Posts Tagged ‘Anthropomorphic’

1966 – “The Bug” Floor Cleaning Robot from ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ – (American)

In the film 'The Glass Bottom Boat', the inventor Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) tries to impress Jennifer (Doris Day) with his "Automatic floor-cleaning" robot after dropping banana peel on the kitchen floor. It only manages to pop out of its door to arc towards the dropped banana peel and through reversed footage, arc right back into its home under the kitchen end cupboard.

Bruce then sprinkles flour onto the floor, and the robot again pops out of its door, but this time, a telescopic tube 'nose' extends and sucks up the mess.

"We call it 'The Bug' ", says Bruce, "there'll be one in every home some day."

Jennifer accidentally burns the cooking, and the oven ejects the remains onto the floor, which activates 'The Bug'.

The rigid telescopic 'nose' transforms into a flexible tube for this scene.

'The Bug' returning to its 'house' with Jennifer's thong.

The Visual and Special-effects for this movie were done by J. McMillan Johnson and Carroll L. Shepphird.

This kitchen and robot appears to be inspired by RCA's Automatic Kitchen from 1959.

Note: I first became aware of this robot when researching my post on the Silent Running movie Drones where, from The Making of 'Silent Running',  Bruce Dern said,

"One of the keys to the film is the fact that are that they are not mechanical. The fact that here's a guy all by himself. He's looking at a box…… has no eyes, no mouth, no ears and yet it's alive, and there's something that I respond to as an actor, as a human being, and as a character in the film and that's what's its really all about. Somehow the fact that any little box or machine  I've always been scared of machines anyway, that can move around the floor and stuff. I saw a movie once,  "The Glass-Bottom Boat", it was terrible movie but Rod Taylor and it  had a little machine that cleaned up his kitchen, you know, that he pressed a button it came… [new part 2 from Youtube missing transition] …packing everything there and it scared the shit out of me, man. But I respected it, you know and I thought, that, well, he should talk to it, you know."

See other early remote-controlled and robotic vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers here.

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1969 – Robot Vacuum Cleaner Concept from Computopia – (Japanese)

Computopia, a contraction of the words computer and Utopia, is a Japanese concept from the late 60s. This snippet of a robotic floor cleaner is from a set of great illustrations from the Japanese magazine Shonen Sunday who illustrated an article on the topic.

Source and full set of illustrations here.

See other early remote-controlled and robotic vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers here.

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1964-5 – Robot Art – Enrique Castro-Cid (Chilean)

Anthropomorphicals I and II. 1964. Plexiglass and Aluminum. 65in. x 20in. x 24in. Richard Feigen Gallery, New York. 1965.

Source: Beyond Modern Sculpture – Jack Burnham 1968

It would be misleading to classify [Hans] Haacke as an artist primarily devoted to applying cybernetic principles to mechanical artifacts; rather his interests are in those cyclical processes which manifest evidences of natural feedback and equilibrium. One might call this an environmental systems philosophy, one that has little to do with practical or theoretical science. Instead it reveals a keenly sensual attitude toward the most ephemeral phenomena.
Clearly in opposition to Haacke's position is the Chilean presently living in New York City, Enrique Castro-Cid. The early drawings of Castro-Cid demonstrate a strong awareness of cybernetics as it is beginning to affect our notions of human physiology. These working drawings progressively substitute machine components for their anatomical equivalents. It is evident from the author's conversation with the artist that Castro-Cid has read deeply in the literature of mechanical evolution and the mind-body problem of classical philosophy. He senses that the possibilities of man-machine interaction are richer than ever before. Thus, his newer constructions depend more on this awareness and less on prevailing tastes in sculpture.

Since Castro-Cid's first robot exhibition in 1965, the artist has moved toward a more sophisticated awareness of man-machine interactions, in which anthropomorphism plays a diminishing role. The early robots (FIG. 126) are interesting for their painful sterility : no longer the clanking metallic beasts of the 1920's, these are more akin to humans divested of their corporeal form, mere brains placed in bell jars with appropriate electrodes inserted, sending commands to mechanical limbs. This contemporary electronic man is encased antiseptically in a clear plastic enclosure ; a vestigial anatomy drawn on the background hints faintly at a once biological life. Wiring and small components take the place of tendons and blood. Anthropomorphic I (1964), while suggesting the lapidary effect of a micro "mechanical brain," is technologically an unartful assemblage of synchron timing motors, a set of mechanical relays and a handful of light bulbs—all used to terrifying effect. But, reduced to its functional definition, this machine has none of the goal-seeking, self-stabilizing ability of even such relatively simple animals as Grey Walter's Machina speculatrix; it is, indeed, a mock robot.
Lately Castro-Cid's energies have gravitated toward a mode of sculpture which could be termed "cybernetic games." These are imposing, boxlike systems sometimes powered by air jets which keep plastic spheres moving within a defined cycle of positions. The trajectories of these bouncing balls are limited but appear to be random. There is a kind of ultra-precision to these constructions which implies more ultimate purpose than that invested in most New Tendency kinetic works ; they simulate the precise, instantaneous technology of a computer system in which playfulness is merely an aspect of some greater hidden function. The poetic imprecision of these games as On and Off—exists in the fact that they imitate a level of technology which they have little hope of duplicating. On the white surface of the compressed air sculptures are painted green areas which suggest different functions. The chasses of the games are extended into nonpurposeful shapes which contains no interior equipment.
What electromechanical components (photocells, electromagnets, air compressors and film projectors) Castro-Cid does use are invariably endowed with a certain forbidding and brittle austerity. Here the motion-picture form becomes the means for projecting a changing image with more substance than the imposing chassis housing it. While the chances for man-machine interaction often remain restricted with these sculptures, their real purpose, in terms of future art, is apparent : the joining of dissimilar systems into playful semi-automatic games in which the human operator can be seduced by an element of unpredictability while charged with the impression of strong purpose. In terms of their psychic complexity these works may appear to be trivial, but as a means of introducing ideas for reshaping the world they transcend the single-purpose machines of Kinetic Art and move beyond the limitations of scientific Constructivism.
It may be argued, justifiably, that modes of art do not transcend each other; they simply are. Yet a fundamental quality of art which has become possessed by technology is its tendency to follow the ascending spiral of sophistication defined by technology, either real or conceptual. Style, thus, becomes a ramification of a certain technological level, and a stable non-evolutionary technology would in effect produce a styleless art, if the results of such a marriage could still be termed art.
While it is reasonable to suppose that the constructions of Castro-Cid cease to represent the classical image of sculpture, it is equally relevant to question whether figures in bronze and marble still symbolize the form-creating ambition of our culture. It is obvious that they do not, and we are less and less inclined to pretend that they do. It has been retorted, though, that an art form so intensely technical as Cyborg Art cannot but lack in spiritual vigor. Still, we might answer with Spengler: what a culture shapes with its life blood—be it an ethical system, architecture, or a spaceship—represents the quintessence of its spiritual destiny. An artist such as Castro-Cid constructs mock cybernetic systems, not in hopes of producing another stylistic tremor, but because they represent the technical and spiritual will of our civilization.

