Minimalism by Robot

Geoff Manaugh
Nov 28, 2014 · 4 min read

San Francisco-based designer and architect Andrew Kudless is always up to something interesting, and one of his most recent projects is no exception.

For a new group of small works called “Scripted Movement Drawing Series 1” (2014), Kudless is exploring how robots might make visual art — in this specific case, by combining the instruction-based art processes of someone like Sol Lewitt with the carefully programmed movements of industrial machinery.

In Kudless’s words, “The work is inspired by the techniques of artists such as Sol Lewitt and others who explored procedural processes in the production of their work. The script, or set of rules, as well as the ability or inability of the robot to follow these instructions is the focus of the work.”

Left: The robot at work. Right: Untitled #16.

For Kudless, this means that “there is almost a primitive and gestural quality to the drawings created through the tension between the rules and the robot’s physical movement. Precisely imprecise.”

These giant robot arms, he continues, “are essentially larger, stronger, and more precise version of the human arm. Made up of a series of joints that mimic yet extend the movements of shoulder, elbow, and wrist, the robot has a wide range of highly control[led] motion. The real value of these robots is that, like the human arm, their usefulness is completely determined by the tool that is placed in its hand.”

So why only give robots tools like “welding torches, vacuum grippers, and saws,” he asks — why not give them pencils or brushes?

The results are remarkable, but it’s specifically the unexpected combination of Lewittian instructional art with industrial robotics that I find so incredibly interesting.

After all, Kudless ingeniously implies, it has always been the case that literally all acts of industrial assembly and production are, in a sense, Sol Lewitt-like activities — that conceptual art processes are hiding in plain sight all around us, overlooked for their apparent mundanity.

Left: Untitled #3 (Extended Lines Drawn from 300 Points on an Ovoid to 3 Closest Neighing Points at 100mm/s). Right: Untitled #15 (Twenty Seven Nodes with Arcs Emerging from Each).

It’s as if, he suggests, every object fabricated — every car body assembled — has always and already been a kind of instructional readymade, or Sol Lewitt meets Marcel Duchamp on the factory floor.

With these images, though, Kudless throws in some Agnes Martin for good measure, revealing the robot arms’ facility for minimalist lines and grids in a graceful set of two-dimensional drawings.

Kudless explains that “each of the works produced in this series was entirely programmed and drawn through software and hardware”:

None of the lines or curves was manually drawn either within the computer or in physical reality. Rather, I created a series of different scripts or programs in the computer that would generate not only the work shown here, but an infinite number of variations on a theme. Essential to the programming was understanding the relationships between the robot and human movement and control. Unlike a printer or plotter which draws from one side of the paper to the other, the robot produces the drawings similarly to how a human might: one line at a time. The speed, acceleration, brush type, ink viscosity, and many other variables needed to be considered in the writing of the code.

Various drawing styles were chosen to showcase this.

Untitled #7 (1066 Lines Drawn between Random Points in a Grid).
Left: Untitled #8 (Horizontal Lines Drawn between Points at Stochastic Heights at 100mm/s). Right: Untitled #6 (1066 Circles each Drawn at Different Pressures at 50mm/s).

There are many more drawings visible on Kudless’s website, and I am already looking forward to “Scripted Movement Drawing Series 2.”

You can also purchase one of the prints, if you are so inclined; contact the Salamatina Gallery for more information.

All images from the series ‘Scripted Movement Series 1’ by Andrew Kudless


re:form

A field guide to the designed world

    Geoff Manaugh

    Written by

    Author of the New York Times-bestselling “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” from FSG Originals. Working on a book about the history—and future—of quarantine.

    re:form

    re:form

    A field guide to the designed world

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