UNT professor’s art merges robots with ancestral South American sculpting technique

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 19:33

Recently awarded the prestigious VIDA Art and Artificial Life Awards grant, UNT College of Visual Arts and Design new media assistant professor Paula Gaetano-Adi is working on a robotic art installation that will pay homage to her Latin-American roots.

Think it’s hard to envision large robotic sculptures coexisting with ancestral techniques? It wasn’t too long ago that even our own grandparents couldn’t imagine living side-by-side with robots, Gaetano-Adi points out, and now they are commonplace.

“Robots are as much at home in art, cinema, popular culture and literature as they are in science and technology. They are of increasing importance in manufacturing and entertainment. Even more profoundly, robots raise intriguing cultural questions about our ‘humanness’ that seems to engage philosophers, artists, scientists and technologists,” Gaetano-Adi said.

VIDA is an international competition with two categories: one for awards for completed artworks created by artists worldwide, the other for artists from Iberoamerica (Spain, Portugal and Latin America), which awards grants for the creation of new works. Over the course of the next year, Gaetano-Adi will collaborate with long-time mentor and architect Gustavo Crembil on her winning proposal, titled “TZ’IJK,” the Mayan word for mud.

The concept for TZ’IJK is based upon a Mayan creation myth in which the gods make several false starts in setting humanity upon the Earth, creating the first man out of mud but soon finding him to be “a useless, clumsy creation that moved around without understanding, insight or perceptiveness,” according to Gaetano-Adi’s abstract.

Using a pre-colonial South American construction technique called “Quincha” (a word derived from the Quechua people of the central Andes), the robotic sculptures will have a wood and a cane framework covered in mud.

“They will be a community of seven blind, deaf and speechless autonomous robotic agents that roll around in random and uncoordinated ways,” Gaetano-Adi said. “The spheres will have an interior motor equipped with a proprioceptive sensory system that will allow them to detect when they encounter an object and then change direction. The movement will be extremely slow, almost imperceptible.”

Robotic art in the 20th century arose from questioning the static nature of sculpture, said Gaetano-Adi, who took first prize in the 2006 VIDA 9.0 completed projects competition. She was awarded 10,000 Euros at VIDA 9.0 for her Alexitimia project, a biomorphic robotic art piece that reacted to human interaction by sweating when touched.

Gaetano-Adi is the newest member of UNT’s new media art faculty and of the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts (iARTA) – an evolving research cluster bringing together faculty from the colleges of music, art and design, arts and sciences and engineering. iARTA celebrates a growing international reach with the addition of Gaetano-Adi, who brings expertise in art-robots, performance and the aesthetic applications for artificial life systems to UNT’s new media discipline.

Gaetano-Adi coined the term “artificial corporality” as a complement to the notion of “artificial intelligence” in the context of creative or artistic robotics.  The project she will pursue with the VIDA grant award is a natural continuation of her research that has been included in international exhibitions, most notably at The National Art Museum of China (Beijing), MejanLabs Gallery (Stockholm), ARCO Fair (Madrid), FILE Festival (Sao Paulo), Centro Andaluz of Contemporary Art (Sevilla), National Museum of Poznan (Ponznan), BrandenburgerTor Foundation (Berlin), Museum of Modern Art (Buenos Aires), and Proteus Gowanus Gallery (New York).


About VIDA

VIDA is an international awards organization that supports artificial life projects based on systems which emulate, imitate or speculate on the notion of life through current research and technology. These systems may involve attributes of agency and autonomy that display specific behavior, are dynamic, react to their surroundings and evolve, and which question the frontiers between what is alive and what is not, between synthetic and organic life. Jurors for VIDA awards include top artificial life artists, thinkers, writers and researchers worldwide

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