This season is hot for robots and moving machines in Canada.
This summer starts with several projects featuring and dealing with robots and automata, confirming a renovated attention for this particular theme. The tendency can be felt all around Canada, from the Vancouver Art Gallery, where a touring exhibition will soon focus on the image of the cyborg from the 19th century to our days, to the Walter Phillips gallery at the Banff Centre for the Arts, where the exhibition ‘Sentient Circuitry’ is ongoing, to finish with Toronto, where robots and mechanical puppets have made their appearance on web sites and exhibitions.
The Vancouver ‘The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture’ explores the historical and contemporary representation of the combination of human and machine, both in visual arts and popular culture. It will include works examining the uncanny presence of the machine in western culture: 19th century automatons and scientific photographs will be exhibited along with contemporary works by Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami and Survival Research Lab among others. What seems to be the most interesting part of this comprehensive exploration is the inclusion of a section dedicated to Japanese anime, comic books and contemporary films representing the cyborg to complete this incredibly rich project.
The exhibition proposed by the Walter Phillips Gallery explores the implications of the human fascination with Artificial Intelligence: the artworks, defined there as robotic sculptures, not only challenge the conventional utilitarian definition of the robot, but also show alternative ideas of personality, dysfunction and community. The curator statement, as well as the general appearance of the exhibition, seems to be taken from the movie AI by Spielberg: the robots are defective, dysfunctional and seem to have a personality. ‘Hysterical Machine’ by Bill Vorn addresses the idea of diversity and deviant behaviour: his creature produces sudden convulsive movements, creating the impression that something is malfunctioning.
Reva Stone’s ‘Carnevale 3.0’ is a motorized creature representing herself as a girl. By wandering around the gallery, the robot records its experience with visitors and projects memories of these encounters from a video projection unit. ‘Helpless Robot’by Norman White is a speaking robot which can move only with human assistance. Its requests for assistance range from boredom to arrogance and overstimulation, depending upon its present and past experience.
The source code for ‘Helpless Robot’ has recently been published on the Toronto based Year Zero One web site. By sharing the script on the internet, the artist is inviting creative individuals to help him creating a net-based version of the robotic project.
A special mention has to be made about another project, which can be enjoyed in these days in Toronto: Tamara Stone’s ‘Come Expecting for Miracles,’ shown at the mocking collective exhibition ‘There’s hair in my cake’ at Mercer Union. Her contribution is not a ?conventional’ robot, but a coin-operated puppet, which features Jesus singing a famous musical melody, while lambs and fish dance in the background. Here the intention is nor challenging the traditional role of the machine, neither exploring its capacity to elaborate human feelings: by using the puppet, the content acquires an ironic flavour instead of resulting offensive or blaspheme. Robots are also entertaining. Sometimes.
– The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture
– Sentient Circuitry
– The Helpless Robot
– There’s Hair in my Cake