0abreakkki.jpgMany industrialized countries are about to suffer of the consequences of an ageing society. The rising costs of social benefits and a decrease in healthcare workers has resulted in the elderly and handicapped community growing lonely and falling into despair. Japan is looking at technology, in particular robotics and cybernetics, to solve some of its social problems.

Martin Postler developed the “Life/Machine – Scenes from a roboted Life? project to investigate the possibility of creating an alternative society in which humans and their alter egos, the robots, can live together in the domestic space. The project started in September 2006 in Japan, where he had undertaken a research residency at the Kyoto University of Arts. He then pursued the project at the Design Products department of the Royal College of Art in London.

The project explores questions such as: Can humanity and technology work together in a factory-like symbiosis, where help and assistance result in a machined life? How much freedom would we have to give up to accommodate the robots needs? How much would we have to bend, how much would we have to adjust to live in such an intimate relationship?

In Martin's near future world the robot has similar physical proportions as the human, but works on common binary computational logics. His intelligence and skills are very limited but that doesn't prevent it from being involved in several every day life procedures to assist and serve the human being in a defined household surrounding.

The project is divided into 3 different areas, representing 3 different everyday routines.

Part 1 - Nutrition
The emphasis lies on the pure physical and interactive need of the human to prepare, store and process food and on the other side on basic robot intelligence attributes like order, color recognition, formal and geometric repetition and reduced functional complexity.

Robot kitchen tools Kyoto 2006

Even a very clean kitchen would be way too complicated for robots as they exist right now. Colors, shapes, functions, order and even the whole concept of a kitchen would have to change. The designer therefore imagined a product system which consists of 74 single elements. All elements can be build up to product structures or “functional landscapes? accommodating the intellectual and functional necessities of both man and robot.

Part 2 - Hygiene
Intimate moments in the robotic household: the robot is brushing the humans teeth, waxing his ears and give him a shaving of his choice.

Robotic ear wax

Martin designed the tools which would make these interactions possible. The main focus lies on the physical exposure and almost humiliating adjustment of the human protagonist to his robotic twin, resulting in an automated morning routine.

Robotic shaving

Part 3 - Leisure
This chapter presents an even more satirical aspect of this relationship by developing a range of “schoolyard games? which are
modified to accommodate both robots and humans needs. The designer attempted to narrow down the human – machine conflict to more bizarre and almost tragicomic scenery referring to more philosophical aspects of the theme.


The project points on the myths of technological development in a rather satiric and ironic way, explains Martin Postler. By choosing a “what if? situation, a parallel world, a realistic scenario I intend to confront the protagonist with his own creation, his technological mirror. On the other side the project celebrates the human condition and the fascination and commitment towards technological progress, the ongoing drive to recreate ourselves.

All images courtesy of Martin Postler.

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554102525_42356074bc.jpgA week ago or so, i read on boingboing and other blogs, many other blogs, about the work of Doo Sung Yoo. Actually i didn't read much, there were just a few words that accompanied a couple of videos of robotic cow tongues and robotic pig stomachs. I started wondering what was behind the spectacular art works. Who is the artist? How did he get interested in robotic and organic pieces? Were they just gimmicks? So i just asked him...

What is your background?

My curiosity about new media arts and mixed media takes me into new areas of study and new major fields. I am from Seoul, South Korea. Before I came here, I was an animator and instructor at Ye-won Arts University. When I was studying for my first B.F.A in Graphic Design in my country, I tried my hand at motion illustrations rather than still graphic images. The university rewarded me by allowing me to study professional animation to gain more advanced experience. For that reason, I worked in an animation studio as animator. After I improved my skills in Digital Animation, I began studying for my M.F.A in Multimedia Animation. During that period, I made experiments on interactive animations with performances. For the projects, I tried interactions between animation and dancing. Although the music, animation, and dance were harmonized through a detailed script, I could not perfectly complete real-time interactions due to poor information about interactive installation in my country. Though I was able to acquire a position as a faculty member teaching I decided to leave my university position in order to move to the USA to study interactive art techniques.

