Autonomous Machines and Their Art


No. ES001 detail by echoooo, on Flickr Image by Echo Yang. Not mine.

Art is constantly challenging our boundaries and coming up with new ways of creating and seeing the world, but at the same time it is also reminding us of the mystery and beauty in the everyday things.

Echo Yang’s Autonomous Machines series does just this when it uses machines now obsolete to reveal their ‘internal algorithms’. Rather than using tools to create works, these tools are capable of creating their own art and have their own beauty. See what she has to say:

The current popularity of generative design processes in which designers use algorithms to create a variety of different outcomes, instead of focussing on one, definitive result is closely linked to the use of digital design tools. This development has changed our perception of design as the creation of the single author. What could happen when the approach fostered by digital generative designers would be applied to an analogue world? A world in which obsolete machines like hand-powered alarm clocks, walkman and mechanical toys take centre stage?

My experiments in this domain of obsolete machines reveal their internal algorithms. Instead of creating these algorithms, I simply adopt and then visualize them.
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Although the art these items of obsolete machinery produce are mysterious and beautiful, at the same time you remember that they themselves are works of art. In a world where technology is increasingly being abstracted — who is likely to see the working gears of a clock these days? — these older, obsolete machines can remind of us the works of innovation that led up to this point in our lives. I watch the gears in the wind-up clock turn and am equally transfixed by its beauty as I am curious as to its operation.

These old household appliances have found life once more in art.

Which one of these is your favourite? I admit it’s a tough battle between the handmixer in watercolour and the tin toy in watercolour for me, but the electric shaver in calligraphy seems to hold a deeper meaning that eludes. This ritual of shaving with an electric shaver (as the same motions are used) produces a piece of art somehow reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy.

The slow but sure dedication of these machines at work is mesmerising.

Learn more about Echo Yang’s works.