Reactor

Artist Draws in Three Cities with the Help of Robots

by An Xiao on September 30, 2013

All images by Dirk Mathesius, via Long Distance Art.

(All images by Dirk Mathesius, via Long Distance Art)

OAKLAND, Calif. — Most artists are incredibly busy, especially in a major city where art events and calendars seem to overflow each day. “If only I could be two places at the same time!” is a common lament.

Alex Kiessling, a Viennese street artist, has been getting attention for figuring out a way around it. Kiessling figured out a way around this issue, at least when it comes to physical street art. With the help of satellite video feeds and industrial robots, he’s able to draw and paint in one place and have his images duplicated in completely different locations. His recent Long Distance Art project had him drawing in Vienna while the robots dutifully followed along in Berlin and London.

A video from the Mail Online noted that the robots acted differently — the robot in London had more gentle movements while the one in Berlin was more “strong and powerful.” The triptychs, which were a series of faces, reflect the potential of telepresence and making, and it would be interesting to see this technological setup applied in more provocative situations, now that we have a proof of concept.

Given much of street art’s history in bringing voice and presence to marginalized communities, a robotic arm like this could be used to provoke the status quo in multiple contexts. In a recent article in the Shift journal, Colin L. Anderson pointed to this historic role:

The need for graffiti writers to make visible not only their individual identities, but also their lived spaces, demonstrates the linkages between spatial confinement, social mobility, and identity. In order for the writer’s identity to escape from the invisibility of social exclusion, the space the writer occupies must also be transformed, as it is essential in constituting that identity.

longdistanceart2.dirkmathesiusWhen an artist is able to go “All City,” as Anderson explores, they bring their voice farther than the confines that their socioeconomic circumstances might be born into. “Among dominant middle and upper-class understandings where freedom to traverse space is taken as a given, this accomplishment may seem trivial. However, for youths of color trapped in impoverished neighborhoods the mobility symbolized through one’s tag on subway cars carries profound weight,” he writes.

A robot could certainly expand an artist’s ability to go all city, among other things, but what if their colleagues in other countries and locales could set up robotic arms to bring their drawings to other cities too? Would the work be as meaningful when set in a different context? It’s an idea worth considering: what we’re witnessing is the same ease of replicability afforded to an artist working in an analogue medium that digital artists take for granted. As robotic arms become more affordable, the idea of artists, including graffiti writers, using these technologies more frequently seems like it could be just around the corner.

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