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The Robots are Coming… And They’re Absurd!

“Intermission” by Nick Bontrager

Robots are coming to Davidson College's Belk Visual Arts Center October 24 as the stars of a six-week exhibition of "absurd machines" transformed from cast-off electronic components into whimsical works of art.

Curator Paula Gaetano-Adi selected five artists whose work will be in the exhibition, which is titled "Parodic Machines." The title indicates that the works are a parody of a 1987 piece by Norman White titled Helpless Robot because it was incapable of any movement or action on its own.

Flies Piloting Blimps?!

The "Parodic Machines" will include five robotic arms mounted on a wall that employ sensors and circuit boards so that they point at people who approach, and follow the viewer until he or she smiles. Another piece responds only to the Coca-Cola label. Three balloon-blimps will float erratically around a corner of the gallery, directed by circuits affected by the flight of flies inside a small capsule the blimp supports.

"Parodic Machines" will be on view from October 24 until December 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. The exhibition features the works of Nick Bontrager, David Bowen, Matt Kenyon, Hye Yeon Nam, and Fernando Orellana. The exhibition will serve as the backdrop for several public events and student workshops October 21-24. Those open to the public are:

Desiring Machine
“Desiring Machine” by Paula Gaetano Adi

Curator Paula Gaetano Adi will lead a panel discussion about robotic art among the exhibition artists on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. in the Belk Visual Arts Center. Gaetano Adi explained that robotic art was born out of kinetic art, but goes further in its interaction with the viewer. She said, "Both may have mechanized motion, but robots are not only perceived by the public, but are themselves capable of perceiving the viewer or its environment, and responding according to the directions of its sensors. In that sense, robotic artworks display ‘behavior' and ‘intelligence,' motivated and operated autonomously."

The opening reception for the exhibition will be Thursday evening, Oct. 24, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The highlight of the reception will be a performance at 7:45 p.m. in the Smith Gallery by Gaetano-Adi of a kinetic piece of art she created called "Desiring Machine II." It involves her sitting in a tall frame and, in Sisyphean fashion, endlessly taking coal powder out of saddlebags worn by the artist and filling small wooden boxes on a moving conveyor belt. In the artist's absence, Davidson students have volunteered to perform the piece at various times during the duration of the exhibition.

Community Outreach and Education

The exhibition will also be the backdrop for two three-hour workshops for Davidson College students in hacking discarded electronics to make kinetic, interactive and robotic art. In addition, 160 CMS students taking robotics courses at McClintock Middle School in Charlotte will visit the exhibition.

Please Smile
“Please Smile” by Hae Yeon Nam

Born in Argentina, Gaetano Adi now serves as assistant professor at the University of North Texas's College of Visual Arts and Design, coordinating its New Media program. She has won many awards for her work and exhibited it worldwide. In discussing her work, she explained "Whether creating a robot or performing with a machine or an artificial creature, my work is always an attempt to promote a bodily and corporeal inter-species encounter and so, an attempt to avoid a practical, rational, utilitarian, and calculated dialogue, i.e., a conventional interaction."

Gallery Director Lia Newman hopes the exhibition will provide viewers with a new art gallery experience. "The way people will interact with it is different from most exhibitions, where they quietly contemplate works that hang on a wall. These pieces rely on some interaction, and the viewer is integral to the action."

For more information on the exhibition, call 704-894-2519.