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Monumental bodies, small brains

Ironically, the ticket dispensers at the Cité's entrance were as well artistic and more intelligent and cooperative than the works presented as robot art.

Robotic Art at Cité des Sciences. Until January 4, 2015

If you like big and large works of art, The "Robotic Art" exposition at Cité des Sciences (Paris, La Villette) will have full eyes of it. For many works, sizes have to be counted by meters, and sometimes in tens of meters. Spectacular, no doubt, and not without grace.

But if you look for advanced intelligent, emotional and communicating robots, you will be disappointed, and will perhaps find more interesting the billing automata at entrance, of which the bodies, by the way, are carefully designed an can be considered also as works of art... and more interactive and connected that anything else exposed.

A heavy robot arm, an enormous canvas, and a patient painting along several weeks... The big picture (Robotlab) dwarfs us humans wih our fallible and sometimes akwards hands. But for which depth in autonomy? Nobody seems interested to say it.

But let's not be too grumpy. Seriously interested young public could also get well led presentations of neural netwoks, learning and Nao robot behavior. And some masterpieces deserve to be mentioned.

The Big Picture, by Robotlab is the most robotic of all the works. An industrial robot paints, at small srokes, a very long (60 meters) canvas, rolling in front of its brush. It takes several months for each work . Unfortunately, it is difficult to know which kind of algorithms and software control the creation. It seems to be mainly a kind of non photo-realisitic rendering of a landscape. Painting robot arms have been present in digiatl art shows since the 1990's at least. If this work marks a record, its by its size. But nothing would prevent to make it more fascinating adding some really generative creative program.It would also be more interesting if the algorithms were explained.

A perfect precision gives a new life to the old art of light projected on water droppings. Enjoy.

3D water matrix, by Christian Partos and Shiro Takatani gives a very perfect realization of light projection on waterfalls. The most famed are the Agam's fountains (the valves control jets thrown vertically). More simple woks ones project images on a falling water cutain. The original point comes here for the precision and regularity of the water down throws from valves at the top, in very regular lines, which shine in a uniform light field. It is also a first (as far as we know) for the high number of valves (900), disposed as a matrix. Video on Youtube (in French).

Japan, as always, brings elegance. Here with the Cosmic Birds of Shun Ito (Linear dynamic sculptures with lights) and the Nonsense Machines by Maywa Denki, who show also some instruments let to the public to play.

The ther works have little to do with robotics, but are, by diverse ways, impressive by their size.

As always the Japanese touch brings gracefull style to shapes, moves and lights (Shun Ito).

The centrifuge brain project by Till Novak imagines delirous funfair machines, supposedely useful to study the effects of forces on the brain. See the presentation on Vimeo. The presenter looks like a mad scientist, but now doubt the images are big and hair raising.

Animaris, by Theo Jansen uses natural energies (wind, for instance) to animate large and light structures. A kind of artificial life, with no electronics.

Fallling Light, by Troika. Pleasant. At least children like to play with the white spots on the ground.

More than in the artworks presented, intelligent robotics is present through tutorial presentations to children, using neural networks and robots like Nao.

Project of Seeking for Cooperation with Scientific Teams, by Lu Yang, opens ways to reflexion. Art and science cooperation is an immense topic...

Le chemin de Damastès, by Jean-Michel Bruyère, is a sinister row of full size hospital beds, whose motors are controlled by a computer. A compelling evocation of the hospital patient led to death by a complex machinery. Robotic?

The Totemobile, by Chico MacMurtrie is an enormous example of cinetic art. A car transforms itself into a very large totem. See the webpage.

Our conclusion: this show let's us with a feeling of powerlessness facing large and not friendly machines. Be they graceful (Ito) or sinister (Bruyère), they are neither generative nor cooperative.

Totemobile, by MacMurtrie sums up the spirit of this exposition: an admirative crows in front of a idolized but quite brainless machine.

Seen like this, robotic art belongs to the contemporary art realm, and its hopeless global message. But at least all the works (with the exception of Bruyère) can be called "beautiful" in the classical sense, and this beauty is superbly rendered in the printed catalog.

More positive, "intelligent" and cooperative robotic art is nevertheless emerging... elsewhere, as we reported for instance about Laval Virtual 2014.

But our standpoint is certainly disputable. If you can, look by yourself to the webpages ot the exposition, to its catalogue and still better of course, pay a visit to the Cité des Sciences. And why not send us your impressions ?

Pierre Berger







Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.






Galerie Charlot An important supporter of digital art.