Can Robot Curators Fix Art Gallery Elitism?

With the aim of bringing galleries "algorithmic diplomacy," artist collective HARD-CORE have created curatorial robot Asahi 4.0.

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Jun 5 2015, 2:15pm

Asahi 3.0. Images courtesy the artists

Curating art is subjective discipline, but what if you could remove the subjectivity by, say, handing the reins over to a robot? That’s exactly the question being asked by London and Amsterdam-based young artists collective, HARD-CORE.

The group came up with the idea at art school, the result of constantly having to present their work to other students. They started to think about curatorial methods and the philosophies and implications behind them, and began to randomize their processes for placing art in a gallery. Inspired by work like Robert Morris’ Untitled (Scatter Piece) from 1968-69 and Marcel Duchamp’s Mile-of-String (1942), they were led to the idea of building a rudimentary curatorial robot—relieving themselves of the burden of having to choose where to put pieces in a show, and democratizing the placement process, too. (HARD-CORE describe this robot curation as “post-elitist” and “algorithmic diplomacy.”)

And so Asahi 1.0 was built, their first robotic curatorial method. Created for a show called Ding-Mon-Seek that took place at Amstel 41 in Amsterdam, Asahi 1.0 featured a camera on a robotic base. It was presented to the human curator of the show whose one and only curatorial decision was to place Asahi 1.0 in the gallery space.


Asahi 1.0

Using randomized motion control, the robot then wandered about, selecting positions in the gallery for the artists to place their works. They had to exhibit their work where the robot had chosen no matter what, even if that position was on the ceiling or somewhere equally unconventional.

One of the effects of this method was the artists’ individual works started to blend into one another, giving the show an uncanny sense of harmony. Even though the art had been created prior to the robot’s curation, through the placement process the art had homogenized.

Asahi then went through several phases of development (and several exhibitions). In September of this year, the Arduino-based Asahi 4.0 will be unveiled to the public. Loaded with sensors, data, wheels, agency and the accumulated “knowledge” of its time curating, it will curate a new art show, selecting artworks from an open submission process which will be open to anyone and all types of artwork.


Installation shot from Ding-Mon-Seek

The idea, HARD-CORE explains, is not to replace human curators, but experiment with the curatorial process. Automation has come to pretty much every other industry, and has played its part in the creation of art too, so why not in the curation of it? By automating it, it brings into play more abstract elements—humidity, light condition, CO2, and temperature are some of the sensory inputs it takes note of—rather than for purely aesthetic or subjective reasons. The curatorial process also becomes an artwork, too. The selection and placement processes become a performance piece.

If it all feels a bit Dadaist, it kind of is. There’s a certain mischievousness to the idea of handing something considered so important over to a robot. "We would like to have an explorative posture towards processes involved in curating exhibitions.” HARD-CORE explains to The Creators Project. “We try to see these processes mainly as a plain surface on which experimentation and mistakes should be allowed to happen, transcending the existing hierarchy. The robotic methods that we have developed have the ability to disrupt the preconceived ideas of how artworks are displayed. This disruption distorts not only the logic of a show, but also enables a re-configuration of what one might call ‘taste.’ An algorithm has the potential of producing something truly unforeseen. Something ‘unwanted’ that a human would never think of, simply because it is not beneficial at first glance."

"The decisions made by ASAHI therefore push the participant into working within confines that they would otherwise not consider and bring about interesting combinations of works, artists, institutions, associations.”

If you want to submit a work for Asahi 4.0 to evaluate and possibly end up in its curated show, you can apply online here. Asahi 4.0 was launched in collaboration with OPENYOURKIMONO.

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