fri 18/10/2019

We Made It: Robots | reviews, news & interviews

We Made It: Robots

We Made It: Robots

The collective redefining urban sculpture with their bare hands

If there's anyone working today who can drag the idea of craftsmanship with wood away from the commodified safety and predictability of hipster cafes and “upcycled” furniture it's Leonard White, Jen Patterson and their Robots collective. Their 50-odd constructions over the past years, often on a monumental scale, are made from reclaimed wood and inhabit their sites like invading aliens. They have ranged from a griffon peering off the top of a Brooklyn warehouse, via a gigantic sloth climbing up a colonial era building in Quito, Ecuador, to a humanoid figure helping another up the side of the Hayward Gallery, London, but all have a unique cybernetic character. They feel like the city's junk has come alive through some spontaneous technological process and is just doing its own thing.

I like separating the artist completely from the work and making things that can grow automatically - automatic architecture! The sometime teenage graffiti artist, welder and movie set designer White gave us a few words on a break from disassembling one project, with another build immediately awaiting his attention. “Initially,” he explains, “the idea of building large scale structures and placing them on buildings was a revelation for me. At first I was simply in love with the concept of big wooden robots – I love toys, I love sci-fi and the aesthetic is appealing. But as the work, and the way we work, developed, a new understanding emerged and we became the robots ourselves: processing materials autonomously and making structures based on algorithmic patterns and collective artificial intelligence.”

And why scrap wood? It's simple. “Wood,” he replies, “is available everywhere! In all honesty it comes more from austerity than trying to be green ambassadors. It's easy to work with really available and can be moved around be at hand.” Is there a manifesto or mission? “No... no particular statement. I like separating the artist completely from the work and making things that can grow automatically. Automatic architecture. If there's a reaction I like from people seeing what we've done it's the classic 'what's all this in aid of, then?' - it's a really hard question, if you think about it.”

Robots in CroatiaAnd why so big? “I don't know, but I hate miniature art. I love all kinds of painting, drawing, sculpture, but tiny art – match stick head carvings and that kind of thing – makes me want to smash things. Please stop with all that. But then, the internet loves gimmicky art: if you paint the Mona Lisa using chewed up bits of your own clothing, you'll go viral.” Perhaps that's the key to Robots right there: in an era of kooky, quirky easily-retweetable gimmicks, of half-existent digital ghosts, this collective are out there “IRL” making things with their bare hands that are part of the physical fabric of our reality and exist on a scale that can't be captured in a YouTube window. These Robots are very, very real.

The latest on Robots, and details of their previous "builds" can be found on their site.

At first I was simply in love with the concept of big wooden robots – I love toys, I love sci-fi and the aesthetic is appealing

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