Enrique Castro-Cid , 1965.

Source: Cornell Daily Sun-1965
Enrique Castro-Cid Chilean Artist's Robots Show Machines Can be Playful


Two foot-tall robots on a large plexiglas platform playfully buffet and "elbow" each other about. A larger robot moves across the floor with a pumping red, rubber heart in his chest. A fourth, confined to a basin under a plexiglass dome shifts futilely back and forth. Another waves red tentacular arms in slow circles and blinks a solitary light bulb. Their creator is Enrique Castro-Cid, a young Chilean artist and art critic with long, thick black hair and a generous smile. Castro-Cid arrived at the University yesterday as a guest of the College of Architecture and will remain on campus until tomorrow, lecturing, observing classes and criticizing the artwork of Cornell students. Although his family encouraged a legal career, Castro-Cid was diverted from law school to the study of art and served as an assistant professor of drawing in Chilean University. The difficulties of making a living in Chile, where artists receive few subsidies and awards, led him to the United States four years ago. Castro-Cid has since had two successful one-man shows and was recently awarded a $5000 Guggenheim Fellowship. His unique creations glide, stalk, hover, float, flirt and even think. This past month a force of Castro-Cid's robots and automotons flashed their playful personalities and conquered New York City's Feigen Art Gallery. Children were fascinated, but their parents were more captivated by these plexiglass, wood, and plastic robots and rapidly bought out the show. Modern society, Castro-Cid feels, is unduly preoccupied with the "Faustian" evil of machines. Much of today's science ficton depicts a bleak future where unfeeling, dominant machines enslave their human creators. For many, automation portends mass unemployment and a society suffocated by the glut of leisure time. A cheerful advocate of the idyllic "Dionysian" society, Castro-Cid is most optimistic about the present trend. Contrary to traditional belief, he feels that labor is not the moral ideal. He makes the sympathetic observation that "to work is terrible if it is not thoroughly enjoyed" and hopes that automation will make the drudgery of labor obsolete. His machines are "playful" and personable and therefore very likeable. They were originally intended for Castro-Cid's own amusement, and their foremost purpose is to be enjoyed. The inventions, however, also illustrate some of the complexities of modern life. Two ping pong balls, red and black, fight for a single current inside a wire container. The head-shaped cage, Castro-Cid explains, represents the human mind where ideas compete for precedence in a randomly-directed stream of thought. An electric train buffets a black ping pong ball around a circular track. At one point the ball is trapped by an upward stream of air while the circum-navigating train tries to pass a loop around it. Statistically, Castro-Cid explains, the shakily hovering ball should pass through the hoop in two out of every 20 trips. Castro-Cid added he believes this paradox of the "limited or ordered random", freedom within a restricted area, reflects the condition of modern man. Accident and order are equally significant in human existence, he said. Castro-Cid explained he has attempted to demonstrate the complexities of the machines and the human mind by mimicking both in his anthropomorphic technology. He does not ally himself with "pop" artists who, he claims, establish their rather weak points by mis-placing everyday objects such as soup cans and brillo boxes. He was enthusiastic, however, about the work of Cornell student artists who he considers "on the par with professionals." Castro-Cid's first show, entitled "Ideas for Fantastic Zoology," dealth with compound anatomies, his preoccupation before robot art. Inspired by studies in the American Museum of Natural History, the artist concocted "jaberwocky" creatures whose organs and appendages logically fulfilled the animal's needs. Castro-Cid explained this inventiveness in painting to mechanical innovation. Working at home, frequently in energetic late-night sprints, he has produced 20 works in the past seven months.

Enrique Castro-Cid – Pioneer in Latin American Art
Published: August 17, 2011 – Source – here

Enrique Castro-Cid burst onto the art scene with ferver.  He had arrived in the United States to a hungry New York City waiting for the next big thing.  Awards, Guggenheim Fellowship Grants, exhibitions at galleries and museums followed briskly after his early 1960's arrival.  He immediately became a darling of the art world.  Dashing good looks and a Latin American style led him to marry first a Harper's Bazaar cover model, Sylvia, and then an art patron, Christophe de Menil.  Enrique Castro-Cid formed and broke relationships.  Forming and breaking are two sides of the same coin.  The human form is as it looks, until of course you change the perspective, the coordinates plotted onto a graph in space, change your way of seeing.  Welcome to a look inside the world of Enrique Castro-Cid.

He was born in Santiago, Chile in 1937.  Art studies at the Escuela de Bellas Artes at the Universidad de Chile would commence some 20 years later.  Shortly after his studies came to a close, he found his way to New York City.  His loft was something artists dreamt about, huge and full of potential.  That was Enrique Castro-Cid.  He was a larger than life figure whose ideas about art could not be confined to a mere three dimensions.  He wanted more.  Four, five, six.  Why did there have to be limits on the imagination?

