HUMAN STUDY #1
Human Study #1, is an installation where the human becomes an actor. In a scene reminiscent of a life drawing class, the human takes the sitter’s role to be sketched by a number of robots. When the subject arrives by appointment, he is seated in an armchair. An assistant attaches sheets of paper on to the robots’ desks and wakes each one up, twisting its arm or knocking three times.
The robots, stylised minimal artists, are only capable of drawing obsessively. Their bodies are old school desks on which the drawing paper is pinned. Their left arms, bolted on the table, holding black Bic biros, are only able to draw. The robots, RNPs all look alike except for their eyes, either obsolete digital cameras, or lowres webcam. Their eyes focus on the subject or look at the drawing in progress. The drawing sessions last up to 40 min, during which time the human cannot see the drawings in progress. The sitter only sees the robots alternating between observing and drawing, sometimes pausing. The sounds produced by each robot’s motors create an improvised soundtrack. The sitter is in an ambivalent position, at the mercy of the robots’ scrutiny, but also as an object of artistic attention. As the model in a life drawing class, the human is without personality, an object of study. The human sitter is passive, the robots taking what is perceived as the artistic role. Although immobile, the model is active in keeping the pose, for the spectators the sitter is an integral part of the installation.
The RNP was originally developed by Tresset to palliate a debilitating painter’s block. It could be seen as a creative prosthetic or a behavioral self-portrait. Even if the way Paul draws is based on Tresset’s technique, its style is not a pastiche of Tresset’s, but rather an interpretation influenced by the robot’s characteristics. The drawings progressively cover the gallery’s walls, day after day.
5RNP was premiered at the Merge festival in association with Tate Modern in London in 2012, it has since been exhibited at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts (Seoul) at Ars Electronica 2014 (Linz), BOZAR (Brussels), Variation (Paris), BIAN (Montreal), Update_5 (Ghent) where it was awarded the Prix du Public and 3rd Prix du Jury, Mori Museum (Tokyo)
HUMAN STUDY #1
I conceived Human Study #1 both as an performative theatrical installation. The work features a number of robots (1, 3 or 5), each one representing a stylised drawer. They are designed to be the most minimal robots capable of drawing from observation. The robots are of the Paul IV series. Their bodies are old wooden English exam school desks, each robot has a left handed planar robotic arm bolted to the desktop. The arm is designed to have the same proportions as a human but with only the possibility of moving the pen in the plane, it has four actuated joints. The last joint stands for the hand and can move up and down. On the hand an element from a compass is used to hold the pen, a black biro, a traditional Bic cristal medium.
Spectators often ask about the Bic biro and if there are motivations for their use in the installation, there are a number of reasons. When making a mark is it not black, it is dark gray, it is only the layering of traces which will create black, this enables a variety of tones and textures. The biro is a very reliable and predictable tool, pigmented and other felt pen dry and get dirty only being functional for a few hours, a Bic can draw for 3 days 10 hours a day without monitoring. Since 1950 the “stylo Bic” has seen minutes changes, it is recognised a very french iconic design. It reminds me of childhood, of the drawings and doodles scribbled in notebooks in primary and later schools, for me it is when drawing as a practice begun.
During a performance, there is a development in time which could be considered a dramatic composition. At the beginning there is a slowness as I take my time to pin the paper on the robots almost like a ceremonial, exhibiting great care when placing the paper and telling the sitter that he/she has to imagine to be in a drawing class and has to take a pose fit for a portrait rather than a selfie or snap, then prior to waking up the robots I explain what is first going to happen, saying “when I wake the robot up it is going to do a few movements then it is going to look for you, when it has found you it will start to draw”. At the beginning it is somewhat exciting for the sitter as the robots are busy looking up and down and drawing. The model feels observed, scrutinised, which for some is uncanny as they do not expect to feel like this in front of the robots, as they feel that something is really observing and evaluating them. However after some time this part of the drawing session gets somewhat repetitive. At some point one robot gets agitated attracting attention. After that for some sitters boredom sets in, later one robot finishes its drawing, leaving the sitter thinking that the session is almost finished. Yet it takes another 10 minutes for the next robot to finish its drawing. When only one of the robots is still active, it draws tracing a few lines, looking at the sitter, looking at the drawing, looking at the sitter, looking at the drawing, tracing a few lines, etc.. for ten minutes the sitter becoming impatient and really annoyed with this robot. When the last robot stops and there is the relief that it is finished. Then the sitter can stand up and for the first time have a look at the drawings and hopefully be pleased by at least one drawing. Not all sitters react in the same manner to the piece. The reaction also depends on the context, and if sitter has experience either of drawing or being a sitter, or is able to let his/her mind wander.
These drawings are a small sample of Collection, a continuously expanding participatory artwork that includes more than 40000 drawings of humans. They have been produced since 2011 during live performances. As I have been working continuously on the system and as I tune the system for each exhibition there are significant variations amongst the Collection’s items.