Robot Art

As an artist I am preoccupied with figuring out the confounding aspects of other cultures by creating new forms inspired by their artifacts. I believe that understanding the creative process is one way of gaining greater insight into the questions of what motivates another.

I am interested in composition as a form of intersubjectivity; in other words, composition as a way of understanding my own motivations and reactions to my environment through the experience of other people experiencing my perspective. Each individual has an idiosyncratic form of expression or approach to understanding; however, it can be difficult for us to fully understand and embrace our own inclinations toward expression. If we can figure out a way to fully understand our own ways of making meaning, we can then create a work that relies on that intuitive process and share it with others. It is at this moment that composition can become a form for understanding those whose experiences we do not share, and in turn have difficulty truly understanding.

Surrendering to form allows for a more intuitive and less rational understanding of art. The Robot Project relies on an intuitive process to shift the form of old electronics by breaking down the originalinto its basic parts, and reconfiguring these in a new way that also speaks to its intrinsic meaning or function. This process of “form-shifting” uses idiosyncratic artistic processes to translate unfamiliar objects (whether cultural or from a new genre or discipline) into familiar forms. Through this method I am able to explore and express my relationship to a new environment by way of these form-shifted objects.

In the case of the robots, I found a man selling used electronic objects (such as broken televisions, remote controls, and power distribution boxes) he had collected from various dilapidated building sites. He had made it his job to go through dust-covered piles between old couches and dining room tables, in apartments that were about to be demolished, and collect electronics that had been left behind. Such defunct and discarded items represent not only their technological era, but also the human compulsion to build and to animate. These become the building blocks of my sculptural robots—my own whimsical way of representing technology as a life form.

Form-shifting is the process of creation that aims to come as close as possible to the semblance of the original by re-composing, or composing the same object using a different form entirely. Inevitably this process requires intuitive movement from analysis to expression. My queries about the world around me provide the basis for my intuitive movement from analysis of the original technical object, to the form-shifted expression of the composed robots.

The process begins when I purchase old electronic objects from the dilapidated building site, take them home and put them on a table where they wait. When inspired, I move a piece to the worktable, where screwdrivers, wrenches, and hot glue gun await. I take the object apart and strip it of all internal pieces such as wires, capacitors, resistors, and circuit boards. I then spread out all the individual components in front of me. I observe them, touch them, and visualize them in new ways. This is the moment when if I was writing an academic essay for example, I would reference other texts in order to establish a fresh perspective or persuasive argument.

In fact the robot art project led to a discussion with a colleague about the potential of using this process as a way to teach analysis and expression. The resulting workshop challenged students to understand how to create an original argument by building their own robots. The goal was to have them think in terms of using only the parts of a single deconstructed text. Our goal in this workshop was to show how our personal connections with elements of the things that we read are guiding factors in our analysis of these texts and in turn of the way we choose to express connections between ideas in academic writing. The robot workshop asked students to form-shift their understanding of the academic essay writing process by applying the same principles to the process of robot making. A major learning objective was for students to more intuitively understand the academic essay writing process by way of being hands on with the physical process of deconstructing electronic objects and then using their intuitive process and experience to put the pieces of the objects back together in a new form.

Student’s of an undergraduate writing course, were put into teams and asked to deconstruct four electronic objects, assess the internal pieces that they found, and then choose ways of reconstructing something new, with the pieces. Each group was given the same or similar objects, and worked over a two hour period in breakout spaces, deconstructing, and re-composing the new “robot,” carefully deliberating over the deconstructed parts, and making decisions about which parts to include in the reconceptualized product. All groups came back together with their robots to discuss their creative process of robot building, and to share their experience. Most importantly the students observed how, though each group was working with the same electronic objects, core texts, their decisions and preoccupations with elements of those objects, lead to unique robot creations by each group.

Crucial to this process of form-shifting is the intuitive process, which seems difficult to quantify. Within Robot Art, the artist’s initial perception of the technical object is that it holds inside the key to a more interesting opportunity for reconceptualizing the object. The excitement is how to configure the pieces inside the object into something else, and to not be certain what is driving the intuition behind the decision making that enables the translation of form.