He pioneered the relationship of computers, geometry and art.  His vision was one of space-time.  His limitless imagination and command of the computer in the 1960's and 1970's allowed him to create art that would be conceivable in the computer, but difficult to represent – five dimensional space being one of those ideas.  He would come to be considered an avant-garde psychologist of perception.  He experimented with pictorial space and with geometric transformations.  He took his art and way of understanding to another level.  Or two…

Castro-Cid drew our attention to many questions.  How do we perceive a deformation?  How do we perceive a face?  Is a face a face whether it is smiling, frowning or impassive?  How do we know that expression, if we have never seen the face before?  His art explored these concepts.  He would draw the human nude form and the outline of that form would be plotted carefully on a graph.  As he changed the formula and the equations, the outline of the form would seem to distort.  The equations were then changed to such a degree that the form, once known to us, now seemed almost unrecognizable.  Or, were we looking at the process backwards?  Were we looking into other dimensions?

But perhaps, he as an artist was only experimenting with these ideas and never meant to delve so deeply into such questions.  But that is the nature of art.  It beckons you close, then pulls you in.  You are asked to understand something that may never be understandable.

Castro-Cid's time in New York City had come to a close, he headed for warmer climes and arrived in Miami in the 1980's.  Of course, once again he was a celebrated figure on the art scene and was once again given many awards and exhibitions.  He lived a fast paced life in Miami, a roller coaster ride for all those who dared to climb on board.  He was a Latin American artist living the American dream.  Following his desires, his dreams and his own path into space.  He created art for a select few who cared enough to see his vision.

The technology of Computer Aided Design and such new programs as are used today, can see their ancestry in his art.  Certainly a branch of the family tree.  He was the root.  He helped to create a movement that exists to this day.  His work has long lived past him.  He died of a heart attack in 1992.  54 years.   A lifetime of ideas.  A vision that will last the test of space-time.

Mechanical Hound – "Fahrenheit 451"

It has been claimed elsewhere that Castro-Cid constructed the hound for the movie "Fahrenheit 451" .  If he did, it was never used.

Fahrenheit 451 (first screened 1966)
The Making of Fahrenheit 451 (as per DVD bonus) – Reference to "The Mechanical Hound"

Ray Bradbury: One of the flaws of the film, for me, is the absence of the Mechanical Hound, because he's a feature that helps tell you about the future.

Producer Jay Presson Allen: I thought the robotic dogs and so on would be very, very difficult and really not what he [RB] was trying to do and , I mean, it would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which is really what he was interested in most of all so I think he was quite proper to avoid, the more or less conventional science fiction. there were so many coming out at that point, and I think they made the right decision to withdraw from that and not make that the overwhelming aspect of the film.

**Update Feb 2016: I've been contacted by Dr. Barry Ragone who has the original drawing of Castro-Cid's Mechanical Hound (dated 1965). He has asked me not to publish it, and also requested a critique, which I've reproduced below:

Hi Barry,

Thanks very much in showing me the drawing.  By not being numbered, it is a one-off, and its intended use to be the plan to build the actual dog from, and not as an art print! Very unique.

My initial thoughts were that you had not sent me pictures of a 'hound', but of a beetle.  The legend in the drawing obviously says otherwise.
Based on that initial surprise, I've tried to be critical in context of the era i.e. 1965, the technology available, the artist's style, and the possible brief from the director / props team.
The hound in the book is eight-legged and injects one with a hypodermic needle from its mouth.
The real-life fire-station dog tended to be more a mascot than a working dog, hence the Dalmation. Hounds are sniffer dogs, or more sinister as in Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
To my knowledge, there were no robotic dogs in movies prior to 1965. The first I can come up with is "Snooper" from "A View to Kill" – James Bond 1970; Rags in "Sleeper" in 1973, then "K-9" from Dr Who, 1977.   However, "Cyber", a cybernetic dog was built by Bruinsma in 1958 – 4 moving legs, and dog-like.

Some critics of the 1966 movie say that it wasn't as good for leaving out the 'mechanical hound'.  Even if the actual robot could not perform as expected, certainly the use of special effects would have been sufficient, in my opinion.

Thanks again for sharing with me.

See other early Robots in Art here.

1972 – BioMechanical Sculpture – Trefor Prest (Welsh-Australian)

Trefor Prest creates some of the most amazing and fantastic sculpture I've ever come across. I've been to Gruyeres and seen H.R. Giger's work, seen Hans Bellmer's "Machine-Gunneress in A State of Grace", and to see Trefor's sculptures is something else again.  His maritime series has a Vernian feel about them, a world of Nautilus submarine melded with its underwater life after Nemo's tumultuous end, with a everlasting ability to communicate with you with the turn of a lever, wave of a wing, the opening of a hatch, all for the need of you to give it life from its suspended state.

See Trefor's website here

Source: Weekly Times, July 30, 2010.
Visit Trefor Prest's studio
by Genevieve Barlow

SHOULD you ever need to snatch a vision of how a mid-20th century steel pressing mill might have looked, visit Trefor Prest's studio.  There at the rear of 12ha of bush at Strangways, between Newstead and Hepburn Springs, 500 metres from the house he and his teacher wife, Belinda, built, you'll find such a vision. There's a fly press that can shape brass, a Macsan flat bed lathe and lathes that huff and crank in a way 21st century machines never would. They're all obsolete, but in the hands of Trefor are all taken apart and transformed into quirky art sculptures.

"It's not as if you have to throw it away because you can't get the software for it," Trefor, 65, says. "You can see how it all works."
Point taken.

The mechanics of the machines are clearly on show. There's nothing hidden from view, no hidden wires delivering messages deep inside as we have with today's computers. Just shafts turning cranks and pushing levers and so on. It's the visibility of these mechanics that holds a clue to the beautiful but bizarre works that Trefor creates.