Lies and indigestion at the show

You are a student at the Ohio State University, right?

I am in the Art and Technology B.F.A. major in the Department of Art at the Ohio State University. Last Thursday, June 7, I showed my senior exhibition, in which the robotic cow tongues and a kinetic pig stomach were displayed as part of a series called the Body and Organ Project. Fortunately, the department accepted me in the graduate program, so I can continue to study in this area with the great faculty, colleagues, and alumni of OSU.

My focus is on an intensive study in advanced and mixed real-time interactive media, as well as discovering entirely new media. To achieve success with my works, I am studying laser processes, robotic arts, and visual images that are controlled by interactive computer programming and other electronic equipment. Last quarter, I have made an entertainment urinal, After Duchamp, a distance-activated audio and laser installation. I finally could give Duchamp, who gave me many motivations, a tribute through my technically upgraded urinal. Now, I am launching my new challenge in biotechnology and art, to find new possibilities for my art works.

After Duchamp

Why robotic tongue cows?

The robotic cow tongues and the pig stomach are also parts of a series in the Body and Organ Project. There are many representations in these works; one is that robotic and electronic elements with organs represent advanced biological technology. Today’s medical science can support replacing diseased human organs with new animal organs. If medical science can change all of a human’s organs and add extra functions, much like a computer upgrade, how we can give a definition for a human’s body? For many years now, I have been interested in the body’s biological change in relation to an increasingly technologized society.

553877918_1754e5d272.jpgIn autumn of 2006, I conceptualized and created a 3D sculpture in a course focused on 3D modeling sculpture and rapid prototyping. The final work combined the forms of a hamburger and fat human torso, Hamburgerbody, which is also a part of the series, Body and Organ Project. This piece represents how the human body is damaged due to fast food in modern life, although high technology is solving old medical problems. It is a strange paradox in our society. Hamburgerbody represents damaging or deforming the human body as in decay, however, the robotic cow tongues and pig stomach represent developing or changing an organ as a technological advance.

Another representation is that the cow tongues are jeering at current artists’ focus on fame and popularity for commercial success with insensibility to immoral acts in contemporary art. To express tongues’ jeering movement, I needed a robotic and electronic device. Nowadays, we are surrounded in numerous images and texts due to powerful mass media. People became hardened due to vulgar acts and shock images in mass media. Now many artists are willing to take any risk with shock images and acts for success in market-driven art without considering aesthetic viewpoints. For example, in Nam June Paik’s the first solo exhibition (and the first video art show in modern art), Electronic Television and Exposition of Music, Wuppertal, Germany, 1963, he hung a cow’s bleeding head on a gateway of the gallery. In the same year, Joseph Beuys also hung a dead animal, a rabbit, on a chalkboard for his performance in Festum Fluxorum Fluxus. In Fluxus most active period, 1965, Damien Hirst was born in England. He exhibited cow carcasses and other dead animals as art too, in the 1990s. Marco Evaristti, a notorious shock artist, shot running rats in his performance, Election Day, God save Denmark, 2001. This January 2007, he ate meatballs which were taken from his own body fat by liposuction and the meatballs were displayed in a gallery. What are the different and significant points between Fluxus member Mr Paik and Beuys’ barbaric acts as compared to Damian Hirst and Maroco Evaristti’s brutal art works? Fluxus’ provocative purpose of anti- art movement, frustrating the high culture and market-driven art, denying banal and serious art, and offering opposition to the ideas of tradition and professionalism, at least contributed and had influences on contemporary art, especially multimedia performance and video art. How about current shock artists’ purposes? Are they getting a free ride in the art bus? Are they just eating the fruit of Neo Dadaist or Fluxus’ labors? The tongues mock artists who are following popularity without purpose on a stage of immoral competition, especially acts of killing living animals or using carcasses today. Nam June Paik declared "Art is just fraud. You just have to do something nobody else has done before.? This quotation is full of suggestion in current art. The tongues represent Nam June Paik’s opinion. If Nam June Paik’s tongue is attached to my machine, the tongue might say, “hey, it’s not art!? “neh, boo, hiss!? The tongues also represent other current artists’ tongues. If tongues from shock artists are attached on the machine, the tongues may say that “Ladies and Gentleman! This is the art!? “neh, boo, hiss!? Which tongues are lying now?

