Serbian, Australian, American artist Dragan Ilić presented Roboaction 5 at the Queens Museum of Art in New York. The audience stood above the performance, which took place two floors below in a vast space, accompanied by gigantic video projections, transmitted through three alternating video cameras (two on the robot and one in the artist’s hand).
The images filled a wall space as high as the balcony where the audience stood. Fascinated by the event and its implications, Ilić’s work spoke to the spectators about our culture’s dependence on technology.
We are now a society inextricably connected to machines and gadgets on a minute to minute basis. IPhones, IPods, Kindles and computers have become extensions of our bodies and our minds. Ilić comments on this interdependency in terms of the creative impulse. Are we ready to divorce ourselves from even the physical pleasure of creation? Are we ready to become artists by proxy?
The artist’s willingness to control and relinquish control of his robotic collaborator adds to this curious conundrum.
In an enormous white gallery, Ilić’s spider-like robot clutches bunches of crayon-like markers and slowly crawls along a black surface, leaving behind its trail of brightly colored lines—red, blue, yellow and ghostly white. The experience feels eerily futuristic and somnambular as the otherworldly sounds of Bret Battey play in the background. The total effect is mesmerizing and disturbing, for the work seems to forecast something stranger than fiction: the next generation of artistic production—or, more precisely, artistic obviation (willfully absenting the body from the creative act itself). This detachment of the self, in favor of playing the spectator to one’s own creative act, turns the artist into his own audience as the audience joins with the artist in the act of witnessing and verifying the artist’s original intention. The robot, in the meantime, becomes the star attraction—the performer taking center stage.
“I created the robot to use as an extension of my hand and function as a painter, draftsman and cameraman,” Ilic explained. “In the beginning, the robot had been responsive to my remote control commands. However, shortly before the 10-minute scheduled performance was to start, the robot responded and went into action as if it moved by its own intelligence, performing continuously by itself for 45 minutes. My particular video recording approach conveyed the performance's cosmic elements and concept. My camera lens, journeying at times at maddening speed, was digging the camera into the robot's oil renditions on the black canvas.”
After the performance, the spider-robot stood idle, like an obedient pet, waiting to go home with its master. Which one was the true artist: the man or the machine? You be the judge.
by Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Art Historian NYC