His sculptures are made of brass, steel and other metals sometimes completed with canvas. Shapes allude to human bodies. Ribs of steel adorn round shapes that open with the push of a lever to reveal intricate mechanisms.

"Traditional sculptures are all surface but I like to emphasise what's inside," the father of three says.

Intricacy and detail are vital to his works. Recently he rescued a vast steam boiler, made for distilling eucalyptus leaves, from the bush and installed the end plate on the wall of his studio. He explains how each of the rivets would have been made with brute force. Seeing it there, one is prompted to think about the nature of work then and now.  But mostly his works are compelling puzzles, enigmatic pieces that prompt the viewer to ask "what does that bit do?"

The Welsh-born son of migrants, Trefor studied at England's Croydon College of Art before he was expelled, came to Australia and became an army conscript. He later enrolled at the then Gallery School, which became the Victorian College of the Arts. He loved working with metal and completed a three-year welding apprenticeship before working with a mechanic making truck trays, among other things.

Recently, some of his works were shown during the Lake Bolac Eel Festival, but he can go years without an exhibition.
At 65, he is disappointed his works are not more in demand, yet he loves to make them and does it with as much joy and enthusiasm as he did in his 20s.
"A lot of people don't make things until they know they have an exhibition coming up and then they go into a frenzy saying 'oh my god I have to make something' but there's no joy in that. "Everything then becomes a hassle.
"I don't do things for exhibitions. I exhibit whatever I already have." Nor does Trefor design things first. Instead he begins and sees what takes shape.

"I used to work in a way where you didn't think about aesthetics, you just had to work out how something could work," he says.
"One of my larger pieces took three years to make. "That's when I thought 'this is ridiculous'."
A lifetime of work is building up in his studio.
It's worth a look, before fame strikes.

•Trefor Prest, 134 Hepburn-Newstead Rd, Strangways, ph: (03) 54762406. [+61354762406]

Source: Australian Country Style December 1997

Fourteen years ago contemporary sculptor Trefor Prest packed his bag, loaded his family into the Land Rover and, with Doreen the donkey on the back, left Kalorama in the Dandenong Ranges to commence a new life of rural bliss near Newstead in central Victoria.
"We must have looked very conspicuous driving through Melbourne," says Belinda, Trefor's wife. 'We had Doreen crammed in the back with all the luggage."
Doreen was the main reason why the Prest family chose to move to central Victoria. Having a large block of land at Kalorama, they rather fancied the idea of having a donkey and when informed by friends about one available at Sandon, agreed to drive there one weekend. In the process of collecting Doreen, they also fell in love with the beauty of the area and quickly decided that this was where they wanted to live. The decision wasn't a tough one to make as Trefor had been battling with a lack of electricity in his studio which made work impractical, and the damp weather which was affecting his health.
Six weeks later, when a cottage became available for rent at Sandon, Doreen was back where she started.
Shortly after they moved to Sandon, a miners cottage at nearby Strangways came up for sale and so began a new era for the Prest family. Overlooking the fertile flats forged by Jim Crowe Creek and Loddon River, the cottage was one of many relics left over from the gold rush of last century, but the yield of gold from the valley was so high that the area was still being dredged until recently. More important than gold, the Prests' new property had a gentle rise overlooking the cottage which was an ideal site for Trefor's workshop, but before the family became absorbed in building the studio, they needed to make the cottage habitable. "It was pretty basic when we first came here," Trefor says.
The original cottage was built around 1890 and later had two lean-tos added. There was only an outside toilet and no bathroom, so these became the Prests' first priority. With the assistance of a friend, Trefor has done most of the work himself including massive renovations and additions to the rear of the cottage which, he says, are "still going on" to accommodate his growing family of Sam, 17, Tegwen, 15, and Bonnie, 13.
From the road, the Prests' cottage looks much like it might have in 1890, but the renovations and additions include three arched windows which are impressive features on the north wall, a second level built from cedar and blending in with the brick work beneath and a wide cool verandah which beckons on a hot day.
Trefor's studio looks as if it has been there for the past century. Progressively built from second-hand galvanised iron, mostly salvaged from the Castlemaine Woollen Mill fire of 1981, it was later extended to include a gallery for his collection of pressed metal sculptures.
Trefor spends most of his time there, up the hill from the house and under the watchful eyes of Doreen, working on his metal creations and listening to his beloved opera music.
There is little left of the original garden with the exception of an exquisite pink rose which Belinda has been unable identify, the remains of a plum hedge which Trefor had to tame with severe pruning and two enormous cypress trees at the front fence which flagged the cottage's location for bygone visitors walking from Strangway's railway station. Additions to the garden include a young grove of elms, oaks and willow trees surrounding a small ornamental lake which has a waterfall and a flock of geese that defy all efforts to keep them away.
Trefor's artistic influence is evident from the galvanised steel sculpture which doubles as a letterbox in the gateway to the fire box in the dining room which is constructed from a recycled steel boiler. He believes that the use of steel, wood, brass stock and copper sheet salvaged from scrap metal yards adds interest to his sculptures. "Acting out his engineering fantasies," an art critic once said.
While Trefor has completed many engineering courses, including a welding certificate, it is his childhood memories of his seaside home in Wales and his love of stories from the sea and outer space which provide the basis for most of his ideas. A friend's yarn about a lifebuoy labelled "for those in peril" prompted one of his more interesting pieces, a glass case featuring a diver submerged in clear oil. Trefor is also influenced by nautical and aerial machines from bygone eras and his sculptures aren't just for looking at, they must be touched and experienced. A sculpture with wings that parody flight is manoeuvred by a handle and in another piece, compartments open to reveal a hidden aspect.
Pieces of Trefor's work have been sold to corporations, as well as the National Gallery in Canberra and galleries in locations as diverse as Newcastle and Launceston, yet he believes that he is still to reach a turning point in his career.

