Interview with Niki Passath

At the Opening of Artificial Retirement, Niki Passath will perform his piece The Entertaining Aspects of Destruction with his RC-car, a small robot, mounted with acrylic paint filled containers, that draws a path as it drives over the surface of the floor.

Passath, who lives and works in Vienna, Austria, is a current Flux Factory resident artist, where he recently presented Thinking Like A Machine, a robot making workshop and his first contribution to Flux Factory’s educational program. He describes his works as “lifelikeness machines and robots, made lifelike through their behaviour and actions.” His robots do not have human figures but the lifelikeness can be seen by their ‘imprecise’ movements. Passath intentionally adds errors in the robot making process, which makes them move unpredictably and adds an element of chance to their actions.

His robots take over the noble jobs for humans. Rather than releasing us from our mundane work of industry and production, they become the artist, the painter. However, in Artificial Retirement, Passath will allow his robots to be destroyed by the audience, as if he is giving control back to humans. I interviewed Passath to get to know more about his background and what the audience should expected to see at the opening event.

Niki Passath, Robotic Painting Performance, Galerie Freihausgasse, 2014

What made you to propose your work for Artificial Retirement?

When I read the Open Call, I could immediately identify with failure, error, malfunction and imperfection as core keywords in my work. I believe that all creativity, all kinds of progress and invention starts with errors, or some misunderstanding, which then lead to a new solution or a new aesthetic. I’m thinking a lot about these ideas, and I want to be part of a group of people who are discussing them.

From Thinking Like A Machine at Flux Factory 2016

What made you to start making drawing robots even though you have classical music background?

I started playing a Violoncello when I was five years old. Not so long ago I realised that playing a Violoncello was a beginning step towards building robots that make art. A musical instrument is an ‘interface’ between an artist and programmed scores (traditionally music notes). As a musician who needs and instrument to make music, I also need a robot or a machine to make paintings.

Some of my painting robots draw traces on the floor. During The Entertaining Aspects of Destruction, one of drawing robots will be destroyed in the end. The robot inscribes (draws) what it does during its ‘lifetime’ and it becomes possible to analyse its behaviour through the final painting. In the end the painting reveals the programmed but ‘unexpected’ scores.

From Thinking Like A Machine at Flux Factory 2016
I believe that all creativity, all kinds of progress and invention starts with errors, or some misunderstanding, which then lead to a new solution or a new aesthetic.

Is there going to be any unpredictable act from the RC-car you are going to present at the exhibition?

For sure. It is always very exciting for me, because it is difficult to embed precise mistakes and errors into an acting kinetic object. When the goal is the destruction of the tangible robot, it is not really possible to practice the performance. It is possible that everything will break-apart very early or not at all, so there is a lot of ‘independent existence’ in these machines.

You are also going to terminate your drawing machines at the end of the performance! Apart from entertaining side, how do you feel about watching your creature progressively destroyed by other participants?

When I made my first robot it was a tattooing robot which drew freeform lines on my forearm. The tattooing process is painful, however, because the pain indicates that the robot is performing correctly, the negative painful experience turns into a positive connotation.

In a normal situation I am not happy if something gets destroyed or broken. But here, similar to what happened with my tattooing robot, the destructive process turns into something else. It might be something entertaining or even become a constructive process. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes with the audience.

Passath’s tattooing robot, Kurt (2002)

Artificial Retirement opens August 19th at Flux Factory with an opening reception at 6pm. Performances by Byron Rich and Heather Brand, Niki Passath, and Fan Letters start at 7pm. AR is a Flux Factory major exhibition.