The Future is Here!

Anyone for art and robots? Catch Artbots – the blockbuster exhibition exploring the complex relationships between man and machine, humanity and technology, currently showing at The Cube Gallery in Moira.

Robotics is booming and artificial intelligence is a hot topic globally. Artbots takes the pulse of our times by exploring this fascinating subject which lies at the intersection of art and technology through an electric art show that has been in the making for a period of six months.

With robots as its theme, the first edition of Artbots provides wide-ranging and deeply interesting perspectives on the uneasy relationship human beings share with humanoids i.e robots designed like humans.

Curated by Sonny Singh and Samira Sheth, the exhibition opened at The Cube Gallery in Moira to great appreciation both for its stunning visual impact as well as its deeply penetrating insight into the current human condition, in which AI has an all-encompassing and powerful presence. 

The show contemplates diverse ideas through artworks conceived and executed by a standout group of Indian and international visual artists based in Goa including Chaitali Morajkar, Sonny Singh, Querozito De Souza, Thomas Louis, Saheel Khan, Maria Philipose, Praveen Naik, Julio De Souza, Paola Diaz Silva, Sparsh Gupta, Anna Melenevskaya and Diana Lee, with design and fabrication support from Oleg & Katya.

The artists express themselves across a range of media including paintings in acrylic, oil, watercolour and charcoal, sculpture, photography, audiovisuals, installation, ceramics and mixed media assemblages to create artworks that are both conceptually and visually striking.

“We are fascinated by humanoid robots, by the idea of making something in our own image. Perhaps the power of being Creator or controlling and programming something in our likeness drives this fascination with building artificial humans.  

“Angelic, devilish, playful, innocent, dull, colourful, sexy, all-powerful – bound only by the limits of our imagination, we are free to create these artificial beings as we like, imbue them with any persona of our choice to bring our fantasy to life, often projecting feelings onto and forming an emotional bond with them,” writes Co-Curator Samira Sheth in the curatorial note for the show.

“This artist collective pushes at the boundaries of thought and imagination to expand our encounter with the world of humanoid robots, looking at how these manmade creations have changed and continue to contour, disrupt and transform the world as we know it, broadening our awareness of the associated social, ethical, economic, cultural, political and even personal issues we will face in a robotic future.”

The show opened on May 1st, International Labour Day, particularly significant as the term robot derives from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning forced labour as done by serfs. It was used by Karl Capek in his satirical science fiction play R.U.R. published in 1921 to describe the robot as a humanoid artificial being developed to do menial work. Since then, with advances in science and technology, robots have exponentially grown in programming, intelligence and sophistication further complicating the already uneasy debate about artificial intelligence, vacillating between utopian and dystopian views of the world, between a more efficient, effective and technologically enhanced world where humans don’t need to do hard menial manual labour, unwanted or dangerous tasks and one where humans are not needed at all and are made superfluous and can easily be substituted, even beyond the work sphere.

And so we come face to face with these humanoids in our daily lives– as a friend and helper in our households, in nursing care, as a digital therapist or even as a sexual companion in a sexbot. Moving away from the sense of fear and menace, humanoids are quickly becoming objects of love and desire, affecting both our relationships with ourselves and with each other, a telling insight into the fragility of the human heart that longs for companionship and care – even if it’s computerised.

“In this humanoid world what happens to human purpose, meaning, identity, connection, creativity, empathy, interpersonal relationship dynamics?” asks Samira.

The artists weave together science, technology, literature, ancient myth, legend and popular culture to explore these complexities in the blurry spaces between these worlds of human/ machine.

Artist-architect Sonny’s ‘Artbots’ make an intriguing sight. The artist imbues 5 humanoids with an array of imaginary personas, using spectacle and showmanship to create glamorous art objects that are immediately arresting in the process. His team including Anna Melenevskaya and Diana Lee worked painstakingly on the detailed costume design and makeup while Arambol-based Kotya and Oleg add their own special bohemian cyber-tribal-punk counter-culture vibe to these figures of fantasy.

“I am inspired by winged mythological fantasy figures in imagining these robots. I see this entity as a fashionable chic artefact that could enhance the experience of the human space, rather than just be a useful slave or object of desire, let alone a weapon of destruction,” Sonny Singh.

Veteran artist Querozito De Souza presents paintings and drawings ofamorphous beings in a state of flux, of becoming, caught up in the processes of transformation, destruction and re-formation “in search of other selves.”