"Young artists often receive a lot of attention early in their careers, but after that you have to wait until you're 60 or 70 years old before your career picks up again," he says. "I hope that I don't have to wait that long."
More recently, Trefor has enjoyed the new experience of tutoring two days a week at Ballarat University. "It's a nice change to be surrounded by people who appreciate what I do in a professional sense," he says. And yet he is also glad to get home and participate in "a bit of domestic life".
All three of Trefor and Belinda's children show artistic tendencies and the studio also houses some of their work, but Trefor encourages them to make their own decisions on what to do with their lives.
"From my own experience as an artist, it hasn't been a dream run."
Since Doreen prompted the Prests to make Strangways their home in 1982, the family has extended to include Pinkie the rat, Hugo the ferret, Alfred the guinea pig, two dogs and a number of horses. Firmly entrenched in their rural lifestyle, it would take more than a Land Rover to move the Prest family now.

Craft Arts International No.34, 1995

Evocations of an early machine age, crafted with an exquisite sense for materials, the maritime sculptures of Trefor Prest possess a reverie that defies their highly polished, finished outlook. Text by Henk Bak.
THE creations of Trefor Prest are reminiscent of bathyscaphes or bathyspheres, of deep-sea exploration, of the way in which shipwrecks grow by disintegration and quiet transformation, through corrosion and sedimentation, seaweeds and shells, in the dark depth of a seabed.
As a rule, Trefor Prest shapes and forms the elements of his compositions to his own specification: the work of a metalsmith and a toolmaker, mechanic and woodworker. Over the past 15 years or so the forms have evolved from structures to vessels, to composites of both; from the purely mechanical to an increasingly organic feel, with strong metabolic tendencies. The titles of the works have partly come as a reflection on the finished piece, partly as a motive developing through the work, as with For Those in Peril (1992) and Dogger Bank. The latter is the only piece that is mainly composed of timber.
The way Prest works with wood creates a fair amount of dust and ventilation problems, which he thus far has tended to avoid, although he has the equipment, fan and ducts, to face them. For the time being wood sits more comfortable in his work as a warm and enriching element incorporated into handles or vessel bodies, enlivening them with a touch of quiet charm.
Prest's own rare hints as to the meaning of his work allude to notions of "escape" and "nostalgia". His reticence is appropriate, for the work is quite capable of speaking for itself and words are not the language in which it speaks. His sculptures are distinctly sensuous. Anyone with a healthy sense of touch and balance, vitality and movement, warmth and sound, will have much to explore and to delight in. Modulations in surface texture, alternations in materials such as wood and metal, generate variations in tactile temperature, amidst an all-pervading warmth articulated through cooler elements. The pieces appeal to both the "material" imagination (Gaston Bachelard) as well as the "formal" imagination, and include warmth or temperature in the range of their aesthetic qualities — a possibility that the sculptor Joseph Beuys had been the first to explore with materials as diverse as copper, fat and felt.
The mechanical, automated or tool-like appearance of the sculptures, suggestive of the whizz and clatter of fast-moving parts, supplemented with the occasional suggestion of a sounding horn, creates a fine stillness around them. There are, indeed, some moving parts and one can experience some complex transmissions when trying them out, but these modest "real" sounds cause only tiny ripples in the atmosphere of stillness. These movable contraptions are fun, kind of gentle jokes; deceptively simple, like good comedy, playing down considerable input of effort and skill.
If a reviewer's first task is to intensify the viewing of the work, a second task may be to expand the viewer's context, thus uncovering some of the work's potential and its possible direction. In both cases the key to any reviewing lies in the work itself, even if references to other people's work and to the literature may be helpful in the clarification.
There are some affinities with the work of Geoff Bartlett and the late Anthony Pryor. One could try to classify Trefor Prest's work as post-Modern, Modern, constructivist or surrealist. (Ref. Max Ernst's The Elephant of the Celebes, 1921.) These may be valid ways of expanding the context for his work.
For the purpose of this elucidation it may be useful to adopt a different line of approach, for many viewers are intrigued by the "living" quality of these machine-like, lifeless objects.
If art does not copy things but makes them visible, tangible, audible and so on, then what Prest's sculptures manifest is what Michael Polanyi has called the "tacit dimension": i.e. the way we are present beyond the physical boundaries of our bodies, in our instruments and tools; for example, a blind person, at the top of his or her walking stick.
In seeking to explain life by purely physical and chemical laws, scientists tend to look for mechanisms, as they seem to represent the purely physical and chemical laws in action. What those scientists don't seem to realise is that mechanisms are explained by their purpose, not by physical and chemical laws.
Mechanisms and machines work in a margin of freedom that the laws of nature allow them. There are limits to what pressure, tension, torsion, friction, etc., materials like metals and wood, clay and glass stand up to. When a mechanism breaks down, it has transgressed one or more of these limits. Physical and chemical laws explain a machine's breakdown, not its function. A machine works through a purposeful use of its margin of freedom. Purpose is a category beyond the grasp of the physical sciences.
Purpose belongs to the realm of life, sentience and intentionality, i.e. culture. In a nutshell, this is Polanyi's classic exposure of science's blind spot for the cultural basis of mechanistic explanations of life.
A foreigner who was an absolute outsider to our culture and who knew all the chemical and physical laws of nature, would not be able to explain a wire, a handle, a vessel or a piston …. By getting to know our culture such a foreign visitor would start to understand how this culture uses Nature's margins to extend our bodies and our lives through tools and machines and to what purpose.
This brief excursion into the realms of theory and philosophy of science may help to enhance our appreciation of work such as Prest's: Without a clue regarding purpose, machines would remain a riddle, unsolvable in principle. Doubly riddling would be sculpture, as one needs to know purpose in order to transcend it. As a work of art, a sculpture transcends purpose. A sculpture in the form of a machine may be triply enigmatic, especially when some components of the "machine" are contrived to work with deliberate uselessness.
This three-step transcendence of physical/chemical law seems to convey a sense of life to them in the same way as their stillness seems to evoke movement and sound. In his earlier work this "organic" quality might have been latent (pure structures), and then interiorised in the second stage (vessel forms). At present it seems to have surfaced, emerging from their containing bodies (as in Our Lady of Troubled Waters, Art Fair, and Albion's Dream), or winding their way around those bodies like external intestines, in the way insects have their external skeletons (as in Sun God, Desire and Rope). In other works those surfaced "organs" seem to have externalised themselves into a position that clears the space surrounding the container body (as in Days of Hope perched on the peak of a cone, or Ship of Fools cradled in the open ribs of a boat's hull).
In For Those in Peril the organic body remains inside but is made visible through the windows of its lantern-like container body, whereas in Dogger Bank the container body is an elaborate piece of architecture, tower-like, shed-like, ramp-like, in which the ship hangs high and dry. Mainly made out of wood in this sculpture Prest plays with varieties of timber in the same way as with metal in his other work.
All mechanisms find their ultimate explanation in living organisms, the function of which they are extending: spades and hammers extend our hands cooking pots our bellies. Living organisms themselves embody our sensitivities, desires, feelings and aspirations: reverberating and resonating with them  and reflecting them. In this sense, the title may not only convey an escape from a sterile culture of electronised technology, a nostalgia for the time when machines still embodied humanness in their tangible handles and intelligible transmissions, also suggest a timeless sense of machines as embodiement — from a personal to an individual mythology, from an individual artist's life story to the magic cauldrons of Celtic fairytales or the prophetic products of Ilmarinen's furnace in the Finnish Kalevala The concept of organprojektion was introduced by Ernst Kapp, over 100 years ago, in his philosophy of Technology: the idea that in tools and machines an organism projects itself outward. Mental projection, i.e. unconscious transfer of what lives in me as feeling or thought into the outer world, people, objects and so on, is a deep psychological concept, starting with Breuyer and Freud. Although both concepts of projection may be useful in an appreciation of Prest's work, the most valuable one is organo-projektion. Not only does it make sense of Prest's work up to now, but it also suggests something of its potential. In other words, we observe in the titles "mental" projections; condensations of what the maker sees in the work and passwords for the viewer to enter it. In the works themselves we see machines revealing their organic, human and cultural origins projections of a more objective kind.
In his recent exhibition called "Pinacotheca" at the ACAF Contemporary Art Fair in Melbourne (September—October, 1994), the works were seen removed from their aquatic element. Imagine them being lifted from the water, washed and shiny, dripping, causing rippling circlets to spread … it was no accident that Gaston Bachelard made his point on material imagination in a book on water. To this effect, a series of photographs of Trefor Prest's work emerging from and hovering above the water has been very helpful.
Henk Bak
Henk Bak is Senior Lecturer in History and Theory of Art, Faculty
of Art and Design, Caulfield/Frankston Campus, Monash University,
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams (1942), The Pegasus
Foundation, Dallas, 1903.
Transforming Art, Vol.4, No.2, 1994. Creativity. The Arts. Water
Haselbrook, NSW.
Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, Doubleday, New York, 1967
The Kaleia or Poems of the Kaleva District, compiled by  Elias
Loennrot, Trans. W. Kirby, The Athlone Press, London, 1985 
Georges Canguilhem, Machine and Organism, Incorporations, 
Zone 6, Urzone Inc, New York, 1992.

