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YLEM Journal: Artists Using Science and Technology

by Loren Means, Editor
San Francisco, USA
May-June 2007. Vol. 27 No. 6
16 pp., illus. b/w.
Journal website: http://www.ylem.org.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


YLEM (pronounced eye-lem) is Greek for "the exploding mass from which the universe emerged". It is the name of this journal being reviewed and also of the "international organization of artists, scientists, authors, curators, educators and art enthusiasts who explore the intersection of the arts and sciences". Their web site is www.ylem.org - if you’re interested in art and science, it is a must to visit.

This issue has the subtitle Autonomous Robots That Paint. There is a most informative editorial by editor Loren Means and two substantial articles by artists, Max Chandler and Leonel Moura. Both these artists build small robots which paint on canvas and do so according to their own "intelligences". Chandler lives in America, studied math at MIT and Chinese at the Defence Language Institute, and did graduate study with Taiwanese painter Chen Ting-shih. Moura is a Portuguese conceptual artist whose robots employ swarm intelligence and emergent behaviour. He has created a permanent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and written several books related to art and robotics. Both artist’s "painterbots" and the images they create are illustrated with good quality black & white images.

I was very impressed by the clarity of the articles and the depth of research these artists have undertaken to get to where they are in AI and art. Mouras' article discusses the philosophy behind insect intelligence, explaining how they achieve high-level organisation without a conscious central executive brain. He also refers to previous movements in art that attempted to create artworks that transcended conscious reason and control such as Surrealism. Mouras lets his painterbots do what they want, when they are finished, according to themselves, they move to the bottom right hand corner of the canvas and sign the work. Chandler on the other hand exercises more control over the painterbots, for example, stopping them when he decides it's time for the paint to dry and so on. Both artists include technical tips on building reliable bots, and both give credit to Rodney Brookes (MIT) who has perhaps done more towards actually achieving true AI than most others.

YLEM is always fascinating reading, presents balanced viewpoints on sometimes rather contentious issues, and presents mostly cutting edge art and technology. This issue is essential reading for students or researchers who are just starting out with autonomous robots in their art practice, and also for accomplished robot builders who need a little extra philosophical underpinning for the kinds of intelligence they wish their robots to display.



Updated 1st March 2008

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