Robotic Cow Tongues
What fascinates you in this hybridization of electronics and organic?

The cow tongues and pig stomach are not living organs any more after they are cut from their original bodies. Robotic and electronic devices can give the disembodied organs new life, new position, and new function. Like surgeons’ transplant operations such as replacing a kidney, heart, or lung, artists can mix biological media with machines for new creative works. Disembodied organs that move and react through the use of robotic and electronic devices, are also a kind of animation in a different medium, recalling animation devices such as Phenakistoscope, Zoetrope, and Praxinoscope, before the invention of film. The tongue is not a tongue any more after it is attached on the machine.If someone wants to use the robotic tongue as a sex toy, the tongue can replace the toy with a new position and new function although the customer needs to change the old to the fresh meat on the machine.

What are the challenges of working with "meaty" element?

Honestly, I do not like touching raw meat though I used to eat raw meat and raw fish as these are traditional foods in Korean. Now, I am considering making a change to a vegetarian diet after this experience. The process of making this work has made me sick of bleeding raw meat. It is so terrible that I worked hard to saw, to drill, and to attach raw meat on my machine. During this period, I felt like a cruel person although the organs are just edible meat, readily available at any local butcher shop.

What were you trying to achieve or express with this work?

Developing or changing organs with machines and damaging or deforming organs will offer viewers a new meaning of the body in a high technology society. I would like to bring forth questions about whether the biological body is technologically advancing or simply decaying. Moreover, I would like to arouse artists’ attention to following fame, popularity, financial-success with the excessive and seemingly immoral concept of robotic jeering cow tongues. In the related work Indigestion,a kinetic pig stomach with a churning machine inside shows how a public cannot digest extreme immorality with commercialism.

After the show

How does the public react to it?

Most viewers felt bad and uncomfortable due to the repulsive sight, but they were laughing and enjoying the strange objects. Many people asked me, “are these a kind of sex toy representing some sexual concept?? I said, “if you want it as a toy, I can make a size fit for you?.

Now how about the stomach?

The market price of Damien Hirst’s animal bodies and internal organs are very expensive now and the works are preserved as permanent and unique art works and when they are displayed they attract large crowds. For my works however, no one wants to collect the tainted organs. Moreover, I am not a famous artist, so when I buried the organs, a swarm of flies were just buzzing around and making a big noise.

How does it work technically?

I used a cam mechanism. In the stomach, different shaped discs on a crank are rotating by a gear head motor. I made smooth plastic discs to avoid damaging the thin skin. The plastic plate and motor with discs on the shaft are screwed on a pan and hold the stomach to avoid rolling. I needed to constantly spray water on the surface to prevent the tissue from drying. Ross Baldwin a Columbus artist and also a machine shop supervisor at OSU, was an important facilitator in this production.

Does your work refer or is it inspired by any other artists?

I refer to Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys’ provocative performances, Damien Hirst’s cut up animal bodies, and Stelarc’s concept of extending the human body for my works. Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs’ bio-art works had influence on the works and gave me many motivations. By studying the technical mechanism of Ken Rinaldo’s Autotelematic Spider Bots and Autopoiesis: Artificial life Installation, I can solve many technical problems in my works. I really appreciate these artists’ great ideas, concepts and techniques.

Images courtesy of the artist.