"Tales From The Valley Below" 1978

In my early 20's, I walked into the National Art Gallery of Victoria (Australia), and saw this in the foyer. I immediately fell in love with it.  Unfortunately I lost my note of who the sculptor was. Years later, thumbing through old Art in Australia magazines, I saw it again and made sure I kept the name this time, Trefor Prest.

Behind the local church in Richmond, Melbourne, was a gallery called Pinacotheca. The local minister, for some reason or another, had access to this gallery, and my family went in for a look. Lo and behold, more works of Trefor Prest's. I was beside myself.  These were large pieces back then.

PREST, Trefor
294 "Untitled"
•Exhibit shown by courtesy of Bruce Pollard,  Pinacotheca Gallery, Richmond.
Exhibit size Height 180 cms length 100 cms width 80 cms
Materials / media used – mild steel, stainless steel, bronze, brass, wood.
My work is the result of an intuitive process rather than an intellectual one.
I do not have a neat explanation of what it is "about" which makes this sort of statement rather hard. Perhaps I could say that it has to do with things like alchemy, anarchism and magic. This, combined with a lifelong interest in tinkering with mechanical things has led to what I do now.
Making these things occupies a large part of my time and thought. They evolve slowly and reflect a preference for complexity rather than simplicity and mystery rather than intellectual logic. They are the end result of long hours of seclusion in the shed. There are no found objects here. Every part is made by myself, except for a few screws, bearings and gears.
Obviously I am interested in mechanical things, but I see these pieces as more than machines. Technically of course they are quite illogical and useless. They have their own anarchistic order and their logic is more akin to magic than technology. I hope I am not being presumptuous in equating the making of sculptures to the "great work" of the alchmists. I could claim that these pieces are closer to trees, say, than to machinery. That they have more of the valley and forest in them than the machine shop and forge.


Other sites showing Trefor's sculptures –

The Origin of Robots

The robots that are in this category of my blog are those that look and attempt to behave like human beings according to their creator's abilities and available technologies. Although I'll use the word "humanoid", words such as "humaniform" and "anthropomorphic" tend to be used as well.  My focus is also on Robots at the beginning of the ‘Electric Age’.   Whilst I have an interest in automata, this blog will not talk about clockwork automata unless necessary by context.

Whilst at this introductory stage of the topic, I would like to introduce some basic language, or nomenclature around our robotic friends.   I intend on using the names contemporary of  the times, eg Automatons, Mechanical Men, then Robots.  It’s probably my hang-up but it concerns me when I see headlines like “da Vinci’s Robot” , or “Robots of the 19th Century”.  

