Monday, 29 January 2018

Aye, Robot (apologies to Isaac Asimov)

Paolozzi, the digital artist in a still-analogue age, had a fascination with robots, especially around 1970.  Nearly 50 years on, these things are now frequently in the news as examples break through from being laboratory projects into the everyday environment, for instance as now-practicable housework ‘assistants,’ and, yikes, as functioning sexual partners.  What was science fiction to us 1950s/60s/70s-dwellers is fast becoming everyday reality.  Disappointingly, the aesthetics of realisation don’t compare well with the imaginations of Fifties artists, Eagle’s Frank Hampson for instance, whose visualisation of the dashing man in space – Dan Dare – makes Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin look no more than a  lumbering, jazzed-up Michelin Man.


Likewise, the primary-coloured tin and plastic toy robots of the Fifties appear much more characterful than the rather sterile-looking models now emerging, (though in regard to the sexually active ones, being hygienically sterile may well be a very desirable attribute . . .)

 Robots amongst a sample of the collection of toys amassed over many years by Paolozzi

Sexbot as pictured in the Sun, January 2017

But, back to 1970, and it’s a bit awkward in the Artist’s studio since it looks as if Eduardo’s chat-up lines were not impressing his mechanical companion:

Courtesy of Robin Spencer (Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews)

Paolozzi said of the etchings series, Cloud Atomic Laboratory, (1971):

The schism that separates Space Age Engineering, technical photography, film making and types of street-art from fine art activities is for many people/artists unbridgeable.

Within the grand system of paradoxes, the theme of this portfolio is the Human Predicament. Content enlarged by precision. History shaded into the grey scale as in the television tube.

Le Robot Robert,’ is from the series:

© Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation

Below is a detail of the 'Shelves of Readymades' which was made for the 1971 Tate Paolozzi exhibition.  This has been preserved within the Krazy Kat Archive kept at the V&A.:

Courtesy of Robin Spencer (Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews)

Much convoluted theorising is valid about Paolozzi’s purpose in using robots as subject matter – analogy with issues of control/subservience in a new technological-age, for example – but he said something much more straightforward in 1960 talking to Edouard Roditi:

. . . if one of us (sculptors) chances to find a particularly nice and spooky-looking piece of junk like an old discarded boiler, he can scarcely avoid using it as the trunk or body of a figure, if only because its shape suggests a body to anyone who sets out to do this kind of assembly work.  Then one only needs to weld something smaller onto the top to suggest a head, and four limb-like bits and pieces onto the sides and the bottom to suggest arms and legs, and there you have the whole figure, which has come to life like a traditional Golem or robot . . .

This late Seventies book with its strangely engaging cover image was referenced by Paolozzi:


Paolozzi’s interest in these things as subject matter was sustained through to near the end of his career, as demonstrated by the most impressive sculpture, ‘Vulcan,’ installed in the Dean Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art:

© (c) Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation

And, meanwhile, over at the National Museum of Scotland, some more Paolozzi robotic creations keep guard of a collection of ‘early-man’ artefacts:

© National Museums Scotland

Paolozzi had always liked to explore the juxtaposition of images and objects, contrasting the mundane with the deeply philosophical for example.  I think therefore that he'd be particularly pleased with this installation.

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