Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY., May 25, 2002
[video by Liubomir Borissov]


Technology is not interesting. People doing things with technology, particularly when they're doing things that maybe no one really expected them to do, are the interesting part. Motors, sensors, circuitry and other technological raw materials have few inherent biases; it takes human intuition, creativity, and action to turn a pile of parts into a complex, functioning object. This show features the work of a group of humans who spend their time turning piles of parts into art.

Many people see the idea of robots as artworks and especially the claim that some of these robots can actually create art themselves as problematic. But art that's not directly created by human hands is nothing new. Mechanical loom patterns, musical forms, geometric tiling designs, dance steps and myriad other creative activities have been controlled or influenced by formalized strategies, rule sets, and algorithms for millennia. There are real, and perhaps profound, differences between a painting made by a human and one made by a (human-created!) robot. But those differences - and the questions they raise - are what compel some of us to explore the worlds of robotic, algorithmic and generative art.

Although other kinds of robots have been in the spotlight for the last several years (the Mars rover, BattleBots, search and rescue bots), a tremendous variety of robotics-based art is being created in labs, studios and garages around the world. I started ArtBots as an attempt to publicize and celebrate such innovative work. All of the projects in this show are Do-It-Yourself efforts; they're hand-made robots created by individuals or small groups of people working in their homes and studios without the support of large grants or corporate sponsorship. ArtBots is about people making robots and robots making art.

As the field of robotics matures, robots in their many forms (and more generally computers and advanced technologies) are slowly working their way into larger and often less-obvious parts of our lives. That's neither a good nor a bad thing; technological change is what we make of it. We are making art.

Douglas Irving Repetto, Curator

Meet some of the bots below

AO2000 (*People's Choice Award)
by David Webber

The AO2000 is a musical robot made up of various mundane objects and old computers to form an interactive sound machine. It uses audience location information to inform the automation sequence, making the music ever changing. This automation orchestra embraces the noise of our mechanized world and turns these mundane abject objects into instruments. Audience participation is key in creating a dynamic soundscape.

In 1977, David Webber was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He grew up outside Philadelphia and went off to college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. While working in many media, his studies focused in on the electronic arts and interactive multimedia installations. In the winter of 2000 David went on to co-found the Berwick Research Institute, which is now a 501c3 nonprofit arts space in Dudley Sq., Massachusetts. While producing events and exhibitions he has been committed to showing sound art and new experimental music. David Webber is currently living and working in Boston.

thanks and credits:
Official Sponsor: Berwick Research Institute

David Weber


SYMET Studio (Robot's Choice Award)
by Stefan Joseph Prosky

In addition to studying animation & cell biology, I make small artoys that seem to have the character of life. As an computer animator, I am used to machines drawing for me, rendering it's called. I've always wondered if I could somehow show a machine or machines doing this kind of work. Watching something being made can be very absorbing, at least for me. With computers it's actually pretty boring though. Unless you have a deadline then it's sucked into the machine hell. Renders almost always have to be redone, a second...third, fourth and fifth time. I 've been searching for a way to make machine-based pictures where the process of making the work is on interesting display, and editing doesn't matter.

Studio SYMET is my current solution, since I don't draw myself, but I like fussing about with solder and solar cells. Studio SYMET is group of 10 small solar powered robots that draw abstract chance-based pictures for me. Each robot lies on the the drawing paper and makes a mark on the surface as it jerks along, 2 times per second. These marks look like a cross between animal tracks and a drugged/druken spirotot drawing. The drawings can take as long as 8 hours to complete and are totally dependent on the quality of light used to propel this ArtBot ecology. I like the SYMET BEAM robot design because it does not follow the expected wheeled or legged robot design. Nor do they propel themselves in an expected way. This I feel gives Studio SYMET much more character; it's an animated solar powered toy/tool that draws a record of its group movement.

Stefan Joseph Prosky is an artist.

thanks and credits:
BEAM builders in general

Stefan Joseph Prosky


Sketching Device #1
by Ranjit Bhatnagar

Sketching Device #1 is a moody art machine for which expression is more important than precision. Its bad temper turns simple instructions (back, left, down, right, repeat) into unpredictable swirls and snarls.

Based on research by Dan Reznik at the University of California, and inspired by a remark by Ed Stastny, Sketching Device #1 sends low-frequency vibrations through a sheet of paper to guide objects-- such as pens-- in any direction, without direct contact. The principle is similar to the way you scoot yourself around in a rolling office chair without touching the floor: jerk back quickly to make the chair move forward, and relax more slowly to get centered again without pulling the chair back. Sketching Device #1 does this about thirty times per second-- too fast too see-- and the pen in its plastic "boat" appears to float around the page by itself. In this primitive implementation, the process is not very reliable or predictable, and that is what makes the resulting sketches interesting.

Ranjit Bhatnagar works at gameLab (, lives in Brooklyn, and has been making impractical art and music devices for nearly twenty years. Other projects include the Silence Organ (Nexus Gallery, Philadelphia), and, with gameLab, Fluid (Centre for Global Dialogue, Zurich).



by Eva Sutton and Sarah Hart

Only humans are inspired to create. Aesthetic expression is the action triggered by this inspiration. Art is its result, the special product of a divine process. Machines are neither human nor divine. But ironically, the markings which are made by the machine's activity very much resemble the art of human artists. A contradiction results.

