Art & Technology #26: Robotic Art
Multiple viewpoints and branches
The rapid and continuous advancement of technology gave birth to an astounding art genre; robotic art. Artists have conducted various experiments using robots, while robot technology played a substantial part in expanding and improving artistic expression. Robots used in art come in many shapes and serve multiple purposes, making it difficult to define the genre with just the title of “Robotic art.” Alex Zivanovic collaborates with the cybernetic sculptor Edward Ihnatowicz in operating the website, www.senster.com, about his work titled <Senster>. This website introduces robots in art through an organized table. Robotic art is also demonstrated with robot-generated art, cybernetic sculpture, or performance art, which is represented by the artist Stelarc.
Based in Brazil and presenting BioArt works using genetic engineering, Eduardo Kac has spoken out about the difficulties in delineating robotic art, stating that it is hard to define what a robot is, and that the science and industry definition of “robot” is different from that in the context of art. As you can see from the description above, robotic art covers a vast scope and has multiple branches. The views on robotic art are both similar and differentiated. The scope of robotic art, which includes various examples and methods, can be divided into these categories below.
Robot as a Technology
Robots as a cutting-edge technology are used as materials in art; machines operated by computer programs, installation artworks programmed to respond to the viewers, and art pieces using computers, sensors, and actuators. Sending messages directly to the viewers through software using robotic technology, these artworks can also be described as an extension of physically moving pieces of kinetic art. Cybernetic art—works responsive to the surrounding environment such as technological devices or movement and sound provided by the viewers—also employs robots as technology, as does sound art and media art. Robots have enabled various expression techniques in contemporary art and pushed its boundaries. One notable robotic artist, Rebecca Horn, connects natural objects and gadgets to explore the existence of machines and objects, and discover new artistic value. The aforementioned Stelarc is famous for his performances using robot technology. Bill Vorn’s <Hysterical Machines> in 2002 was also a shocking event in the history of robotic art.
Robot as an Object or Subject
Meanwhile, there are also artists such as Nam June Paik, who create art pieces that use robots as an object(artistic concept, material, or objet). Virgil Widrich created <Make/Real>(2010), the chronicle of machines, robots, and human life based on science fiction movies produced from the early 20th century. Peter William Holden also presented outstanding artworks by transforming mechanical movements of artificial arms and legs into a group dance. While the first category involved approaches to a robot in the objective sense, robots play the subjective role of creator in the second. Robots are not only methods for creating art but act as artists, demonstrating its own artistic abilities and replacing the artist and performer in the meantime.
Last year, a robot that can drink and socialize with people drew much attention in the media. However, could robots truly take the place of the artists? It would be hard for robots to mimic the artists perfectly. While robots are capable of simple actions such as cleaning, creative activities are still regarded as unique acts that only humans can perform. Here, we need to recall the works of Patrick Tresset displayed at the Robot Essay exhibition held at MMCA(National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea) last year. In <5 Robots Named Paul>(2012), the robots became the artists. Robots drew the viewers and acted as a creator in place of an artist, creating a sensation and raising concerns.
Beyond Robots and Art
Methods and categorization applied in approaching the concept of a robot are just as varied as the number of artistic forms that employ robots. However, one should keep in mind that the definition and categorization of robotic art will take into consideration the mythical, etymological, and industrial aspects of robots. There is no right answer in art. Anything can be and should be defined easily. It is up to each of us to decide what context should be chosen. If artists, however, conduct challenging and various experiments, a new genre of art could be created. With the concept of a robot being ceaselessly expanded, it is meaningful to go through these different areas and categories. Encouraged by these experiments and public attention, robotic art on another level could come into being.
In the spring of 2016, the match between the Korean Go grandmaster SeDol Lee and the America’s Go robot AlphaGo amazed spectators all over the world. One might wonder if another AlphaGo could appear in the art scene. From now on, robots will evolve in much more specialized branches and greater variety. Robots and humans should coexist in philosophical, ethical, and artistic realms, endeavoring to find the way to harmonious coexistence. Artists have depended on robots to express their artistic imaginations in various contexts. Will the creative activities of humans intersect with the area of machines? Even if technology has seen rapid development in a short time, the imaginations of artists will always stay one step ahead, dreaming something beyond the bounds of reality. Human dreams and robot technology presented brilliantly through works of art would make an ideal picture.■with ARTINPOST
Wyatt Niehaus still from <Body Assembly – White Exteriors> 2014
Video, color, silent; 2:52 min. Collection of the artist Image courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art
Adelita Husni-Bey still from <After the Finish Line> 2015
Video, color, sound; 12:53 min. Collection of the artist; courtesy Galleria Laveronica, Modica Image courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art
Alex Da Corte = with Jayson Musson <Easternsports> 2014
Four-channel video, color, sound; 152 min., with four screens, neon, carpet, vinyl composition tile, metal folding chairs, artificial oranges, orange scent, and diffusers. Score by Devonté Hynes. Collection of the artists; courtesy David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen, and Salon 94, New York. Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2014 © Alex Da Corte; image courtesy the artist and Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania Image courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art
Installation View of <UniAddDumThs> May 25-July 16, 2016, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, Rome.
Image courtesy Mark Leckey and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome. ⓒ Mark Leckey Image courtesy of Museum of Modern Art
Patrick Tresset <5 Robots Named Paul> 2012
Robotic installation Dimensions variable Courtesy of the Artis
Virgil Widrich <Make/Real> 2010
6mins video Dimensions variable Courtesy of the Artist
Stelarc <Extended Arm> 2000-2015
Petricia Picinini <The Welcome Guest> 2011
Wade Marynowsky <The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeois Robot 2> 2010
Lynn Hershman Leeson (b. 1941), X-Ray Woman, 1963.
Acrylic, graphite, and ink on canvas, 36 5/8 x 19 1/4 in. (93 x 48.8 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York © Lynn Hershman Leeson; photographs by Marc Brems Tatti; images courtesy Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York, Museum of Modern Art