More notes from my conversation with Antonio Cerveira Pinto, the curator of Bios 4. It's probably the first time that so many unstable art works are being shown for several months in a museum (as opposed to a few days in an art gallery during a festival) and, as Antonio notes, the experience has shown that there's a whole new relationship to be built between on the one hand, artists who use technology in their practice and on the other hand, museums which are usually wary of showing works that are not static and "quiet" like paintings are.


The existence of bio art, environmental art and in general new media art constitutes a challenge for museums. They have to be aware that art is evolving, and open up to new artistic forms. New expertise is needed to deal with machines and living things. Robots need to "rest", for example. Otherwise their electro-circuit dies. Museum curators and directors also have to accept that if you want to hide a computer in a sleek box just because it is "ugly", the container should be big enough to avoid any crash when the machine heats up.

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When preparing an exhibition, Antonio Cerveira Pinto likes to set up a small workshop with the museum employees, to explain them what the works are about, how the public should interact with them, what they must be cautious of, etc. I often noticed that exhibition attendants (how do you call them? guards?) seem to be quite happy when they have to keep an eye on interactive pieces. They are proud of showing you how to play with the art work, which buttons should be pushed and how, propose to take a picture of you when you play with a screen-based work, smile when they see how much kids or adults engage with the work, etc. Suddenly they have something to do, they have a knowledge to share.

Artists on the other hand, have to specify clearly how the museum has to manage and take care of the electronic, digital or living bits of their work when they are exhibited over a long period of time (as these pieces are usually shown in the context of a one-week festival). Another challenge for artists is to become experts in usability and design clear interfaces that tell visitors how to interact with their pieces.

The public too has to learn how to engage with these art pieces, adults in particular have spent decades being told "Don't touch!" "Don't go too close!", etc. Both museums and artists will have to take these challenges into account.

First image is from C-Lab's project The Martian Rose. See also their interview and the report they wrote of Bios 4.

Second set of images is from the installation Do robotic cats dream of electric fish? by France Cadet.

Yesterday i spent a few fantastic hours with Antonio Cerveira Pinto in Sevilla. He showed me around Bios4, the exhibition about bio and environmental art he curated at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo. I am going to write about it from A to Z, focussing on some of my favourite pieces and bits of my conversation with Antonio. But let's start the lazy way with just an appetizer of what i've discovered there.


Alexithymia is a term that means the incapacity to verbalize emotions. When some sufferers want to talk but are unable to utter the words, they start sweating to manifest the desire to communicate.

Alexitimia is also the name that Paula Gaetano, an artist from Buenos Aires, gave to her robot. It's a big blob that feels like rubber when you touch it. But it also sweats when you caress its surface. Paula Gaetano has a background in fine art but collaborated with scientists and techno experts to develop the robot. The only sensors are for touch and the only output is water that runs from a tank hidden in the base of the work.

It is creative intuition that permits both the artist and the viewer to leap over logic, whether scientific or artistic, and emotionally experience the problem laid out here of reconciling the "wet" domain of nature with the "dry" domain of electronics.

Winner of Vida 9.0.
Image mas de arte. The robot is not physically in the exhibition but only documented. Flickr set from the exhibition.


Yesterday i was hoping to attend Niklas Roy's presentation of his latest project at the UdK (University of the Arts in Berlin) and instead had to stay home and wait for the gas guy to come and check the boiler.

0aavisti.jpgGallerydrive is a completely automated drive-through art exhibition. The system allows curators and artists to control the way single artworks are perceived, and the way, a whole exhibition will be experienced by a gallery or museum visitor. They can determine how the visitors move in relation to their works but also from which perspective, when and how long each work will be noticed. Besides, artists can define the presentation of (meta-) information over the vehicles display and on the sound environment, in which each work is perceived.

