Invisible Choirs examines the automation of artificial intelligence by exploring the pathological ramifications of an increasingly techno-centric society. Focusing on the emergence of artificially intelligent machines, Lem questions the relationship between technological modes of production and physical labor, visibility and identity, and autonomy and monotony.

Comprised of a set of mixed-media, kinetic and sound-based works, the installation’s environment takes the form of an interactive “neural network” – one that renders visible the physical and algorithmic automata that seek to shape our daily lives.

Nolan Lem, long live the new flesh, 2017

Shoes, metal, wood, motors, electronics

18′ x 1′

Within Lem’s installation, the disembodied shoes of long live the new flesh evoke the neurotic polyrhythms that accompany the demands of a relentless labor production. In relationship to this work, engine errors / self-portrait applies a specific type of visual neural network to a dataset of faces of Chinese engineers to teach the computer how to reproduce learned, artificially-constructed portraits. By treating the filtering process as a medium in itself, these digital renderings harness the supposed ‘fuzziness’ in the algorithm to illustrate how an specific  technology can be used as a self-fulfilling form of erasure. By projecting video of himself onto these renderings, Lem creates a cybernetic subhuman that is at once sentient and synthetic, real and imagined.

Nolan Lem, engine errors/self-portrait, 2017

Digital prints, video projection

16′ x 12′

In activations, hundreds of light switches are activated en masse in a cryptic communicative interplay. By subverting the conventional function of the switch as a compliant toggle under human control, this piece posits a future where the strange language of intelligent machines has become normalized and quotidian.

Nolan Lem, activations, 2017

Light switches, wood, plastic, steel, motors, electronics

4′ x 3′ each/ 8′ x 6′ in total


Fingers depicts a month-long documentation of the artist’s onychophagy and dermatophagia (nail and skin biting compulsions) through a sequence of daily procedural photographs.

Nolan Lem, fingers, 2017

Digital renderings

22′ x 17′ each/ 216′ x 51′ in total

And lastly, rocks in roll periodically sets in motion a collection of large river rocks that literally rock and roll atop reciprocating platforms to create a dense composition of sonic mass. The rocks movement and sound symbolize the system’s weights that are tuned and adjusted throughout the course of the network learning process.

Nolan Lem, rocks in roll, 2017

River rocks, wood, steel, motors, electronics

4’x 6′ each/ 16′ x 16′ in total

In totality, Lem’s work examines notions related to the autonomization and pathology of contemporary anxiety through a relational web of engineered, repurposed, and sonic objects.



Nolan Lem is an artist and researcher whose work reflects a broad range of influences and mediums. His sound-based work examines issues related to emergent dynamics, psychophysics, and the synchronization of auditory phenomena.

Lem has premiered work at the Hayden Planetarium at the Natural History Museum, Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation, Pro Arts Gallery, The Wallach Gallery, Spencer Art Museum, and the NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) Conference among others. He has held residencies at MassMoCA, Pioneer Works, and Signal Culture. He has received commissions from the West Harlem Art Fund, the Hall Center for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). He holds degrees in saxophone performance, Electrical Engineering, and received his MFA at Columbia University where he studied at the Computer Music Center.

Lem is currently a PhD candidate at Stanford University where he studies at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) .


Opening Reception: Friday, November 3, 2017, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Closing Reception: Friday, December 1, 2017, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Nolan Lem: New Work exhibition is funded in part by generous grants from The Zellerbach Family Foundation and The Fleishhacker Foundation.