When researching the etymology of robots, I can’t do much better than quote from the book by Isaac Asimov and Karen Frenkel, “Robots – Machines in Man’s Image”:



Just as technology changed man’s ability to create devices in his own image, it filtered into definitions of those devices. The evolution of automaton definitions, for example, reflects changes in the ways “self-movement” could be achieved. Attitudes toward new technologies also permeated some definitions. The origin of the word robot was itself a comment on technology’s role in society. Whereas automaton definitions reflected the technology of the day, robot definitions remained vague regarding the technology required to make them run. Forty years after robot entered the English language, a definition of industrial robot finally specified what was meant technically, but a world consensus was not reached and definitions continue to vary from language to language.

Automaton is derived from the Greek words for self and move, but only a related word, automatous, appeared in a 1671 English dictionary as:
Automatons [Gk] having a motion within itself.’
Automaton  did not appear in the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1778 either, but did find its way into one of Noah Webster’s first dictionaries.
automaton n [Gk, automates; autos, self, and man, moveo. motus. The Greek plural, automata, is sometimes used; but the regular English plural, automatons, is preferable. ] A self- moving machine or one which moves by invisible springs.’
Here, self-movement was closely associated with springs, reflecting the significance of clockmaking in the history of automata. Definitions of automatic and automatical indicated that an automaton might “have the power of moving itself,” but the action was not necessarily voluntary or willed. Since automata of the day were created to amuse the wealthy, there was no reference to automata that do work. Less than twenty-five years later, however, the influence of the Industrial Revolution crept into both automatical and automaton explanations.

automatic 1: Belonging to an automaton; automatical, having the power of moving itself; applied to machinery. 2. Not voluntary; not depending on the will; applied to animal motions.
The term automatic is now applied to self-acting machinery, or such as has within itself the power of regulating entirely its own movements, although the moving force is derived from without; and to what pertains to such machinery; as, automatic operations or improvements.
Automatic arts; such economic arts or manufactures as are carried on by self-acting machinery.

automaton n [Gk, automates; autos, self, and man, moveo. motus. The Greek plural, automata, is sometimes used; but the regular English plural, automatons, is preferable. ] A self-moving machine, or one which has its moving power within itself. The moving power is usually a spring or weight, particularly the former. The term is generally applied to machines constructed so as to imitate the form and motions of men or animals.’
Here, automata were self-powered machines that produced and the technology to do so was referred to as automatic art. Power came from springs or weights, was not quite as invisible as before, and was to create animal-like movement.
The definition of automatical remained basically the same in an 1879 edition, but added that automatic machines made movements commonly made by the human hand. It is tempting to think that the editors foresaw today’s robotic arms and grippers, but the example of automatic movement that followed was instead “the automatic dividing engine,” probably a reference to Babbage’s machine.
The word spontaneous filtered into the 1879 automaton definition, perhaps because notions of “spontaneous generation” were highly disputed during this time, even though the dispute was dispelled by microbe hunter Louis Pasteur during the 1860s and 1870s.
automaton n p1 automata or automatons A self-moving machine, or one which has its moving power within itself ;— applied chiefly to machines which imitate the motions of men or animals. The term is sometimes applied to anything which has the power of spontaneous movement. “So great and admirable automaton as the world.”‘

It took over five years for the word "robot", introduced by Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R., to appear in an English dictionary. In the 1934 Webster’s it appeared as:

robot n [Czech, fr. robota work, compulsory service; akin to Oslav rabota servitude, OE earfothe hardship, labor, OHG arabeit trouble, distress, ON erfithi toil, distress, Goth arabaiths labor, L orbus orphaned, bereft—more at ORPHAN] I. In Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), one of a large number of artificially manufactured persons, mechanically efficient, but devoid of sensibility; hence, a brutal, efficient insensitive person; an automaton. 2. Any automatic apparatus or device that performs functions ordinarily ascribed to human beings, or operates with what appears to be almost human intelligence; esp. such an apparatus that is started by means of radiant energy or sound waves.’
During the 1950s and 1960s, as computer technology advanced, the question arose as to whether computers, by virtue of their humanlike ability to memorize, were immobile robots. As computers became scaled down and were used to control machinery, the converse question arose— were robots merely mobile computers? Also debated was whether, in addition to duplicating human functions, a robot had to look like a human.
The debate continues today, among hobbyists who have built their own versions of what a robot should be, advertisers who have moved from traditional media to building robotlike facsimiles of products, manufacturers of personal robots that consumers can have in their homes, and manufacturers of industrial robots that toil in factories.
One hobby roboticist, Andy Reichelt, includes the human element in his definition: A robot is “an automated machine with the motor capabilities to duplicate some human motor functions or a shape that emulates the human shape.”‘
Promotional robot manufacturer J. W. Anderson, president of ShowAmerica Inc. in Elmhurst, Illinois, makes radio-controlled devices operated by behind-the-scene actors who supply voice and speech content. Says Anderson, “a promotional robot is mobile and can move among people while conversing with them and display various animated features and capabilities.”
He distinguishes his robots from Disney World’s audioanimatronic figures, like the Abraham Lincoln character, which speaks, turns, and nods, but does not walk.
While these definitions do not mention computers, personal robot manufacturers think of their devices as mobile extensions of personal computers. Some are also planning robots with computers on board. This group sees robots as both educational devices that present challenges to amateur programmers and as home entertainment. Their robots either look humanoid or are at least designed to suggest some personality.

RH Notes – 2009] It is interesting that the word "Robot" [Roboter in German] is never mentioned in the book or the film "Metropolis" at all, but "Machine Men" [MaschinenMensch in German] is. 

Update: July 2012 RJH: Images of the Metropolis programme handed out for the Marble Arch Pavilion premiere in London Mar 21, 1927, recently released on the internet by a rare-books house,  mention the words: Mary the "Robot", Maria the "Robot" , "Automaton", "Automaton Mary", and "Artificial Man".  This programme also compares excerpts from the book with "Scenarios" (i.e. the screenplay). So whilst the book never uses the word "Robot", the Scenarios do!  It's quite possible, then, that Fritz Lang was the first to connect his "automaton" to that of a "robot".