The first element of the project is the Gallerydrive car, a modified wheelchair fitted with a series of features:
- line detection which lets the wheelchair drive autonomously on a track of adhesive tape,
- a touch screen display to inform the user about the artworks or to allow them to interact with the artworks,
- an mp3-player with headphones to emit a soundtrack for the ride through the exhibition,
- an RFID reader, to let the wheelchair perform different actions (change of driving speed, the change of display content, the change of the currently played mp3-track,, etc.), when it passes a RFID tag,
- infrared communication to transmit information between car and course (or artwork),
- and infrared distance measurement sensor to let the car be able to queue in a row of Gallerydrive cars.

08_raum1.jpg 09_raum2.jpg
Niklas closing the room on his professors

So far so good. What makes the experience sound like one of my worst nightmare is the Robotik Room, a large electro-mechanical sculpture that becomes a white cube, when a Gallerydrive vehicle enters it.

The Room is about 50% finished. "I have to push buttons to operate the mechanism and then, the room descends and the walls flap down and surround the visitor(s)," explains Niklas who is still working on the electronics to let it move automatically.


The drawing below shows what it should eventually look like. "Inside the room, there'll be four golden frames, one on each wall," adds the artist. "The wall inside each frame will be cut out, so that the visitors will look outside through those frames instead of seeing normal pictures inside them. Outside the room, there are four installations, which might look strange and abstract, if you have a first look at them. But if you are being driven with the vehicle inside the room, and if you stop at the defined positions for watching each of those "pictures" at the walls, they will appear as an image inside these golden frames."
The alternative title of the Robotik Room is Deus ex Machina, a term which describes a situation in ancient greek theatre plays, where the situation between the figures stalls and a god comes down on the stage, hanging on a big crane, to clear the situation in the play. The Robotik Room will do something similar, coming down from the ceiling and offering a certain perspective onto those abstract surrounding installations, which discloses what the installations are about.

The system itself does not determine contents for an exhibition. But guidelines for the content of exhibitions can be specified for each exhibition.

A project developed together with //////////fur////.

Btw, Niklas' friends at UDK have a very nice Sacral Design exhibition on Karl Marx Allee (images) this week.

Pictures by Arne Fehmel. More images were made by Aram Bartholl during the presentation (i stole one of his as well.) Niklas comments on his piece in a Gizmodo interview.

0davidbowen.jpgI recently spotted on rhizome the work of a young artist called David Bowen. His growth rendering device provides light and food to a plant in the form of hydroponic solution. The plant reacts to the device by growing. The device in-turn reacts to the plant by producing a rasterized inkjet drawing of the plant every 24 hours. After a new drawing is produced the system scrolls the roll of paper four inches so a new drawing can be produced during the next cycle. I found it so charming i decided to ask him a couple of questions about the piece. It rapidly evolved into a full-fledged interview.

Bowen is interested in the outcomes that occur when machines interact with the natural world. Although he has only received an MFA degree from the University of Minnesota in 2004, he has already exhibited internationally and is currently Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

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Growth rendering device

Where does your interest for devices, machines and other systems come from?

As a kid I was always taking things apart to see how the worked. When I got older I began to be attracted to machines as formal objects. I am fascinated by the beauty of systems and machines how their shapes, movements and compositions are determined by their intended function. I became interested in steel and kinetic sculpture as an undergrad. My interest in kinetic sculpture flourished as a grad student at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis under the guidance of my mentor Guy Baldwin and the time I spent working with the Mechanical Engineering Department.

24leavess.jpg 72stemmms.jpg
24leaves and 72stems

Some of your devices look delicate, almost fragile. What governs their appearance?

Many of the forms I construct arise from the function they are intended to perform. If a device uses wind to produce a mark on paper then it should logically be delicate and light in order for the wind to articulate it. In a composition of multiple units the individual devices are given more freedom to move and interact if the are constructed from light weight materials. I used to work with steel but I discovered that manipulating steel is very hard your tools and body, and heavy objects are much more difficult to articulate. Formally plastics and aluminum create a greater contrast with natural forms, movements and systems.

