La Vanité

Albert Kümmel-Schnur

An old school desk with a sheet of paper pinned onto it. An arm holding a black Bic pen. A camera eye attached to a short wooden pole looks at a small table on which objects are placed to form a still life: a human skull, an empty can of beer, a large shining shell and dried poppy pods.
“La Vanité” is a theatrical installation. A nervous sketching robot stripped down to its bare essentials endlessly draws an updated vanitas. The party is over – the beer is drunk, opium enters the blood vessels and manipulates our neurotransmitters, the voluptuous shell is empty, life is gone. The remnants of ecstasy and trance are traces of former intensity. Life is short. Maybe too short. Maybe the party has been nothing but an attempt to forget, to assimilate life and death. So it is either Roy Beatty’s “I want more life, father” or Shakespeare’s “Life’s but a walking shadow”.
The robot here is a little story machine, it is constructed to build stories about humanness. It is not selfcontained, but dependent on our gaze. Having a soulless robot meditating on our mortality raises numerous candid, existential and meaningless questions. It is an allegory of what has been called our posthuman condition: man’s face finally washed out by the ocean, not recognizable anymore as an important figure of knowledge or merely one of its tropes.
As a posthuman entity, the robot, named PaulIX, is not just a secondary agent, a mediating medium helping humans to meditate. It acts as if it is an artist in its own right, producing images that are not preprogrammed. Although the way the robot draws is based on Tresset’s own technique, its style is not a pastiche but rather an autonomous interpretation influenced by the robot’s qualities and faults. Ironically, that is of course a quite human way to reach eternal life: leaving traces for posterity to see.