3rd 01SJ Biennial September 2010

A global festival of art on the edge


Evolution of a Cultural Icon
San Jose Museum of Art
April 12, 2008 – October 19, 2008

Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon examines the development of robot iconography in fine arts over the past 50 years. In 1920, the term robot was coined from a Czech word robota, which means tedious labor. Since then, the image and the idea of a robot have evolved remarkably from an awkward, mechanical creature to a sophisticated android with artificial intelligence and the potential for human-like consciousness. As robotic technology catches up with the wild imagination of science fiction novels, movies, and animation, dreams and fears anticipated in these stories may also become reality. Artists included in the exhibition have responded to the technological innovation with optimism, pessimism, and humor, presenting work that ultimately explores our ambivalent attitudes towards robots.

The exhibition features sculptures, paintings, photographs, digital media, and installations created by more than 20 artists. While some artists meticulously create portraits or representational sculptures of robots, others address a range of social and cultural issues through robot iconography. For example, in The Battle of Twin Palms (2004), Jeff Soto comments on mankind’s adverse effect on the environment by depicting warfare between biomechanical creatures. Gail Wight’s Star Struck (2001) is a tiny diorama of a robot’s beautifully detailed, scruffy living room. A toy mechanical robot is sitting on his easy chair, his robot dog at his feet, watching Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) on his little TV. The floor is littered with crumpled Kleenex and the robot is sobbing, his body convulsing. Lang’s Metropolis, the first true masterpiece of science fiction in film, is about a futuristic city and its Marxist heroine, a female robot, who comes to a tragic end.

Despite the exhibition’s seemingly lighthearted appearance, the artists demonstrate the serious implications posed by new technology and our physically disconnected contemporary lifestyle. Both nostalgic and futuristic, the exhibition provides visual reflection on the technological advancements that are fast becoming an essential part of our civilization.

Some of the artists in the exhibition include: Clayton Bailey, Nemo Gould, Eric Joyner, Chico MacMurtrie, Michael McMillen, David Pace, Nam June Paik, Michael Salter, Lisa Solomon, Jeff Soto, Jason Van Anden, H.C. Westermann, Gail Wight, and Thomas Zummer. The exhibition is curated by SJMA senior curator JoAnne Northrup.