[ISEA2020] Paper: Samuelle Bourgault, Emmanuelle Forgues & Jennifer Jacobs — Experimenting with Robotic Softness


Keywords: Robotics, Softness, Machine Aesthetics, Machine Art, Sculpture, Research-Creation

This paper presents Pero sans Cimon, a dynamic sculpture that critiques female body use and identity through the medium of soft robotics – a domain of robotics that uses materials and actuation mechanisms that mimic biological structures. Existing soft robotics research emphasizes the practical affordances of soft robotic mechanisms for locomotion, manipulation, wearable technology, and architecture. Instead, our objective is to examine soft robotics as an aesthetic medium through the analysis of the Pero sans Cimon artwork. We use Andreas Broeckmann’s five aspects of the aesthetics of the machine: associative, symbolic, formalist, kinetic, and automatic to demonstrate how soft robotics, in continuity with twentieth-century machine art, can enable artistic expressiveness. Furthermore, we extend these principles by describing how the formalist and kinetic properties of soft robotics support new forms of artistic representation. We conclude by discussing the artistic implications of this technology. Specifically, we examine the potential social symbolism that may emerge from a robotic medium developed primarily for its aesthetic and mechanical resemblances to the human body.

  • Sam Bourgault (Montreal, CA) is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Media Arts and Technology program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. She owns a bachelor in Computation Arts from Concordia University (2019) and in Physics Engineering from Polytechnique Montreal (2015). Her work has been exhibited at IEEE-ICRA-X Robotic Program (Montreal, 2019), Sight & Sound Festival (Montreal, 2019), Ars Electronica Campus Exhibition (Linz, 2018), OFFTA (Montreal, 2019), RIPA (Montreal 2019), Mutek Festival (Montreal, 2017), Art Matters (Montreal, 2018), among others. She has also participated in OBORO residency as part of the New Media Grant (2019) and LA SERRE – You Are Here live art residency (2018). sambourgault.com
  • Jennifer Jacobs, USA, is Assistant Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, in Media Arts and Technology, and director of the Expressive Computation Lab. She works across the fields of computational art and design, human computer interaction, and systems engineering. Jacobs received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and completed her postdoctoral research in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University. She also received an M.F.A. and B.F.A from Hunter College and the University of Oregon respectively. Her research has been presented at international venues including SIGGRAPH, DIS, CACM, Ars Electronica and CHI, where her research has received multiple best paper awards. jenniferjacobs.mat.ucsb.edu
  • Emmanuelle Forgues, Computation Arts, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. Emma Forgues is a new media artist based in Montreal. She holds a bachelor’s in Computation Arts from Concordia University. Her interests revolve around the cultural and emotional impacts of science and technology on the female body, through installation and performance projects. She has presented her work in numerous galleries and festivals, including MUTEK (2017), Le Centre Pompidou (2019), Sight and Sound (2019), IEEE-ICRA-X: Robotic Art Program (2019) and ELEKTRA (2019). Forgues also received a residency at OBORO and presented her bio-art installation produced with the collective somme at the International Market for Digital Art (MIAN | ELEKTRA) in June 2019.