Mechanical Parts is a series of illustrations drawn by a robot programmed by artist Matthias Dörfelt. His machine, named ‘Robo Fabers,’ rolls across the paper and creates drawings autonomously, while adhering to a set of… interesting guidelines Dörfelt programmed it with. As he told Gizmodo, “basically [Robo Fabers] is doodling connectors—think of it as robot genitalia—as a first step of planing reproduction.” The machine randomly arranges various permutations of components as specified by Dörfelt. Most noticeably, shapes clearly resembling hairy and shorn testicles, phalluses, sperm, holes, and eggs are are visible in the drawings pictured above.
The drawings are at once both familiar and alien to us, as most of us are quite familiar with juvenile drawings of private parts from bathroom graffiti or our middle school days, but always of the same human parts we have to work with. This new, random, creative element of the work allows it to break out of the traditional conception of reproductive parts by employing many elements of the third stage of cybernetic art as outlined by Robert Mallary:
Stage three requires that the computer, within limits sharply defined by the programmer, make not only routine discriminations but decide alternative courses of action governing the whole system. But these decisions are made within guidelines sharply defined by the programme. The instructions given the computer might be something on this order: if A, do B, but only if C has not first been determined by D, and then only if a certain quantity of E exceeds that of F by such-and-such a proportion, and so on. For this kind of programming the programmer must know precisely what the computer has to do; either it is instructed exactly as to how it is to go about the job with no false starts, fumblings or blind alleys allowed, or a situation must be set up which enables the computer to make sound decisions over the long pull on a statistical basis, while leaving to the sculptor the final decision as to which of the computer’s productions have merit and are usable. (Shanken, 204)
By allowing the robot to make its own decisions within his guidelines, Dörfelt has created a machine with outlines new possibilities for reproductive parts that are outside of the traditional human conception. Like a physical embodiment of certain parts of his thoughts, the robot is able to create new artwork, of which Dörfelt is the only human creator, effectively extending his artistic lifespan beyond his physical lifespan. Of this, Dörfelt says, “My artistic practice will change over the years; Robo Faber’s way of drawing won’t. In a way, it is an offspring of my creative thinking and practice, frozen in time.” Interestingly enough, relationship is again very close to what is outlined in the fourth stage of cybernetic art by Mallary:
At stage four the computers’ heuristic capabilities enable it to remember the crucial form decisions and preferences of the sculptor, while checking these against his previous performances or against more objective ‘consensus’ (i.e., collectively arrived at) criteria filed away in the stored programme. A heuristic programme of this sort can be thought of as embodying the sculptor’s long- term preferences, style and personality, or at least his personality as an artist, and opens up the possibility of the posthumous production of art – i.e., after the sculptor’s death, the computer, loaded with a lifetime of accumulated programming, at the flick of a switch churns out works ‘in the manner of.’ (Shanken 204)
This simultaneous occurrence and mixing of elements of cybernetic stages was anticipated by Mallary himself, and his predictions for the relationship between human artist and computerized creator has turned out to be surprisingly accurate, seeing as he outlined it in 1969.
The relationship between Mechanical Parts and Thijs Rijkers’ Suicide Machine Sand is a fairly inverse one, as the nameless machine in Sand is designed to unquestioningly carry out the job of ceasing its own function, whereas Robo Faber in Parts is tasked with imagining myriad ways in which mechanical creations could feasibly reproduce. Interestingly enough though, both pieces make the viewer empathize with mechanical objects that are not in fact alive, wether it be the facing the bleakness of an existence that must by design come to an end in Sand, or by identifying with the determination of Robo Faber to find a way to reproduce. Both artists have created a sense of life and emotion where there is none, and in this way both are using art to push their viewers’ thoughts toward the possibilities of robotic life in the 21st century.
Shanken, Edward A. “Documents: Robert Mallary: Computer Sculpture: Six
Levels of Cybernetics.” Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009. 209. Print.