[Future Technology] Robots in Artworks

2020.7.16

In what ways can advances in science and technology affect art? Perhaps we could find the answer to this question from Albert Einstein famous quotes, “The greatest scientists are artists as well”. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” In this world where the boundaries between technology and art are becoming increasingly more blurred, one this clear. Technology can be the source of art and art can inspire technology.

The Robot Era
Robots we’ve only seen in sci-fi movies are casually seeping into our daily lives. Fantasies are becoming our reality and robots are pretty much everywhere today. In Korea, the concept of ‘untact (un+contact)’ meaning contactless or non face-to-face is becoming more important and there is a growing interest in robots. The combination of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the COVID-10 pandemic also seems to be prompting the arrival of the robot era. According to ‘KAIST Future Report’, by 2030, humans and machines will not only be coexisting but will be collaborating with each other. According to ‘Future of the Economy’, a report on future published by Dell Technologies, machines will not be simply following orders but will autonomously participate in commerce and transact with other machines. Their AI will constantly update software and machines will eventually evolve into consumers.

While industrial and service robots are penetrating deep into our everyday lives, we also hear robot-related news in the art world. Art has long been considered the exclusive domain of artists and creative process but we are living in an era in which AI can create art as well. AI has already recreated the paintings of Picasso and Rembrandt exactly as they are and we already have AI artists working in the industry. There are art galleries that only exhibit AI-created works as well. Advanced technologies make creative processes which would have been impossible before, possible. The relationship between humans and technology is changing and we are going through a period in which our perception and definition of aesthetics and creativity are being reset and questioned everyday.

Convergence of Technology and Art 
teamVOID is an artist group comprised of Jaehyuck Bae, Junbong Song and Booyoung Seok who have all graduated Seoul National University with an engineering degree. They are considered some of the leading artists that really focus on converging art, science and technology. Jaehyuck Bae explains that teamVoid wanted to break away from their engineering background and just create something. “We named our team teamVoid because we thought, as engineering majors, we lack the ability and have a long way to go to fill the space of art” says Bae. Their team name shows their modesty but the artworks they create are quite special. They are not tied to the conventional principles of art. Through creative, unique and experimental process, they show ‘engineering aesthetics’ only they can realize. Their artworks intertwined with technologies and artistic elements are difficult to understand at first but they offer us a very visually refreshing experience that is so addictive. They are strange yet captivating. The artworks created by combining science, technology and art definitely offer us a unique experience. They are rational, cold, perfect and stylish.

teamVoid’s Robotic Art 
We can find plenty of artists who use robotic arms overseas but they still pretty rare in Korea. teamVoid will be the first thing that comes to people’s mind when they think of robotic art. teamVoid was also able to collaborate with many famous brands like Samsung, Nike and Gentle Monster because of the robot arms that often appear in their artworks. Nothing is more visually powerful and effective than robots for brands trying to build a futuristic image. People will naturally stop and be mesmerized by the intricate, programmed movements of robot arms. When you step into the world teamVoid creates, you’ll feel that their artworks are futuristic. However, according to teamVoid, the robot arms actually do not represent the future but symbolizes the present. “When we think of robots, we instantly think of the future. But, in reality, robots are already everywhere around us. We decided to use them as a symbol of the present because they are probably the most widely used tools in industrial settings today” says Bae. Like he says, the robot arms teamVoid uses are articulated industrial robot arms famous for their fast speed, high accuracy and munltifunctionality and they’re from a German company called Kuka which has been manufacturing robots for over a century.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), South Korea has the world’s highest robot density. Having 631 robots per 10,000 human workers, Korea’s robot density is way above the global average of 74 robots. The Korean auto and electronic manufacturing industries are so automated that we hardly see any human worker in those fields. Many corporations around the world are already in the process of expanding the use of industrial robots and IFR expects the COVID-19 pandemic will likely accelerate the development and implementation of robotic automation technologies. teamVoid’s work and Jaehyuck Bae’s explanations simply remind us the fact that we have long been living in the robot era.

After collaborating with Korean sunglasses and optical glasses brand Gentle Monster on robot-inspired concepts for a year in 2015, teamVoid has been working with Kuka robot arms to incorporate engineering movements into theatrical narratives. Their work is more like a theatre performance that has a plot and acting robot arms. Their unique artistic approach was shown to the world through a project called which they collaborated on with Gentle Monster. The Malfunction is a play about two AI robots working at a sunglasses factory and one of them discovering consciousness. teamVoid portrays their perspective on system malfunctions through the conflict and harmony of two robots – one that has acknowledged itself through an accidental malfunctioning, and the other that must perform the original duties of a robot. Another work titled, is a performance about the ultimate question – “Will AI robots ever be considered as entities with consciousness?” The performance shows a situation in which humans start to question the possibility of consciousness in a robot the moment it makes an error, deviating from its programmed actions. In which teamVoid showed at the 2017 Gwangju Media Art Festival held under the theme of “Human X Machine System”, teamVoid showed the differences in the way humans and robots recognize and draw objects by making two robots, an elementary students and a college student draw plaster casts. It made the audience ask questions like, “What’s the difference between robots and humans? “So what is the fundamental meaning of drawing?”

Our Social Systems 
Although they have never identified as one, teamVoid is called a media art group. Recently, they have been exhibiting theatrical robotic artworks using robot arms but they also various different art forms including interactive media, kinetic art and light art. And the topic? They usually approach art thinking about ‘systems’. “We want to talk about the systems in our society. We try to visualize a specific social system that exists but is invisible and show it to the audience” explains teamVoid. The desire to visualize and show principles that are becoming increasingly ambiguous and complicated in our society. That is really what made teamVoid embark on their artistic journey.

Their most recent project is called . It is a robotic performance that records real-time population data (birth & death) on a semi-transparent acrylic panel, asking questions about the meaning of birth and death in a massive human-made system and the behavior of recording them. The industrial robot arms in this performance symbolize the devices that will replace human labor and the robotic performance itself physically visualizes the systematic recording processes in our modern society. “We wanted to show the existence of modern data systems using carving which is the most primitive recording method of human civilization” explains teamVoid. Log is a work that clearly shows teamVoid’s intention to portray our systematic society which records the most human-relevant data, births and deaths, with a machine. The project teamVoid exhibited in 2019 at Studio Paradise (Incheon), is a lumino-kinetic work which visualizes how a system changes as time passes. In general, a system transforms itself by adapting to the environment and the relation of its components repeats the cycle of order and chaos. The 26 frames aligned and the geometrical patterns they create show this cycle of order and chaos in our society.

teamVoid confesses that although the last member to join the group is a digital media major, because Jaehyuck Bae and Junbong Song were a mechanical engineering major and electronic engineering major, respectively, in the beginning, there were times where the two were obsessed with developing more advanced technologies. But now, the majority of the work involves planning a project and selecting a topic and technology is not their primary concern. Of course, after developing and expanding an idea, they go on to processing that idea with designing and programming and this involves the use of technology unlike conventional ways of creating art. Nevertheless, technology to them is not just an instrument they use to express and create art. teamVoid’s art is a new form of art where technology is a prerequisite.

Where is technology headed? Where is art headed? The answer is clear. As said earlier, technology will always be the source of art, art will always inspire technology and the two will unceasingly change each other.

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