Čapek's Robots were Artificial Men, not Mechanical Men.

Capt. W. H. Richards, in 1928, announced his mechanical man Eric with "R.U.R." emblazoned on its chest. Thereafter the media largely attributed the word ROBOT to metal men, or woman as the case maybe.

Here is a graph from Google showing the usage of the word "robot" in the [mainly American] newspaper media.  The peak in 1945 is to do with the German "Robot" bomb in WWII.

Qualification(s): 1. Research performed on mainly English-language sources. 2. Google Newspapers (no longer available) reflects mainly American newspapers.

Update: 8 Jan, 2011. I was re-reading Tim Hornyak's book Loving the Machine (2006) and realised he was suggesting similar concepts as me, as well as giving a Japanese viewpoint.  The extract is below:

"Then call them 'Robots'"
What exactly is a robot? The word is difficult to define. The Oxford English Dictionary says a robot is "a machine (sometimes resembling a human being in appearance) designed to function in place of a living agent, esp. one which carries out a variety of tasks automatically or with a minimum of external impulse." Japan's authoritative Kojien dictionary describes a robot thus: "a complicated and elaborate manmade automaton, an artificial person or cyborg; in general, a machine or aparatus for work or control that can be made to perform automatically."
To qualify as a robot, it seems a machine's function is more important than its appearance—robots do not need to be in human form to be robots, but generally they do human work, often jobs deemed too dangerous, difficult or monotonous for us. Curiously, people can also be robots. When someone acts in a mechanical fashion, without showing emotion or sensitivity or obeying orders automatically, we might call them a robot. The word thus embraces the idea of machines behaving like humans as well as humans behaving like machines.
"Robot" was introduced by Karel Čapek, one of the most important Czech writers of the twentieth century and a prominent dissident amid the interwar rise of fascism in Europe. Like George Orwell, he was a mainstream author, a journalist and a poet who sometimes exploited science fiction motifs to express his views about technology and authoritarianism. Čapek was on summer vacation in a Slovkian spa town when he got the idea for a play about synthetic factory workers rising up against their human creators. He approached his artist brother Josef, who was holidaying with him, and said he had thought of calling his artificial laborers "labori," but this sounded too bookish. Josef, feverishly painting at the time, simply muttered through a brush in his mouth: "Then call them 'Robots.'" The word was derived from the archaic Czech "robota" meaning obligatory work performed by medieval serfs, or "robotniks." Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) used the familiar Frankenstein motif of human hubris producing artificial beings that become uncontrollable and violent.
The company in the play, R.U.R., mass-produces robots made of flesh and blood, not metal and electricity—that are the ultimate in efficient labor. Their inventor, old Rossum, "wanted to somehow scientifically dethrone God," as R.U.R. head Domin tells an idealistic visitor to the factory bent on liberating the robots. "For him the question was just to prove that God is unnecessary. So he resolved to create a human being just like us, down to the last hair."
But the utopian society that is sustained by worldwide robot labor has a dark side: people become sterile, robots show signs of having souls and are even being used as soldiers. When they revolt, killing all but one of the factory's managers, their leader Radius proclaims: "The age of mankind is over. A new world has begun! The rule of Robots!" Without old Rossum's secret formula, though, the robots cannot replicate themselves. In the end, the natural order is restored when two robots fall in love and are christened Adam and Eve by the sole surviving human.
Čapek later wrote that the play's aim was not to condemn technology per se but to question the idea of man becoming slave to the ascendant machine, the triumphant factory. He saw his dark play as "a comedy, partly of science, partly of truth." "We are in the grip of industrialism," he added. "A product of the human brain has at last escaped from the control of human hands."

A Word, a Phenomenon

R.U.R. was an instant success when it was staged in Prague in 1921, and earned Capek international renown with productions in New York, London and Paris soon after. The play also fueled the growth of American pulp science fiction magazines like Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories and their negative portrayal of robots.
Čapek's artificial workers also made a deep impression on Japanese, including Nishimura. In July 1924 R.U.R. came to Tokyo's Tsukiji Little Theater, the country's first playhouse for modern Western drama. It was titled Jinzo Ningen ("Artificial Human"), and was the venue's first work staged in its entirety. Kihachi Kitamura, a translator who saw the production, left this reflection: "I think the author's intent was to show people controlling the ultimate in science, yet not losing human love—that's where the future of humanity lies." The interest in R.U.R. led to a repeat performance at the theater two years later. The ideas in the play also helped prime Japan for its first "robot boom" in the late nineteen twenties.
Many Japanese found the concept of an artificially created human intriguing instead of terrifying, and jinzo ningen became a catchword. Čapek's influence was soon seen in Japanese literature; at first writers tended to imagine robots like Rossum's organic creations of flesh and blood, and not mechanical drones.
In August 1924, for example, a story by Shiro Kunieda appeared in Shosetsu Kodan Poketto magazine that was entitled "Tantei Kibun Ningen Seizo" (A Detective's Bizarre Tale of the Manufactured Man). It concerns a detective's discovery of a secret experiment involving an American doctor and a Japanese nurse to create, by means of using various medicines and substances, an eight-foot artificial man. Of course, the only part of the giant they cannot concoct is the heart, so they set about relieving unsuspecting people of theirs. Robot historian Haruki Inoue sees this as the first Japanese work influenced by R.U.R., although basically a retelling of it with the American in Rossum's role.
Japanese scientists were also interested in Čapek's vision. In 1926, monthly science magazine Kagaku Gaho published a special titled "A Scientific View of the World in 100 Years." Hisomu Nagai, a professor of physiology at Tokyo Imperial University who was also a proponent of eugenics, contributed an article headlined "Jinzo Ningen wa Kano ka" (Is an Artificial Person Possible?) that was illustrated with stage scenes from R.U.R.
The term "jinzo ningen" eventually became the catchier robotto (robot), which only made it into a dictionary of new words in 1928.