-Culture, Art and Technology-
Charles Aweida is an artist + roboticist exploring the intersection of science, engineering, the visual arts and film. His work — focused in manipulating the physical through robotics and custom actuated machines is driven by digital representations of the natural world. Charles experiments and researches new ways of leveraging robotics as a creative medium through his experimental lab in Oakland, CA.
Innovation In Art and Technology
Exploring how we use the tools of today to make the projects of tomorrow has led to some of the most intriguing discoveries in the world of tech. As it turns out, one of the best places to find this futuristic level of innovation in technology, is in the arts.
Charles Aweida, an artist at the forefront of innovation in technology, re-purposes industrial robots used in automation to create works of art that are inspired by visual representations of the natural world. He’s fascinated by machines, how they work, and what they are doing. Aweida’s current series is called Vectors, Representations of the Natural World.
For this project, his tool-kit includes a modified German industrial robot (commonly used in the manufacturing of cars), fiber, nail dispensers and high density foam. The various intervals, space and carefully calculated dimensions where the nails are placed are all essential in creating the flowing patterns that are variations of what he finds inspiring in nature.
A Mechanical Medium That Represents The Natural World
In a sense, Aweida’s art is an archive of what is mechanically possible in the industrial world of automation. When combined with digital representations of patterns found in nature, all of a sudden the designs made with robots, nails and foam, become soft and organic.
Aweida describes these two dynamics of his art, one as the actual medium and the tools that build, and the other as the actual content of the art. He’s focusing on content first, as it’s the medium that informs the content he creates:
“In the visual effects world, it’s really fascinating what can be done with computers now, and I think what really fascinates me about robotics is that it’s a mechanism to bring everything that’s happening in the computer world to the real world where you can touch it and feel it and it’s tangible.”
“The way I look at the natural world and the way I experience the natural world, I think it’s clear that it’s entirely made up of rule systems. Everything from the cells in our body to an aggregate of trees in a landscape to the way mountains form and the way clouds form, are all rule systems.
“I think that recreating or mimicking these rule systems or abstracting these rule systems is a really fascinating way to approach the visual arts. That’s really where I think the genius is,” he said.
When it comes to computers and technology, Awedia explained that these are great tools for processing data, and managing and manipulating components of all shapes and sizes. The artwork he produces is at its base, derived from mathematical algorithms and rule systems.
“It’s all sort of computational,” he said, but, “in order to build these things, make them real, make them tangible, that’s where robotics comes in and I think that’s were robotics and technology and automation are really fascinating.”
At the end of the day, Aweida sees robotics as a link between the digital world and the real world. It’s a mechanism to bring what is happening in the natural world, to be interpreted in the digital and computational world, and then back to the real world in physical, computer and robot generated versions of his interpretations.
“I see robotics as a link between the digital world and the real world.”
Challenging The Role of Technology
It’s a well known fact that technology isn’t well received on all fronts. Despite criticism that it will cause the eventual downfall of humankind, it’s the way we define the intentions and uses of technology that will construct our imminent future. Whether we choose to see technology as purely mechanical, or as a new medium for expression, there are countless possibilities of what we can invent from combining old and new disciplines to guide the role technology actively plays in our lives. “It’s really less about the tools and the technology and more about what people do with it,” said Aweida.
“It’s really less about the tools and the technology and more about what people do with it,” said Aweida.
Above: Jean-Luc Godard
In his research and work, Aweida challenges these roles that technology plays in the day to day of what we do. “Let me use the example of automation, sometimes if we think of it as a whole, there are some negative feelings towards automation and robots. There’s a sentiment that technology and robots are taking over and I think part of what my work does is show what can be done with these sorts of systems of automation that according to some people are deemed as a bad thing. At the end of the day you can really create some amazing things,” he said.
Man Or Machine?
Aweida also attended the exhibit Artists and Robots in Paris earlier this year. The exhibit questioned what is considered as “art” when robots are involved, and to what effect if any, this collaboration with robots has on the production of art.
In Vectors, Representations of the Natural World, it’s about creating work that allows the material to express itself, “…it’s about being organic, which in many ways is human like,” he said.
An example of this is the nails that he uses. They are custom made, but due to the manufacturing process, some are slightly bent and some have slightly different heads, and they are not perfect. In addition to this, the algorithms he uses are meticulously tweaked to give a soft and free flowing aesthetic, “because when I see it, this is what personally makes me feel good, just as when I look at a landscape I feel good,” said Aweida, and in that regard there’s definitely a human touch to the work he produces. He doesn’t believe that when people experience his work that they see it as a perfectly machine created piece of art.
He doesn’t believe that when people experience his work that they see it as a perfectly machine created piece of art.
One of my favorite moments is when Aweida breaks down the process in terms that can be understood outside of the tech world:
“I think the best way to describe the thought process of using data to manipulate art, is to think of a band or orchestra. If you were a conductor, you are essentially controlling, manipulating and generating a rule system that allows everyone in the orchestra to play out your vision one instrument at a time. This is where you get some really exiting and powerful sounds from orchestra. It’s all about this aggregate of instruments. For me, I think of it almost as being an orchestra instructor, where instead of playing every individual instrument I’m really creating a rule system or a set of notes that all the rule systems play together. When I’m writing an algorithm that creates a certain pattern in nature, I’m not actually placing every single nail in that piece of art, I’m writing a rule system that generates the pattern. In that regard, it’s an incredibly enabling process where you become more of the orchestra conductor and less of the individual musician playing the instrument.”
So it’s this harmony of notes, or nails, with their carefully selected place on the scale, or in space, that has indeed come together to compose some incredible works of art that are made by both man, and machine.
When asked if how people react to his work effects what he produces, Aweida says no, that, “creating art is one place I feel I can be open and honest.” It’s work that he really enjoys doing, and that he hopes others will enjoy too.
Apart from nature, one of the greatest influences on Aweida’s work is music. He is currently working with artist Conor Bedtimes to create original music for his art video productions.
“[Music] really affects my work. I have an art playlist on Spotify and what I do is I continuously add songs to that playlist that has a certain kind of vibe and it absolutely affects the way that I feel. These feelings that you get can be visual feelings, they can be sonic feelings, they can be emotional feelings, tactile feelings, and they all work together. You can have the same vibe visually that you can have sonically. Sometimes you can hear certain music and certain sounds and you can almost feel a vision from what you hear,” said Aweida.
Perhaps it’s some of these visions that we see in Aweida’s art as all of a mathematical, digital, mechanical, organic and sonic interpretation of the world through his eyes.
Aweida is an independent artist and his work is funded by commission based projects. He is also very connected with his audience and loves dialogue around the projects he’s working on. The best way to reach him is through his Instagram page.
*CATSeries: Culture Art and Technology Series. Fun fact: cats are the common language of the internet after all 🙂