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Escape from Robot Island: Contemporary Art and Critical Automatons

  • 3841 NE Second Ave. Suite 103 Miami FL 33137 (map)

Hunter Braithwaite

writes about art and culture for publications like Condé Nast Traveler, Modern Painters, The Brooklyn Rail, and others. He was the founding editor of The Miami Rail.

[R.U.R.] introduced the word Robot which displaced older words such as “automaton” or “android” in languages around the world…In its original Czech, robota means forced labor of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands, and is derived from rab, meaning “slave.
-Rossum’s Universal Robots’ Wikipedia Page

The techno-futurist turn in art making and criticism seems not only scripted, but boringly inescapable. While new technologies support a growing number of distinct practices and exciting processes of interacting with art, one cannot ignore the increasing homogeneity and standardization of how art looks and is talked about. With the viral success of last year’s International Art English, Alix Rule and David Levine mapped out the linguistic monotony of this brave new world. To continue further, I propose another realm of culture with worn-down vocabulary and character tropes—genre fiction. Westerns, Romance, True Crime, and Science Fiction are some of the only places where writers can actually make money, and, as a result, are immediately written off by the serious minded. As a type of human expression, genre’s relative merits and problems should be discussed, but not here. Rather, its tropes and characters can become tools to critique the equally strange and insular world that we inhabit, that of contemporary art. As an anthropomorphic symbol of labor and information, the robot is the modern Vitruvian Man. Fittingly, the way society has considered robots has moved from a Da Vinci-era flight of fancy, to an embodiment of wage-slavery, to the menacing threat of the Other—always just about to rebel, burn cities. Can we talk about artists and critics in the same way? Are we programmed to do so?