Technology

Portrait of Spot the Robot Descending a Staircase

Bay Area artist Agnieszka Pilat began her profession as a classical painter and illustrator, spending her days secluded in a studio portray portraits. Originally from Poland, she struggled to interrupt into the aggressive San Francisco artwork scene: Galleries weren’t concerned with her work and he or she felt remoted, till an area artwork collector approached her with a proposition. He wasn’t within the ballerinas she usually painted, however favored her expressive portray fashion. He renovated buildings by day, and infrequently saved outdated artifacts he picked up from these websites in his workplace. He invited Pilat to come back and paint him one thing from his assortment of misfit objects. That’s when she met her first mechanical topic: a “stunning, classic” pink fireplace bell.

That expertise despatched her inventive profession in a wholly new course. Suddenly, galleries have been concerned with her work, and he or she began to make some cash.

“In a way portray a machine actually linked me extra to folks,” Pilat says.

Her proclivity for outdated machines later took her to a residency on board the USS Hornet, a World War II plane provider in Alameda, California. There, she painted a sequence of portraits of the ship’s mechanical parts, together with the exhaust pipe from a Sikorsky helicopter and an airplane engine that she wrapped in Rosie the Riveter fashion ribbons.

“These have been actual souls, these machines,” Pilat remembers.

She began in search of out alternatives at extra Bay Area tech corporations: Wrightspeed Powertrains, Autodesk, and Waymo. At Waymo, Pilat spent months trying to color the self-driving automotive’s Lidar part, solely to surrender in frustration. As a portrait painter, she regarded for historical past, persona, texture—attributes she struggled to seek out in Waymo’s compact rooftop dome.

“It began popping out actually hostile,” she stated. “The means I take into consideration new applied sciences, they’re like youngsters. As a classical painter, your job is basically to seize the essence of the sitter, not the superficial. These machines, they’d no soul.”

It felt like a bitter private failure, she says, however Pilat continued looking for a possibility to convey newer applied sciences to the canvas.

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat

She’d seen movies of Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robotic canine of viral Youtube fame, and longed to satisfy it, maybe even draw it. A good friend within the business made an introduction on her behalf, and Boston Dynamics invited her to their 180,000-square-foot facility in Waltham, Massachusetts, for a go to. Her authentic intent was to go and “do one little sketch,” however that sketch became a 12 months of sketches and dozens of encounters with a number of the world’s most superior robots.

“The know-how appears to be extra trustworthy to me,” she says. “I believe the valley places a variety of stress on engineers and it’s only a totally different tradition.”

Her exhibit “Renaissance 2.0,” which opened yesterday in San Francisco, is a fruits of her expertise at BD, and a mirrored image of the parallels between the Italian Renaissance and what Pilat sees as a world technological renaissance with roots in Silicon Valley.

Pilat at all times felt a bit insecure in regards to the realism in her work, usually regarded down on within the artwork world, however working with Spot opened new avenues of expression for the artist.

“Spot gave me permission to do summary work, to be conceptual with out feeling like I’m giving into the pattern of abstraction,” she says.

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat

The present options 12 work modeled largely off of classical Renaissance photos, together with Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. But the oil on linen items function Spot and Boston Dynamics Atlas robotic as a substitute of human topics. Using an outdated medium to color know-how is considerably absurd, Pilat admits, however she loves the paradoxes underlying her material: machines are sometimes noisy, and portray quiet and gradual; a bit of artwork is at all times barely totally different, machines are completely replicated.

“Art is all in regards to the artist who does it, and originality, uniqueness. Machines are mass produced, there is no such thing as a authorship, so nothing is basically authentic and considered one of a form,” she says.

Though they received’t be a part of Renaissance 2.0, Pilat additionally labored on a sequence of photos with Spot—compositions that turned out much more summary than what she sometimes creates.

The pair produced 12 work collectively, an expertise she counts as one of many coolest in her life. There are 4 methods of working Spot: manually, with software program, using Spot’s athletic AI, or with an Oculus linked arm. Pilat encountered challenges with all 4 strategies, and attempting to color a 2D picture with a robotic optimized to work in a 3D atmosphere was, massive shock, difficult.

Spot diligently held an oil stick in its four-pronged claw and did its greatest to observe instructions, however translation wasn’t at all times straightforward. Creating horizontal traces was practically unattainable, however, Pilat says, Spot is “superb at small circles.”

More than something it made her admire the dynamic fantastic thing about the human hand.

“It’s so superb in comparison with a robotic’s. Understanding tips on how to squeeze your instrument, and if it slips somewhat, tips on how to readjust.”


A number of months into her stint at Boston Dynamics, Pilat was approached by a few engineers on the robotic arm staff. They felt slighted that their venture hadn’t but been included in a portray. So she started sketching and dreaming up an idea for the arm, touchdown on the scene from Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Here, the 2 arms are each robotic, so the comparability will not be fairly one to 1, however Pilat nonetheless sees our relationship to robots and AI as parent-like.

“When you consider people, we’re at all times instrument makers, and once you need to do one thing extraordinary as a human, you construct a machine, in order that they mirror our highest wishes on this planet,“ she says.

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat

“I’m not a non secular particular person, and I’m not even very religious, however it was a very religious expertise for me,” Pilat says of “assembly” the Boston Dynamics Atlas robotic. “It felt like an genuine different being that has some sort of strong self consciousness, and we’re liable for it.”

So that she may paint it within the fashion of  Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, engineers hung it from a rack and Pilat snapped an image to work off of (Atlas robots are considerably unpredictable, and he or she needed to put on protecting gear whereas within the room).

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat

Based on the cubist painter Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2), Pilat’s depiction of Spot in a number of overlayed frames is supposed to mimic the way in which a machine gathers information and pictures of its environment. Instead of 1 easy picture, it takes in hundreds of thousands of items of information and seams them collectively to kind a whole image. All of the work featured in Renaissance 2.0 have an augmented actuality part. Visitors can pull out their gadgets and hover over the work to open up a wholly new dimension of the work. In Nude Descending a Staircase, Spot walks by way of its personal picture as if climbing a set of stairs. 

Courtesy of Agnieszka Pilat


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