Robots and Avatars – Previewed

A new exhibition opens at FACT on Friday promising to provide a glimpse into our near futures. Just don’t be disappointed if there are no kitchen droids on display.  

If the previous exhibition at FACT (Republic of The Moon) called into question and lamented our relationship with the dashed expectations of a collectively imagined future, the forthcoming Robots and Avatars is surely offering the flip side of that coin, dealing in potential and innovation within our grasp.

Co-curated with the interdisciplinary east London design collective, body>data>space, the exhibition seeks to step away from the typical pop-culture imagery conjured up by the mention of robots and/or avatars; instead, it looks at the increasing overlap of technologies into our lives, and our burgeoning dependency on them.

Boasting a plethora of international artists, a centrepiece of the exhibition promises to come in the form of Belgian Lawrence Malstaf’s ‘living’ installation, Compass. As with Malstaf’s earlier work, Shrink, shown as part of 2010’s Abandon Normal Devices, Compass will rely on members of the public to bring the piece to life.

Straying back toward those ideas of robots and avatars difficult to escape, so successfully implanted by decades of cinema, and surely one of the selling points of the exhibition; what of them? ADA is an interactive installation from Polish artist Karina Smigla Bobinski, and perhaps, best fits the bill. An autonomous, giant globular piece, it is constructed to float freely in the gallery space, of its own free ‘will’.

As well as some of the work that can broadly be described as performance pieces, the exhibition aims to offer practical solutions to visitors, too. Swiss artist Matthieu Cherubini has devised an online service providing users the opportunity to install a ‘bot’ on their favourite social network; the aim being, to create an extension of the user’s existing account, looking at the potential reach of our social interactions, and their virtual/real-life applications. If like us, you find yourself tied to twitter via your smart phone, this could be of real benefit.

With other works variously dealing with the murky worlds of Social Robotics, hybridity and the ‘population’ of virtual spaces, the exhibition will doubtless throw up questions of ethics and morality faced in our ever more hyper-real existences; what will be interesting is whether it will be satisfied to leave those questions hanging, or much more compelling, if it seeks to provide at least starting points for answers.

Any exhibition treading the as yet barely-mapped territories between art and visions of the – however achievable – future risks falling into the realm of novelty, marked in thick indelible ink. But in Robots and Avatars, it seems FACT may have deftly sidestepped that particular pot-hole, and delivered another ambitious, thought-provoking, and challenging exhibition.

Exhibition opens Friday 16th March and runs until Sunday 27th May

Posted on 13/03/2012 by thedoublenegative