Wednesday 31 May 2017

This Artist Has a Classroom of Robots That Chat, Count and Draw Portraits

20 robot students are busy working hard in a uniquely designed classroom near Southwark station in London. To talk to each other, they use a language inspired by the Morse code. While they are talking, their robot teacher asks them to settle down and begins to take the register. Once all the robots’ presence has been recorded, the class for the day begins, where the robots devotedly learn to count through tally, i.e. by drawing lines in their notebooks.

Patrick Tresset, an artist, in his latest exhibition, Machine Studies, included this robot classroom. His robots comprise of a camera and a pen held by a robot arm, which is controlled by a laptop concealed in a traditional school desk that is actually the robot’s body. Inspired by Tresset’s personal experience during his schooldays in France, the robot class finish an entire range of activities in Human Study #4.

Robots Displaying Human Traits and Performing Human Functions

All the robot students’ have synchronised actions but each robot has unique movements. Tresset programmed the robots to portray various behavioural qualities, such as uneasiness or timidity. Some robots appear to actively take part in the task allotted to them whereas others work a little slower, with a level of nervousness as compared to the others. Tresset says his study is about observing human nature than technology and is focused on how we can make robots more human.

In his other work, Human Study #1 3RNP, three robots wait with pens, ready to draw portraits of humans sitting in front of them. In a span of 30 minutes, the camera or “heads” are raised to view the subject and they start sketching frantically , stopping every once in awhile to have a look at their composition. Tresset has programmed each robot in such way that it can roughly imitate his own style of drawing but not fully and has left some room for the robot to use its own style. Therefore, Tresset says he cannot foresee what their final portraits will look like.

Robots Being Involved In Artistic Exhibitions

The exhibition is part of MERGE Festival held in London’s Bankside district. Donald Hyslop, head of community partnerships at the Tate Modern and chair of Better Bankside, says that the whole point of this festival is to not limit art to just museums but to extend it into new contexts within a community. He states that one doesn’t need to visit Berlin or Lisbon for experiencing interesting industrial spaces and instead this can be experienced in this part of London in Bankside where there are many hidden spaces. Tresset’s work is put up on display at Platform Southwark.

Angie Dixon who is project and production manager at Illuminate Productions, curates this festival and says that visitors are always interested to have their portrait drawn by Tresset’s robots. She herself had her portrait drawn earlier in 2012 by an earlier version of the robots. That time they were not able to differentiate between dark and light skin and so her portrait was like scratching on paper.

Nevertheless, she says she was not disappointed and it was an interesting experience for her. Tresset stated that robots cannot be counted as a threat to human artists as of now. His robots sign their creations and yet he counts himself as the author. He is currently involved in machine learning and says eventually he would want his robots to improvise and create their own style.

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