Art, Science & Technology | Exceptional Midterms

The piece shown is Ken Rinaldo’s Autopoiesis. It is an installation that uses a number of media, including grape vines from the Napa Valley and assorted electronics. One can go as far as to say that the audience acts as a sort of media for the artists - interacting with and influencing the effect and outcome of the piece. Rinaldo’s Autopoiesis is a beautiful, and very much alive, robotic installation that blends together man and machine and also does not sacrifice the organic for the inorganic. As such, it is a perfect example of bridging C.P. Snow’s two cultures, although this refers to art and science rather than literature and science. It is a bol piece that does away with the cliched evil and malevolent aspect of technology and works to harmonize humans and machinery in quite a similar fashion as its bridging of art and science.

The concept of creating harmony of both man and machine as well as art and science manifests itself in the interactivity of hte piece. Essentially, the dangling robot arms move and react based on human movement and are connected to each other, influencing the actions of each arm. Upon entering, the human audience sees not only organic material, but also organic shapes and recognizable movements. The arms “see” computable movement through various sensors, including infrared, and begin to communicate with each other using a musical language composed of telephone tones. The human sees and appreciates organic movement while the robots react to and “emote” collective responses. It is a beautiful way to integrate mechanics and robotics into artistic expression without losing the effectiveness of either traditionally separate discipline. The human is integrated into the processing framework of Autopoiesis while the robots surround and interact with the human resulting in a flesh and metal dance of sorts.

Rinaldo creates a dialogue between the technology and networking of his piece and the humanity of his audience. He accomplishes this through a creation of a language. He humanizes the machine visually through material and movement and color while mechanizing the human through arrays of sensors and networks. From this he reaches a plane above each singular entity and creates a common ground that becomes the actual artwork.

In the article discussing David Bohm’s book On Creativity, Bohm is said to have played with the creation of a new language, or means of expression, for an evolving world. Autopoiesis is a fleeting glimpse of a new language, the audience is emotionally influenced by the movement and reaction driven by streams of electrons - it is an aural, visual, and touch based experience that opens up, ideally, a communication between man and machine, and if not that, more cynically, fleshes out our own understanding of the mechanized and the robotic.

It is important to stress Rinaldo’s work as a positive bridge between the human and the mechanical. Extrapolation of this relationship to the “coldness” of science and the “humanity” of art is truly a small step. In discussing Bohm’s concept of creating a new means of expression and the actual creation of language within the piece, it is essential to further expain the idea of having a common ground between each separate thing. Language creates a plane of common interaction, or expression, and Autopoiesis does this by finding elements of each subject in the other in a yin-yang-like fashion. the aforementioned extrapolation comes into full focus when you see these elements and their presence in each separate entity. The robot arms have complex behaviors built upon many simple sensors. An example of this is their ability to come within inches of the human and act attracted or repulsed by their presence. The machine carries within it human behavior and the human will react humanly to it. Similarly, the arm will react to changes in acceleration of the human quite mechanistically and communicate with its robot companions. Through the initial relation between man and machine, Rinaldo forwards his commentary. Art and Science are harmonized in the piece and lines between the two have been blurred. He has used each discipline to integrate this thought seamlessly into Autopoiesis and does not challenge his participants to analyze, but merely to interact with, understand, communicate with, and foster innocence that transcends conceived notions of man, machine, art, and science.

Ken Rinaldo’s Autopoeisis is a gorgeous realization of multidisciplinary expression. It exists as art, but it cannot be categorized or defined completely. It stands in juxtaposition with the horrors of Stelarc’s body modifications and the frightening electronic and organic networks that Sean Dockray explores. While it can be contrasted wit these works, it certainly does not dismiss them. Autopoiesis is an exploration rather than a direct commentary. Its blending of art and science in its conception and function extends out to its questioning of the barrier between the organic and the inorganic. Rinaldo’s piece exemplifies the purpose of this class: to question preconceived notions of expression and create; create to explore what we do and do not understand.