These Machine Art pieces show a range of artworks using digital technologies, analog and electromechanical machines, or some combination of each. I’ve chosen several exemplars of this type of work that are both art (an aesthetic object with no utilitarian function save the viewers pleasure-of-looking) and a machine (a device which performs a series of functions and transformations in the real world that would seem to imply a use-value).
None of these exist only digitally or virtually: they are all real-world objects which may have a digital component. For instance, Jansen’s Strandbeest is an analog machine which “remembers” where it is on the beach with a rudimentary digital computer made out of plastic water bottles that function using a binary calculation system.
The “Robotic Chair” created by Dean et al. is a mechanical chair installation that has a computer component that sends information to the “brain” within the chair so that it can put itself back together after falling apart.
I chose the work based on an arbitrary set of criteria:
- The art needed to be created using the essential materials of the modern day, i.e. new media, machine technologies.
- The work needed to exist in the real world.
- The work need to be modular.
Based on this set of criteria the artist would either have to have been an engineer or programmer or would have had to collaborate with one (as was the case with Max Dean). Jansen’s work is perhaps an exception to the first criteria since it uses only plastic bottles and tubing (plastic was invented in 1855), but the “brain” of the creature could not have been invented until Alan Turing’s 1937 paper describing the “Universal Machine”.
That the art needed to exist as a real-world object was based on my observation that art experienced through a computer is “emotionally diluted”. When you see artwork on your home computer the emotional “echoes” of every other activity you engage in on that computer are still in the periphery: obsessive email checking, browsing websites to avoid real work and every other unfocused use of your time. These feelings and behaviors are still there and trained into us in some Pavlovian distracting way, diluting the intensity of emotion that would otherwise be experienced through to the artwork.
In this sense, a painting or a sculpture is a more “pure” or elegant form of work than of an art computer program because it is only what it is and there are fewer emotional distractions and associations at the unconscious level (at least upon the viewer’s first experience of the work).
The work needed to have some base amount of modularity as an art object. This was an aesthetic judgment of mine, fulfilling to some degree the mathematical ideal of “elegance”. An equation is considered elegant when it describes the maximum amount of behavior or phenomenon needed with the minimum number of component pieces.
I observe that while a huge unwieldy art installation can sometimes create more impact than a smaller work, it is just as often laziness on the part of the artist.
Size matters but it also have a non-linear relationship to the intensity of emotion. I chose works that were compact and pithy.
Cory’s Yellow Chair
“Cory’s Yellow Chair” is a Machine Art Moving Sculpture of a chair that flies apart and comes back together perpetually.
This kinetic sculpture piece is about time.
The chair is about four inches tall and explodes away to about four feet.
The question explores “When is now?”
The chair exists in the together for just a moment and then flies away.
The Atlantic Monthy on Arthur Ganson
Theo Jansen: StrandBeest
Theo Jansen creates creatures/machines that walk around on the beaches using the wind and wind they store as energy. They avoid the water, which would cause them to drown, and also avoid the dry sand.
They are made of plastic tubing, plastic bottles, and some sort of fabric.
Jansen has been creating these creatures since 1990 and one day hopes they will be completely self-sufficient to live on their own in herds.
Perhaps one day they will be able to reproduce themselves.
Since 1990 I have been occupied creating new forms of life.
Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind, so they don’t have to eat.
Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.
Storing the Wind
Self-propelling beach animals like Animaris Percipiere have a stomach . This consists of recycled plastic bottles containing air that can be pumped up to a high pressure by the wind. This is done using a variety of bicycle pump, needless to say of plastic tubing. Several of these little pumps are driven by wings up at the front of the animal that flap in the breeze. It takes a few hours, but then the bottles are full. They contain a supply of potential wind. Take off the cap and the wind will emerge from the bottle at high speed. The trick is to get that untamed wind under control and use it to move the animal. For this, muscles are required. Beach animals have pushing muscles which get longer when told to do so. These consist of a tube containing another that is able to move in and out. There is a rubber ring on the end of the inner tube so that this acts as a piston. When the air runs from the bottles through a small pipe in the tube it pushes the piston outwards and the muscle lengthens. The beach animal’s muscle can best be likened to a bone that gets longer. Muscles can open taps to activate other muscles that open other taps, and so on. This creates control centres that can be compared to brains.
via Storing the Wind at Strand Beest
On the Book “The Great Pretender” By Theo Jansen:
No creature on earth is better at pretending than we humans. The title of this book is a way of saying that our daily life is nothing other than a show played out in our minds. We have a talent for creating a fantasy world. Luckily for us. He who is unable to daydream becomes hopelessly depressed. Our talent for simulating is so strong that we are even able to pretend that we exist. We simulate a first-person form, an ‘I’.
