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 youre 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 artists
"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.