work goes beyond the realm of physical feel, entering a more heavenly realm. In 2022, Pavoni began work on the Orbital Temple, a 250 gram 5-centimeter by 5-centimeter satellite that allows participants to send the names of lost loved ones into the heavens for all eternity. The satellite is constructed with a golden dome on top, mirroring the Dome of the Rock in Holy Jerusalem.

Pavoni has long been troubled by the confusing dichotomy between religion as both a positive force and a source of abuse for many individuals. Falling outside the prescribed categories of religiosity can have consequences for individuals who break the mold. “Religion has been like the driving force for a lot of prejudices and biases in this world… So it is a tribute for whoever wants to make a tribute for someone. It is a memorial. Is it against religion? No, it’s not against religion, but it’s definitely against religious abuse.”

One would not necessarily consider the black void of space to be a frontier for connection nor a reachable environment of interaction. However, according to Pavoni “space is our environment as much as the forest and the oceans. We know how to fight the fires in our forests because space is our environment, we save millions of lives foreseeing hurricanes, we fight illegal fishing, we turn right on the corner, because space is our environment.” In the case of Orbital Temple space is now a part of the public environment, and it is open for discourse and connection.

Pavoni reflected on the necessity of art, specifically public art as one of the best methods for fostering connection between individuals. “I would definitely just live my entire life doing public installations. This is what motivated me to do anything else. If there was a way to just do that, I would just do that–everything that I do outside of public installations, it’s normally to fund my public installations…I do believe in art as an experience more than a thing that holds value for a certain individual.”

By amplifying that experience through a technological lens Pavoni engages a broad array of human senses through which information is drawn in organically, from both external sensations and internal feelings. The imagined betterment of our collective future starts with small connections and different glimpses of reality such as Pavoni provides, accomplished in a method that feels natural, gentle, and good.

Solvitur en modo, firmitur en rey. Gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it.

Leigh Pennington – Hailing from Richmond Virginia, Leigh Pennington has lived, worked and studied around the world. She earned her BA in Anthropology, Art History, and Religion from Concordia University in Montreal. Last year she moved to New York to pursue a Masters in Oral History at Columbia University. Prior to moving back to the US she earned her first Masters from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jewish Studies. Currently Leigh works as a freelance culture content writer as well as an Op-Ed editor for the Times of Israel. Her writing has been published in major news and opinion media such as Quebec Heritage News, Tablet Magazine and Lilith Magazine.

Instagram: @lb_pennington