In The Great Pretender, kinetic artist Theo Jansen shows that the ‘I’ we envision is a tool in our evolution. We need this tool to be selfish. There can be no selfishness without the I-fantasy. Since 1990 Theo Jansen has been engaged in creating new forms of life: beach animals. These are not made of protein like the existing life-forms but from another basic stuff, yellow plastic tubing. Skeletons made from these tubes are able to walk. They get their energy from the wind, so they don’t have to eat like regular animals. They evolved over many generations, becoming increasingly adept at surviving storms and water from the sea. Theo Jansen’s ultimate wish is to release herds of these animals on the shore. In redoing the Creation, so to speak, he hopes to become wiser in his dealings with the existing nature by encountering problems the Real Creator had to face.
The Great Pretender is a testimonial to his experiences as God. It’s not easy being God; there are plenty of disappointments along the way. But on the few occasions that things work out, being God is the most wonderful thing in the world.
More info on the StrandBees and Theo Jansen
Opto-Isolator By Golan Levin and Collaborators
2007 | Golan Levin with Greg Baltus / Standard Robot Company
The Opto-Isolator is a work of art that interrogates the object/viewer relationship. The artwork stares back at the viewer.
Golan Levin and collaborators have stripped down the “viewer” into the fewest possible components: a single eye, and the rest of the machine apparatus and programming that controls the eye. The eye looks back into the viewers’ eyes: tracking the motion of the viewer and adhering to the basic social norm of looking away for a moment after eye-contact has been made for too long.
The piece is programmed to blink one second after the viewer blinks.
Opto-Isolator (2007: Golan Levin with Greg Baltus) inverts the condition of spectatorship by exploring the questions: “What if artworks could know how we were looking at them? And, given this knowledge, how might they respond to us?” The sculpture presents a solitary mechatronic blinking eye, at human scale, which responds to the gaze of visitors with a variety of psychosocial eye-contact behaviors that are at once familiar and unnerving. Among other forms of feedback, Opto-Isolator looks its viewer directly in the eye; appears to intently study its viewer’s face; looks away coyly if it is stared at for too long; and blinks precisely one second after its visitor blinks.
Mechatronic design and fabrication by Greg Baltus of Standard Robot Company, Pittsburgh. Opto-Isolator was developed with support from the Creative Capital Foundation, from the Berkman Faculty Development Fund at Carnegie Mellon University, from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship award program, and from an anonymous Trustee of Carnegie Mellon University. Additional thanks to Frank Broz, Fran Flaherty and Dave Tolliver for their advice and assistance in realizing this project, and to Marius Watz, Grisha Coleman, Alice Lodi and Juliacks for their help in documenting it. Photographs by John Berens; video by David Plakke and Golan Levin.
The Robotic Chair by Max Dean et al.
The “Robotic Chair” was conceived by artist Max Dean and created by engineer Raffaello D’Andrea.
The sturdy-looking wooden chair stands still and then suddenly falls apart into six pieces.
After a few moments, the chair begins reassembling itself via a computer “brain” elsewhere in the room that tells the chair where its pieces are.
After seeking out its separate pieces and reattaching them, the chair stands, carefully pushing itself up by its feet.
Only to collapse and fall apart once again.
The robotic chair won acclaim at the 2006 Ars Electronica conference and the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Canada.
Creation of the Chair
As system architect for the chair, D’Andrea figured out how the robot, which involves 14 motors, two gearboxes and many other parts, would accomplish the task of autonomous self-assembly. Donovan and Lowe built the robot, while D’Andrea outlined the engineering specifications and wrote the algorithms that bring the chair to life. The robot uses a sophisticated algorithm to know how to find its component pieces and build itself back up. It communicates with a computer, which sends commands to the chair’s “brain” in the seat so it knows which pieces it needs next.
The Website of Raffaello D’Andrea
The Double-Taker is a long snout with a large googly on the end that appears to be continually surprised by the passers-by.
The anthropomorphic machine tracks the spectators that move the most in the immediate vicinity via figure-tracking software and indicates continual surprise by the spectator through its body language and googly eye.
“Double-Taker (Snout)” (interactive installation, 2008) deals in a whimsical manner with the themes of trans-species eye contact, gestural choreography, subjecthood, and autonomous surveillance. The project consists of an eight-foot (2.5m) long industrial robot arm, costumed to resemble an enormous inchworm or elephant’s trunk, which responds in unexpected ways to the presence and movements of people in its vicinity. Sited on a low roof above a museum entrance, and governed by a real-time machine vision algorithm, Double-Taker (Snout) orients a supersized googly-eye towards passers-by, tracking their bodies and suggesting an intelligent awareness of their activities. The goal of this kinetic system is to perform convincing “double-takes” at its visitors, in which the sculpture appears to be continually surprised by the presence of its own viewers — communicating, without words, that there is something uniquely surprising about each of us.