The Sumi-ebot project also underscores a phenomenon which increasingly pervades the artmaking process and contemporary culture at this time in history; namely the phenomenon of technology functioning both as mediator and separator between the artist and the work. No longer manifesting itself through the immediacy of physical gesture made by the artist, contemporary work often utilizes a great deal of complex technology, thereby creating a wide gap between the artist and the expression itself. The sumi-ebot project widens this gap to the extreme, allowing the technology to function as an autonomous entity in making art. The bot is the creator; a proxy artist, no longer requiring the presence of a human.

The sumi-ebot does not simply repeat a preset pattern over and over. Every painting generated conforms to the sumi-ebot's style, but is unique. The style of painting is reminiscient of a Zen painter making a spontaneous mark with one continuous gesture of the sumi-e brush.

Sumi-ebots can perform as single artbots or as a group. In the case of group "collaborations", each sumi-ebot communicates with the next via infrared transmission. Once the bot has finished its mark, it signals the next bot to begin. Thus a chain of sumi-e bots can sequentially paint marks along a scroll, in the tradition of Japanese brush painting. Sumi-e bots are also equipped with edge-detection capabilities via a light sensor which signals the demarkated edges of the scroll, preventing sumi-ebots from painting outside of the paper surface.

Eva Sutton is an artist and programmer living in New York. Her current work explores the boundary between static images and interactive databases; in which users change the visual state of the system without interrupting the "realistic" continuity of a "whole" image. Her interactive print "Hybrids" was featured in "Paradise Now" which explored artists' responses to current issues in genetic engineering. Eva has had a previous life as a software engineer working primarily in the fields of biotechnology and large-scale database management, and later as a senior network administrator at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her work has been featured at Aperture, SIGGRAPH, ;the National Center of Photography in Paris, and the on-line sites Digital Imaging Forum (, and She has lectured on issues in art and technology at Princeton, New York University, The Cooper Union, and the Hong Kong Center for the Arts. Currently, Eva is an associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design where she has developed the curriculum in digital media and is designing a digital media graduate program.

Sarah Hart, Director of the International Certificate Program of New Media at Rhode Island School of Design, has been working with electronic imaging technologies since the mid 1980s. After completing her MFA at CalArts she taught at Hampshire College and Rhode Island School of Design. She received a Lila Wallace Grant to complete photographic and electronic imaging projects in Russia where she was an Artist in Residence at the Moscow Center of Contemporry Art. During the past several years her work has focused on an exploration of the interface between the real and virtual in web based projects and the field of robotics. Hart's work has been exhibited internationally and is included in numerous collections.

thanks and credits:
The sumi-ebot project was originally developed in the context of the "Interactive Spaces" Class at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Eva Sutton
Sarah Hart


Roving Walter Walter
by (lahaag and chip.kali)

Roving Walter Walter consists of a set of 4 independently controlled wheels, a camera and 2 microphones. It races across the room, analysing perceived audio + visual data. It localises sounds and objects for sampling, and keeps track of collections of data it acquired in the past on other locations. Thus: his constitution is essentially nomadic in nature like most humans.

Based on the sampled material it generates series of audio and visuals, within a time-based composition. Cultural change is the keyword here. Roving Walter Walter is able to compute the difference between previously recorded audiovisuals and the currently acquired material. This is the basis for new and intelligent synthesis. The analysis, mobility, sampling, and synthesis algorithm is carried out by a small portable computer on the chassis. The continuous composition is displayed on an high quality lcd-screen and mobile loudspeakers, integrated in the design.

Roving Walter Walter behaves like a smart pet, following visitors and showing them the beauty of audiovisual realtime creations. When Roving Walter Walter's pedagogical functions get activated (critical interaural+visual response to the environment) it computes a localised version of the "internationale" (Eugene Pottier, Paris, 1871). Roving Walter Walter can cite from memory 13 versions of this historical composition, in most commonly spoken languages and in all popular orchestrations. On top of that, Roving Walter Walter can improvise on the theme, and suggest viable future versions to a bewildered audience.

After simply being switched on|off, Roving Walter Walter knows when to sleep and work by himself on location, no additional assistance is needed.

Roving Walter Walter is an independent pioneering ar[tificial]ist, 01 of a new species, authentic and charismatic.

lahaag and chip.kali are artists.


below: some views from the show

Robotics is by nature a collaborative activity; this show would never have happened were it not for the help, support and dedication of many people, groups and institutions. In particular, my co-curator Philip Galanter has been an invaluable friend and colleague, and has been my primary collaborator on artistic and logistical issues. Special thanks also to Stephen Turbek and the nice people at the Pratt Institute Industrial Design Program for the use of their time and space. And a big ArtBots whir of gratitude to:

The ArtBots Participants: Ranjit Bhatnagar, David Birchfield, Mira Friedlaender Stephanie Hunt, Keith Waters, John S. Lathram III,, Stefan Joseph Prosky, Gregory Shakar, Eva Sutton, Sarah hart and David Webber. Also: Laura Abel, Christopher Bailey, Amy Charlotte Benson, David Calkins, Angela Gunn, Alex Lee, Jenny Lee, The Mysterious Liz, James Powderly, Eric Singer. And: The Columbia University Computer Music Center, The NYU Interactive Technologies Program, The Pratt Institute Industrial Design Program, The Madagascar Institute, Robotics Society of America, Belgium,


Douglas Irving Repetto, curator and creator of Artbots, is an artist living and working in New York City. He teaches at the Columbia University Computer Music Center

Philip Galanter, co-curator and creator of Artbots is an artist interested in generative and complex systems. At NYU he created the Arts Technology Group and teaches in the Interactive Telecommunications Program

Douglas Irving Repetto
550 Riverside Drive, Apt 35
New York, NY 10027