Querozito’s works move between various ends of the human and robotic experience, between the “discovery of a race that’s mechanical, defined and controlled in contrast to human emotions, sensuality and desire.”

In an artistic idiom ripe with animal symbolism and surrealist imagery, Chaitali Morajkar causes a shift in perspective as she explores the robotic world and its far reaching effects through works that juxtapose the humanoid with the animaloid.

The artist delves deeper into the subject of artificial intelligence, exploring multiple ideas in her artworks – “the insecurity/fear of this robotic world; humans themselves turning into machines; disappearing emotions and humanity; dependency – all placed against the comfort and easy life this robotic world has brought.”

Using sculptural elements and mixed media to express his thematic concerns, Praveen Naik underlines a subtle critique of the modern-day organisation of labour which results in a sense of alienation felt by the assembly-line factory worker reduced to merely a faceless alphanumeric number or index code. Through works rife with references to mythological deities and heroes, the codes of learning and being, this artist-professor raises important philosophical, social and ethical questions that arise around the subject of man and machine, of humanity and humanoids.

He comments, “We are about numbers now…codes, phone numbers, sizes, account numbers, OTP, QR’s define our existence. Numbers are what we teach, numbers are what we have become.”

Primarily a figurative artist with charcoal as his chosen medium, Saheel Khan’s bold strokes and smudges bring his subjects to life with remarkable detail while still maintaining a dream-like quality. The young artist from Nagpur is currently Goa-based and his expressive works look at the interesting ways in which human beings seek to connect with and develop feelings for their robotic companions, even though these robots are controlled, programmable machines. 

“Can we still feel love while holding a synthetic hand? Along with technological advancements do we also need to advance emotional intelligence in humans for a better future?” asks the artist.

Living and working in Arambol in Goa for the last two years, Russian/Spanish/Chilean artist Paola Diaz Silva employs Surrealism to express herself. “After all, this is a world of ideas, illusions and images trying to exist in the physical world. This is a style where reality is intertwined with mysticism, where dream and reality are together,” says Paola.

With imagery that is strange, mysterious and grotesque, Julio D’Souza’s paintings defy conventional notions of beauty in art taking us deep into an exploration of the human creative process itself. These shadowy realms are ripe with symbolism and meaning, forceful in their visual impact.

A trained draughtsman and painter from The Florence Academy of Art, Italy, Sparsh Gupta’s paintings are a beguiling mix of reality and reverie. He uses ancient mythology to great effect, touching upon the Creation of the world, the origin of human sorrows and the nature of myth-making itself in the process.

Tellingly, his paintings for the show are titled ‘Awakening’ and ‘Connect’ as he comments, “For the past half century, a majority of human beings have been living an egoistic life which has led to a major decline in their population. The chances of finding another human being to share a relationship with are decreasing day by day.” 

In her multimedia Installation using photography, audio visuals and text, titled ‘Iola & I’, Maria Philipose pushes the boundaries of her photographic practice with an extraordinary commitment to detail. Her work is both highly personal and passionate, as she uses Artificial Intelligence to play Creator and Goddess, creating her perfect self in her own image. And so, we have a conversation between this programmed future self named IOLA (inspired by a personal story for the artist) and the artist and we have photographs of the two juxtaposed against each other. The play of energies between the artist and her creation forms the crux of this artwork, revealing both vulnerability and strength as it displays Maria’s scars and sensuality against IOLA’s faultless, flawless persona. 

Ceramic sculptor Thomas Louis presents some outstanding works combining ceramic with machine parts he has collected over the years. He says, “It’s only a matter of time before organic life forms and machines integrate seamlessly to explore realms in the infinite space of human curiosity and make their own mark.”

Nimmy Joshi gives free rein to her imagination crafting and assembling an array of wonderful robotic creatures in ceramic and found materials that “would only help and support mankind in the not so far machine driven future.” 

Her range of automata includes an intergalactic space traveller, a submarine bot, Chef bot, Pet bot, Security bot and other companion bots in ceramic and mixed media. Of her work, she says, “As we hurl through space and time where else to look for design inspiration other than our greatest teacher- nature; one that has all the answers.”

These diverse artistic voices in Artbots present a variety of perspectives on man and tech and give viewers much to look at and think about. 

Looking at this bounty of artwork navigating these thematic concerns, Co-Curator Samira asks, “One compelling question resonates throughout the show – after all, if robots can do everything better, faster and more powerfully than humans themselves then at the end what does it even mean to be human?”

Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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