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The human side of artbots

The robots Neil and Iona greeting me.

I was greeted at the portal to the gallery space by Neil and Iona. It didn’t matter at that point whether the rest of the ArtBots exhibit at Esther Klein Gallery was going to be any good or not. I fell in love.

It’s hard not to give the robots human qualities in ArtBots, an exhibit of robotic art and/or artist-making robots. The only down side to the exhibit is that not all of the robots were in gear.

But the ones that were stole my heart. Yes, Neil and Iona were not the only objects of my affection.

But first a word of explanation. ArtBots is an international arty robot talent contest that has been going on since 2002, and the larger exhibits have been shown nationally and internationally. In additional there are smaller regional exhibits like this one. And another word of explanation–the Klein Gallery changed its mission about half a year ago to showing art that has some connection to science. So far, ArtBots is by far my favorite attempt at meshing the disciplines, and Neil and Iona are one of the reasons.

Neil (left) and Iona, by Jason Van Anden

Neil and Iona, created by Jason Van Anden are giant Weeble shapes topped by tv-heads showing animated hand-drawn mouths. The bodies lean and turn, thereby suggesting emotion and a conversation.

Actually, there really is some sort of conversation going on. The gallery notes state, “Each is capable of manipulating the other’s feelings.” Iona especially, with her droopy breasts and curvy butt is a robotic Venus of Willendorf. I’m not sure who Neil was modeled after–Homer Simpson? I don’t recall hearing the sounds they make, but I accepted them right off the bat as fellow creatures with intelligence and charm.

Misericordiam, by Ranjit Bhatnagar

There’s no attempt to create a humanoid with Misericordiam, by Ranjit Bhatnagar, an accordion hung from a rope. It compresses and, thanks to gravity, decompresses with a convulsive abandon. I don’t know if it had any other purpose than humor, but I didn’t feel like I needed more.

The art created by Retrospectrum 3.0 which was in turn created by Yoav Bergner and LoVid

The only other working piece, Retrospectrum 3.0, by Yoav Bergner and LoVid (Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus), needed too much explanation. It is a robot that makes video images using three camera eyes plus a “brain”–and “arms” on tracks that look like traveling backpacks. The backpacks create interference to modify the signal sent by the eyes, thereby creating the “art,” which is projected on a screen.

String Ball Collector, by Ellen Lake and Chris Green

I was disappointed that the other pieces weren’t working, because they all looked interesting, especially the String Ball Collector by Ellen Lake and Chris Green. The mere choice of string balls was unexpected. Apparently, the rolling robot collects the balls, and as it collects them, it ejects them, thereby rearranging the balls into new patterns (that’s the art).

On the side of the main exhibit is one of robotics by local high school students.