In a world where robots can make art, what's art school for? Why not take up engineering? While we're not there quite yet, artist Patrick Tresset has been imagining a future where Asimov's three laws of robotics have been rendered irrelevant because machines have become human. His years-long development of a robot that can draw and paint like us, Paul-II, becomes an artifact of that world in his a new exhibition, Robot Portraits at Switzerland's Maison d'Allieurs, which sees the mechanical arm freehand drawing portraits of C-3PO, Wall-E, and the Terminator—no flesh necessary.
"The three laws maintained the robots in a state of slavery," Tresset says, explaining the story he has embedded into the exhibit: "In reaction to this, a robot culture emerged to counter-balance this sociological exclusion and stigma. [...] The production of a range of arts made for robots by robots, and for humans by robots, with some artworks of both categories being appreciable by both humans and robots."
The portraits at Maison d'Allieurs represent the fusion between a fictional machine culture and our own: alongside the faces of iconic robots (Goldorak, Astroboy, and Robbie are also included in the series), images hang of their fictional precursors, like Pinocchio and Frankenstein, as well as authors and inventors who influenced the field including Dick, Turing, Shelley, and Asimov himself.
Tresset first programmed Paul-II to draw for him during a bout of extreme creator's block. Now he uses the machine as a "creative prosthetic," which enables him to both continue his career as an artist, and push the boundaries of machine learning, spacial relations, and facial recognition in art. Tresset's branding of his robotic crutch raises questions the value of art made by machines. Is Paul-II different from a laserjet in that it's programmed to draw incrementally, or because it uses visual sensors, a fallible arm, and a pen to make its work? It's easy to read humanity into Paul-II's imperfectly scrawled sketches and smudged paintings, which look less calculated than other drawing bots like piccolo, but is it imperfection that makes art human? And if so, is it possible to program intent? We're not sure, but maybe one day soon, Paul-II will speak up.
Check out Patrick Tresset's Robot Portraits series, below:
Patrick's exhibition is part of a larger show curated by Marc Atallah, that includes the works of two other artists, +Brauer and Richard Marnier, the technology of the HEIG-VD and a selection of objects from the collections of the Maison d’Ailleurs. Robot Portraits will be on display at Maison d'Allieurs through January 1, 2016. Check out more of Patrick Tresset's work with Paul-II on his website.