As the reader may well be aware, in addition to my general interest in cultural matters I am also something of a nerd. Okay, quite a large nerd. So it should therefore come as no surprise that when I read about Austrian artist Alex Kiessling’s latest project, which involves creating art in tandem with using robots, I may have become more than a little excited.
Recently, while Hr. Kiessling was at work drawing large-scale works in Vienna, robotic arms were rigged up in London and Berlin. You can watch a short ITN news report showing how it worked, by following this link; apparently it took six months to perfect the operation, using a combination of computers, infra-red technology, satellites, and human ingenuity. In the end, it allowed people in other parts of the world to be able to see how the artist went about creating the drawings, as he himself was drawing them.
Obviously there are certain foreseeable limitations to this process. It would be difficult to imagine how this could be done using pastels, watercolors, or acrylics/oils, where brushstrokes are often combined with the use of fingers by the artist to smudge and blend colors, for example. In theory however, I imagine it would be possible to use this method to paint works using more matte effects by employing a device such as an airbrush gun, for example. After all, that is the method employed for many years now by automobile manufacturers to paint and finish their products.
One of the pleasures of drawing your attention to this project is the fact that Hr. Kiessling can actually…well, draw. Good drawing is the basis for good painting, and as you can see in the photograph below, this is not someone who got through art school on the basis of artistic manifesto hyperbole alone. Now, I understand that perhaps for some of my readers his art may not be to your liking, but I rather like the fact that I can perceive his interests in neo-realism, surrealism, pop art, photography, graphic design, and so on, coming through in his work. Judge for yourself by visiting his site.
In addition, the example which Hr. Kiessling provides through this project is one which, in principle, hearkens back to the tradition of the atelier. The great Old Master painters such as Raphael, Rubens, Velázquez, and so on, were so popular and successful in their own lifetimes that they were overwhelmed with commissions. They often employed large teams of assistants to not only help them complete the work they had contracted, but also to make copies of their existing works for other collectors.
A perfect example of this can be seen in a story I shared with you last year, about the copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” which is in the collection of the Prado Museum in Madrid. A recent cleaning revealed that the work was not a later copy, but was in fact created alongside the original, at the same time that Da Vinci himself was working on it, by one of Da Vinci’s assistants carefully observing and copying his master’s work. If Da Vinci or his contemporaries had the technology available to them which Hr. Kiessling is working on, they would have been able to take on even more commissions, knowing that they would be able to easily produce contemporary, simultaneous copies of their work themselves.
This brings us to larger questions of course, which Hr. Kiessling is perhaps asking us to consider. What makes a work of art “original”, for example: is it the human touch, or is it something else? For example, is a Picasso ceramic not a Picasso because he himself did not fabricate it? Does that mean that a Rodin bronze is not a Rodin because he himself did not cast it? Is playing a Mozart symphony not really Mozart, but the performance of some sort of pastiche? These are questions which you need to answer for yourself, as you consider the nature of the art that you see around you.
In the meantime, kudos to Hr. Kiessling for producing such a fun and interesting example of art using technology in a truly creative way; I shall look forward to reading about what he comes up with next.
Artist Alex Kiessling (and robot assistant) at work