PLAN 64: Article
Relating To Robots

An Exhibit of Drawings and Videos at the Compton Gallery

Embodiments, an exhibition of work by Finnish-born performance and video artist Pia Lindman, was on view at the MIT Museum’s Compton Gallery from mid-April through June. The show included drawings, videos and a new performance piece based on Lindman’s interactions with robots at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

A graduate of the visual arts program in the department of architecture (SM in Visual Studies ’99), Lindman was a lecturer in the Visual Art Program in 2004-2005 and is currently a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) through 2007; she will be an artist-in-residence at CSAIL in 2006-7.

As a Fellow at CAVS, she spent the summer and fall of 2005 exploring the gestures researchers use in interacting with the robots they’ve created – specifically researchers Aaron Edsinger and Lijin Aryananda at CSAIL’s Humanoid Robotics Group.

Edsinger is the creator of Domo, a humanoid robot that looks one in the eye and knows how to catch moving objects; because Domo has a sensory mechanism that makes it ‘aware’ of touch, one can move with Domo in ways that resemble reciprocity.

Aryananda is developing Mertz, a robotic head that interacts with humans by showing emotions through facial expressions and tone of voice; when interacting with Mertz, one feels that one has contact with something more than just a machine.

The drawings and videos on display at the Compton Gallery this spring were based on Lindman’s observations of interactions between those robots and their researchers, as well as between the robots and visitors to the lab. Her work explores the emotional relationships expressed and mirrored in those interactions through sketches, video and – most importantly – through physical reenactment.

The performance piece, presented in April, consisted of such physical reenactments. Lindman’s aim was not to make a perfect image of the robot or the researcher, but to process in her body what they might experience by reenacting their gestures.

According to Lindman: “Humanity seems to always have had a fascination with the idea of making a complete mirror of itself. A humanoid robot is intended to be such a mirror. My aim is to reenact both the researcher and the robot in order to disrupt the one-way mimetic relationship of the human to the robot.” By embodying both sides of the interaction, she makes less rigid the difference between the human and the robot.

Internationally known for her interactive performance and installation Public Sauna, first developed during her graduate work at MIT and later presented at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in 2000, Lindman’s work explores how our bodies become the loci of interaction between private and public.

Her early performances questioned architecture’s imposed containment of her physical and psychological experience of space. Her later work continues to question architecture’s rule and creates possibilities for embodied experiences for the audience. In her work with reenactments, she has returned to using her own body as a tool, attempting to transfer experiences from others to herself and back to the audience in the form of drawings and performances.

Born in Espoo, Finland, Lindman received her MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland. She has exhibited and performed widely, both in the US and abroad, and has lectured at Columbia, Yale, NYU, RISD and Institut Française d'Architecture in Paris. Her essay on her artwork New York Times 09/02-09/03 was published in Art in the Age of Terrorism, Gestures in the Space of the Unspeakable (2005) edited by Graham Coulter-Smith and Maurice Owen. Her video series Thisplace is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The MIT Project was funded in part by Council for the Arts at MIT. Thanks also to CSAIL, CAVS and the Visual Arts Program.