I paint what I cannot photograph. I photograph what I don’t want to paint. I paint the invisible. I photograph the visible ”said Man Ray and today we could add“ I make the robot sculpt what I can think of ”.
Bot-One works tirelessly on the marble block, without worrying about splinters and never getting tired. Its arm is a zinc alloy resting on a block that protects its most delicate parts from the extreme environment in which it operates.
His mind, on the other hand, is loaded with the insights and ideas of an artist who could be thousands of kilometers away and that Filippo Tincolini and Giacomo Massari, founders of Robotor, the company that produces Bot-One, have translated into a series of instructions that the arm was able to understand.
Obviously all this could only happen in Carrara, where for hundreds of years the marble that was also used by Michelangelo and Canova has come.
Finding the marble, however, was only the beginning, then came days, weeks, even years in which it was necessary to work with chisel and pumice stone to extract one’s vision from the rock, with the risk of ruining everything due to a wrong blow or an invisible fracture in the stone. .
In some cases it was the artist who sculpted directly, in others the assistants did the bulk of the effort and then the workshop master thought about the details that made the work unique.
Robotor’s goal is to replace the apprentices, unload the artist from the hardest part, so that he has more time to think about the works, while the robotic arm carves what his mind has thought. But also to reproduce statues that are impossible to move.
“We want to help the artist, not replace him – explains Massari – marble sculpture is an art that is disappearing due to long processing times and the necessary efforts, with us the artist only has to deal with imagining the work and giving it the final touch, that gesture of human skill that makes the statue an object of art ».
The existence of Robotor could only trigger a debate in the world of sculpture, also fueled by an article in the New York Times which titled “We do not need another Michelangelo” and collected the testimonies of scandalized artisans and sculptors.
But this is just the umpteenth round of the encounter / clash between art and technology that has always accompanied the history of humanity.
On the other hand, artists have always dealt with technology, using it to bring the final result as close as possible to the original idea.
Art has never been something fixed and today it passes through video installations, virtual reality, immersive experiences, paintings projected on the walls in which to immerse yourself.
Every time she uses a new instrument she is forced to overcome a new limit, for the artist as well as for the public. Perhaps one of these limits is also that of looking at a robotic helper with suspicion.
«For us, the controversy makes no sense, artists have always been helped by apprentices and machines in their work. Our robots are not artists, they are sculptors. Whoever thinks the work is an artist and the artisans help him, in some cases these two figures are united in the same person, but this is not always the case “.
Robotor provides three different sizes for Bot-One, M, L and XL, with the possibility of creating sculptures up to 4.5 meters in height.
And as is often the case when it comes to technology, hardware is important but often the big leaps happen where they seem invisible, in the software. “We are preparing an even more refined intelligent block detection system – explains Massari – now the robot is self-programming, in this way it is accessible even to those who are not experts and the dead times are eliminated”.
Robotor today works for artists from all over the world; some prefer to remain anonymous, other cases are well known: Maurizio Cattelan, Jeff Koons, Zaha Hadid, Vanessa Beecroft, Barry X Ball who a few years ago commissioned a black marble reproduction of the sleeping Hermaphrodite exhibited in the Louvre have used it.
Seeing Bot-One at work is a fascinating spectacle, a sort of art installation in its own right, a cyberpunk gesture halfway between 3D printing, the plotter and a vaporwave installation lacking only the right musical accompaniment.
The contrast between the grace of works like Canova’s Cupid and Psyche and the cold rationality of the mechanical arm from which cables and pistons emerge is fascinating, as is the slow and constant movement of the machine around the stone which, hidden by the jets that cool the cutters and eliminate the dust, it almost seems to caress the surface to reveal the shapes hidden inside, just as Michelangelo would have liked. Of course, he risked everything with every blow of the chisel, here you risk a little less.