This Is What a Robot Designed by a Neural Network Looks Like

Latvian new media sculptor Krists Pudzens shows off a small robot army at his first solo show.

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Jul 18 2016, 8:02pm

Images courtesy the artist

In classical sculpture there is a great emphasis on movement. In the world of robotics, the emphasis is on actual motion. For the last several years Riga, Latvia-based new media sculptor Krists Pudzens has been fusing the two disciplines with his “electromechanical art.”

In his first major exhibition, SHIFT, Pudzens showcases a number of kinetic and interactive works created between 2007 and 2014. The show features seven objects that explore various types of perception like audio, visual and tactile sensations, but also function as “closed, introverted” systems with distinct appearances and movement.

Pudzens tells The Creators Project that the piece Red Queen’s Race (2011)  was inspired by the scene in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass where Alice has a running competition with the Red Queen. “No matter how fast she runs, she stays in the same place,” Pudzens says. “In science this effect is known as ‘Red Queen’s hypothesis’, which speaks about relative evolution in an ever-changing environment. In this art piece my aim is to try and visualize increasing ‘speed of life’ in everyday processes.”

The sculpture itself is something of a visualization of the Red Queen, but abstracted into what Pudzens calls an “industrially-produced mechanical organism.” The robot’s frame is made of steel, while the wings are made of plywood and epoxy coating. Pudzens used two windshield wipers from Russian cars as motors, one for each wing.

The sculpture is equipped with a camera and PC running facial recognition software. When placed within an urban environment, the sculpture tries to visualize speed, rhythm, or patterns of passersby. “It incorporates this information in motion of its wings,” Pudzens explains. “So in a sense this art piece is not directly interactive to a single human observant, it rather responds to urban environment itself.”

For Professor Dowell's Head, Pudzens created two opposing robotic heads with eyes that follow visitors. Made in 2008, it’s one of Pudzens’ oldest pieces, so it is has undergone several iterations. One of the masks is made of a vacuum-formed sheet of plastic, while Pudzens sculpted the other out of polyester resin and gelcoat (the same material he used to fashion the eyes). As with his other kinetic sculptures, Pudzens used C++ to control the four servo motors that move the heads, and OpenCV to integrate the robots’ facial recognition.

“The inspiration [came] from a book with the same title—Professor Dowell's Head, written by Alexander Belyayev in 1925,” Pudzens says. “It was one of the first science fiction novels in Russia (actually in this whole part of the world)... [and] focuses on a scientific experiment where doctor amputates human heads to make them live without the body.”

While the book focuses on the psychology and emotions of the “alive” heads, reflecting on the repressive political regime of the time, Pudzens kinetic sculpture is a more personal and poetical reflection of our own time of fast evolving robotics and A.I. technology.

In Unbalanced Force, two robotic organisms climb a vertical rope. The piece grew out of a commission from a local Riga art festival called Survival Kit. The festival’s 2012 theme was to create a recipe for overcoming economic recession. Pudzens says that the Latvian people were hit particularly hard by the global recession, and Unbalanced Force represents his personal view at that time.

“It is a cyclic process and the economic system, as an artificial organism, will keep climbing upwards,” Pudzens says. “The robots are capable of climbing only up and sometimes they break off the ropes and fall down, then they start climbing again.”

Unlike the other pieces in SHIFT, Unbalanced Force is mostly hand-produced. All aluminium parts for it was hand-cut, filed, bent and assembled, though some other parts like gears and fixtures were CNC cut.

“The interesting thing about this object is that its shape was discovered procedurally by an artificial intelligence,” Pudzens explains. “First of all, I knew how the mechanism was going to work, but the problem was that it had an awful lot of theoretical combinations for size and shape of hands and joints. So I wrote a software which automatically found the best possible configuration for the robot hands, depending on my requirements for what motion hands should have.”

Now this is something for further artistic investigation. In the future, as technology evolves faster and faster, robots will design and manufacture robots. Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to envision robot sculptors making their own electromechanical art?

SHIFT runs until August 7th in Trosa, Sweden. Click here to see more of Krists Pudzens’ work.

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