WS13: Merging Artistic and Research Practices Toward More Expressive Robotic Systems
Amy LaViers and Catie Cuan // New Delhi, India
Thursday, October 17, 2019 8am-1pm [Updated 10/22/19 with images from the workshop!]

Catie and Amy performing at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in New York, NY.
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

“...the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” - Shakespeare, Hamlet

We're fascinated with robots because they are reflections of ourselves." - Ken Goldberg, Robots as Mirrors


As we work to bring robots out of the factory and into humans’ everyday life, it is important to begin designing the contextual embedding and subsequent expression of these systems with greater care. Researchers and artists hold two critical components to helping design machines that make sense to lived human experience, which is situated in context and culture. However, for these communities to effectively collaborate, some transfer of concepts and approach must occur. In this full day workshop, participants will explore movement from an embodied perspective, see selected performances that leverage robotic systems in their expression, and work collaboratively through a series of facilitated exercises to develop new research collaborations embedded in artistic practice. Participants will learn about frameworks, pragmatics, and challenges in this space from a team of roboticist-dancers who collaborated as the director of a robotics lab and that lab’s artist in residence in 2017-2018.  The goal of this session will be to attune participants to the philosophy of movement artists and provide key takeaways that may be of use in robotics research. Selected performers will present their work to kick off the day and inspire fruitful interaction. In the second half of the day, participants will be paired up and given roles that correspond to “artistic lead” and “research lead”. These teams will work to develop a new concept for leveraging robots to present artistic ideas and using artistic practice inside robotics research. The workshop will conclude with breakout sessions for targeted discussions about the benefits and challenges of working in this way and for brainstorming sessions that will hopefully further nurture new collaborations.

Call for Papers Performances

Investigators working in the performance modality are invited to submit performances (instead of papers) to be presented during the workshop. These performances can include moving bodies of any kind, e.g., humans, robots, animations, and films, but should feature simultaneous artistic expression and research inquiry. Presentation of work during this workshop will inspire discussion and disseminate best practices for working at this intersection. Presentations may be video recordings of situated work, especially if transport is infeasible or the work is site-specific; however, some preference will be given to live elements (even just excerpts). Submissions should describe synergistic goals, name each contributing team member, and include images that communicate the aesthetic tone of the work. A description of running time and technical elements should also be included. Please note that performances will be limited to 15 minutes with limited technical elements, e.g., lights, space, rigging, during this workshop format; submissions should describe how the work will be modified to fit this informal format.


8am – Introductions (Who is here?), inspirations (Why are we here?), and introspection (What can you expect today?)

8:30am - "How to: an artist-in-residence in a robotics lab" discussion with Amy and Catie

- break -

9am – Performance + discussion

A Machine by Amy LaViers, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)
A Machine asks audiences to push back against the machine-based metaphors we assign to humans. Can machines exhibit the same behaviors as humans? In what ways is your phone superior to you? How can you outperform a robot? Can you live without your tools? Are you a machine?

- break -

9:20am – Performance + discussion

Robotic Canvas by Merihan Alhafnawi, Sabine Hauert, and Paul O’Dowd, University of Bristol
Robotic Canvas combines swarm robotics, human-robot interaction, and art. This project implements robots as a dynamic and interactive visual art medium - capable of displaying static images or video feeds - upon which humans can paint with their physical gestures. Art making therefore becomes a collaborative and immersive performance between artists, digital content, and robotic agents.

- break -

9:40am – Performance + discussion

Comedy by Jon the Robot by Naomi Fitter, Oregon State University (OSU)
Jon the Robot is an autonomous robotic stand-up comedian whose main goal is to make you laugh. He has not learned to pass captcha challenges, but he hopes to captcha your heart.

- break -

10:15am – Sharing questions and movement designs (working in pairs): Where is your common ground? Which of your curiosities overlap?

10:45am – Overcoming technical/artistic knowledge gaps (working in pairs): What’s a nugget you can share with your counterpart? How can you confirm new understanding with one another?

11:15am – Arts versus engineering value systems, pragmatics, and logistics (working in pairs): How are you going to credit this work? Where will you get financing? Can you continue after this workshop?

- break -

12pm – Workshop debrief; working in small groups, participants identified lessons learned, ideas generated, and questions moving forward to report back to the large group, showings of work as desired

*Match-making: During the morning breaks between performances, participants pair/group up (pairing an “engineer” and an “artist” to the extent possible) and work together through each facilitated lesson (from 10:30am on) to develop overlapping interests and an initial working concepts, with clear research and artistic goals generated. Through this role-playing, the workshop will highlight the benefits -- and challenges! -- of working collaboratively with artists to facilitate rich human-robot interaction.



The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab
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