Spotlight: Our Friends Electric

Robots in Distress,  boredomresearch. Installation view.

Robots in Distress, boredomresearch. Installation view.

Derby's QUAD is currently showing two exhibitions exploring robots and artificial intelligence. As rapid innovation continues and access to technology becomes easier, artists have more opportunities than ever to experiment with new ways of producing work.

Machine Made: Art, Robots and AI presents work of selected artists who responded to a national open call seeking artworks that utilise robotics or Artificial Intelligence at some stage in their production, or artworks that explore and question the ethics and issues surrounding our technological future, specifically relating to robots and A.I. Our Friends Electric features artists who explore a range of themes and ideas relating to robots, artificial intelligence (AI), online networks and synthetic biology to highlight our hopes and fears for a present and future increasingly shaped by technological advance.

We speak to Peter Bonnell, Senior Curator at QUAD about the exhibitions and their challenges.

Tell us a little about yourself

I have been Curator, and for the last few years Senior Curator, at QUAD since January 2012. I work in a dynamic Programme team alongside the Artistic Director and Assistant Curator, as well as an Education Curator and Participation Curator, and FORMAT Coordinator. I generally manage, curate and develop the main QUAD Gallery programme with the Artistic Director, leading on liaising with artists (such as commissioning new work and designing exhibitions), developing partnerships and leading on installation of the work in the gallery. I also programme events relating to each exhibition, and work on projects regionally and nationally that link to the work that QUAD does to develop and nurture audiences to experience and enjoy contemporary art.

Your current exhibitions Machine Made: Art, Robots and AI and Our Friends Electric are both exploring AI. Which piece fascinates you the most?

The ‘real-time’ computer generated large screen work Robots in Distress by boredomresearch is incredibly simple in approach, but very poetic and thought-provoking. It is based on real scientific research of small bots designed to patrol and clean the world’s waterways – the highly polluted Venice lagoon for example. These bots – or ‘agents’ – will live in communities and be able to understand their own demise, and that of others in their immediate community. This will keep the flock of cleaner bots at their most effective – as they can join new, focused groups. But there is a deep poignancy in that we are giving birth to these machines, and programming them to be aware of their own mortality.

Have the works chosen presented technical challenges for the team at QUAD?

Anything that you could describe as new technology (in this instance, actual robotic works) can be temperamental. There are a number of robots in the show, with moving parts – and those moving parts can and often do fail. However, we have an excellent tech team at QUAD – TECH:SQUAD – who are experts at fixing things, and I generally liaise and discuss with artists how to resolve any issues.

Are there any upcoming opportunities for artists we should look out for?

We often have commission and exhibition opportunities arise; I would recommend checking the QUAD website on a regular basis here.

Image ™ & © DC Comics

Image ™ & © DC Comics

Is there another exhibition on currently in the region that you would recommend?

I grew up in the early 1980s reading the futuristic comic 2000AD, and in particular the exploits of Judge Dredd. In fact, I still do today – I’m a huge fan of British comics. So I would highly recommend the exhibition Judge Dredd to Wonder Woman – The Work of Liam Sharp at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Liam is a Derby lad now living in the US, and has drawn virtually every well-known superhero and comic-strip character.

Both Machine Made: Art, Robots and AI and Our Friends Electric show at QUAD until Sunday 10 September 2017.

Judge Dredd to Wonder Woman – The Work of Liam Sharp continues at Derby Museum & Art Gallery until Sunday 3 September 2017.