Just add water

An engineer at the University of Southern California has developed a robot that will construct buildings by squirting cement from a nozzle and then smoothing it out with a trowel, creating layers and layers of cement to form walls.

The article at New Scientist talks mostly about the innovation possible for the construction industry, but I was more intrigued by the last line, from an architect: “I believe that aesthetically there’s a great potential to make things that have never been seen before.”

This is true, and I immediately began thinking of art installations that make use of automated machinery to create an end product (most notably, the vacuum-sealed, nearly-human turds generated by Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca, which he sells for $1,500 each).

I’d like to hire this cement-spewing robot to build my art. The act of building is a performance, which I’m sure is as mesmerizing as any factory assembly-line video, and the resultant structure becomes part of an installation in a gallery or off-site.

But what about the sacred “hand of the artist”? I could build a structure out of concrete myself, I suppose, but I’d be much more interested in asking a robot to do my bidding and then seeing how closely the structure matched my vision. Computers only do what you tell them to do, and learning that particular kind of clarity that machines need is an interesting exercise. (Would it assume I wouldn’t give it anything structurally impossible to do? Does it just stop working if it gets confused?) The hand of the artist comes in here in the form of delivering orders. (Something I’ve become fond of since acquiring a couple of megaphones.)

To borrow one of Istvan Kantor’s lines: All power to the machines!

7 replies on “Just add water”

That Cloaca is sick. I think it’s coming to Toronto, to the Power Plant? Or did it come and i missed it. There was a whole year where i didn’t goto the power plant and missed things like Royal Art Lodge. So i dunno. I broke the spell with AA Bronson the other day, and while there i did look thru the Cloaca book. This is not important though.

What about all the art star helpers? Like all of Warhol’s assistant’s in the Factory who’d do a silkscreen then AW would sign it and deem it worth a lot of money? Though perhaps AW was talking about exactly that, the "sacred hand" and how easily it can be subverted in capitalist art circles. or something. Or maybe he just wanted a bigger place in Montauk.

The "hand of the artist" thing has *always* been a convenient lie. Did the old masters paint their own grass or skies? Not likely. Pretty much every form of art you can name has some machine helping you. Do you dig your own clay? Develop E6 at home? Mix your own pigments? Shear your own sheep? No way, and so what?
What’s actually cool about the concrete machine is that we are beginning to see the flexiblity that we now have in printing images being applied to solid objects. I used to make zines with a photocopier and razor blades. That was a ton of work- I used to impress people by having overlapping images in collages- I would print things on acetate and sandwich them to get the effect. Believe it or not, that blew people’s minds back in 85…
Very, very soon, we’ll look back the same way on how we used to cast things in moulds, or make them on lathes. We’ll just print "stuff". And we’ll be as gods.

Ya, the hand of the artist is bogus. Whether you are getting a machine to do your work or other humans. It’s important to acknowledge your technicians or collaborators, be they human or otherwise. Some people have this bizarre shame in giving credit where it’s due. But perhaps that’s a whole other conversation about the particular aversion to admitting you didn’t do it all yourself in certain kinds of media/robotic art.

Painters seem to have been over this one for a while, building whole fabulous careers on involving assistants – as Shawn mentions, our late Uncle Andy, also Mark Kostabi and his infamous army of painters at the Kostabi World studio. (pics of KW: http://michelle.kasprzak.ca/KW)

An interesting thread about this technology is going on here: http://www.digitalmediatree.com/tommoody/comment/26367/
Tom says: who needs more mass produced crap? Bill says: we need affordable housing, besides they might look great. Sally says: I want a replicator to make me dinner and I don’t care if I’m eating paste, so long as it looks and tastes like roast chicken.

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