Alan Rath. Robot Improv

Jazz musician John Worley improvising to Alan Rath’s kinetic sculpture Absolutely (2012), San José Museum of Art, June 19, 2014. Courtesy of the San José Museum of Art.

Alan Rath’s robotic sculptures often resemble living forms—humans, plants, or animals—alluding to the organic qualities of machines made in our image. While studying electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rath became interested in learning what he could get machines to do, rather than using machines to perform predetermined tasks.1 The software he writes to animate his sculptures privileges play over thinking, leading them to perform and modify their behavior in relation with the world around them. Using light and motion sensors, robots like Absolutely (2012) improvise their own movement. As the artist has stated, “I want to evoke that feeling of transience, information flow, and make objects which are active, alive, not passive.”2 Influenced by the work of John Cage and Buckminster Fuller, Rath believes the art of our time should move.3

  1. Peter Boswell, Viewpoints (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1991), 1. ↩︎

  2. Alan Rath, in Dana Friis-Hansen, Alan Rath: Bio-Mechanics: Perspectives 93 (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1995), 4. ↩︎

  3. Peter Boswell, Viewpoints (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1991), 2. ↩︎