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Phototropic drawing device

I'm particularly intrigued by the Phototropic Drawing Device. How did you come up with the idea? What were the challenges you encountered while developing it?

Phototropic drawing device came after a piece entitled 50drones in which 50 individual units where intended to create organic compositions. The drones where tethered with wires in order to give them power. The phototropic device came from the desire to create a more autonomous device.

In many ways the devices are living things they are powered by and attracted to the nearest most intense light source. They will even detect and respond to the ambient light in a room. When they are not in use I must place the devices solar cell down on my desk, otherwise the will work their way to the edge and commit suicide.

Early experiments with the devices involved setting groups of them near pools of light and allowing them to work their way toward the light, observing the compositions which occurred as the devices attempted to displace one another. This could only go so far because the devices would jumble up and no longer move. The addition of the charcoal and paper allowed a single device to produce a drawing based on its search for food.

50drrrones.jpg 0donessss.jpg

Do you feel that the drawings made by your interactive drawing devices belong to you in a certain way or do you feel that the drawings are made at 100% by the devices? Why? Do you regard each of drawings as pieces of art or is it the process of the drawing that constitutes the artistic component of the work?

I believe the drawings are sort of collaboration between myself, the device and, in the cases of interactive devices, the participants. The drawing devices I construct collect highly qualified data based on it's construction and the way it and the participant respond to the situation. In many cases the drawings on their own are beautiful formal objects, and I do sell/exhibit them on their own. But I feel there needs to be an awareness of how they where created through didactic, video or ideally seeing the device itself in action.

0asssonardrwa.jpgYour pieces are very lively. They interact with natural elements, sensors, other devices, people passing through the exhibition spaces, etc. They seem to have some kind of independent life and you're not part of it. They don't need you anymore. Is my rapid analysis too superficial? How much free will and independance from you do these devices really have?

See previous answer.... In many cases I after creating the device and system I step away and let it do its thing. For example I set up phototropic drawing device in my studio and let it draw. I can go have a sandwich and it's still drawing... I can go teach a class and it's still drawing... one of the drawings featured on my website was produced over four months of continuous drawing. One of my pieces titled sonar drawing device is drawing in the Tweed Museum of Art as I type. The do at times need fresh charcoal or crayons but the do function with relative autonomy.

Many of your pieces feature several units. 50drones, for example, "consists of 50 aluminum and pvc units connected to 10' tethers. Each unit moves independently as they displace and arrange one another in random and unpredictable patterns." What do you see as interesting in objects moving in groups?

"50 drones" came from a desire to eliminate the literal natural form like a twig or leaf, as used in previous pieces, in favor of emulating a natural behavior. The device could be seen to represent a crowd of people a school of fish or particles in a state of disbursement.

What did you try to achieve with Growth Rendering Device? What did you learn by observing this intimate relationship between a plant and a machine?

With growth rendering device I wanted to create reciprocal relationship between a natural object and a mechanical system. The piece is still very new so I continue to observe. But I find it interesting when mechanical systems, motors and micro-controllers behave in unpredictable ways where plants have the tendency to grow in very systematic mechanical ways.

Who are the artists whose work inspires you and why?

I am influenced by many past artists you would expect like Jean Tinguely, Arther Ganson and Cy Twombly for their use of kinetics both literally and through mark making. I am of course influenced contemporary people working with technology like Edwardo Kac, Stelarc, Simon Penny and Natalie Jeremijenko because the address technological elements as materials and utilize technology to integrate mechanical systems with the natural world.

David Bowen's studio

Any upcoming projects you'd like to share with us?

I have an upcoming exhibition at the Rochester Art Center in Rochester, MN opening May 19th. The exhibition will feature "growth rendering device" which will produce a 50 foot scroll drawing of a pea plant as it grows over the three month exhibition. I was awarded a full fellowship to attend the Vermont Studio Center this June and I was awarded a fellowship to attend The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in June, July and August of 2008.

Thanks David!

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