[ISEA2017] Paper: Treva Pullen — Capricious Creatures: Animal Behavior as a Model for Robotic Art


Keywords: Art, Robotics, Play, Animal, Nonhuman, Behavior, Cute, Kawaii, Media, Zoomorphic

This paper examines issues related to playfulness, cuteness and the modeling of animal behaviors toward the designs of robotic art. Exploring historical and contemporary case studies of the playful ecology and creations of robotic art, as entry points to a multi-faceted
discussion of human-machine engagements considering the lenses of philosophical, art historical and curatorial methodological research this text tracks an abbreviated legacy of new media art production beginning with the animal modeled works of Canadian artist Norman White. In assessing characteristic features of a selection of robotic art works, such as its playfulness, use of humor, and critique / reconfiguration of cuteness as a mode of critical engagement, this paper aims to unpack the motivations behind artist’s aesthetically and behaviorally oriented merging of the nonhuman robot with lively, soft, emotive and fussy animal creatures. Case studies of animal modeled robotics point to the accessibility of employing animal behaviors and their powers to engage with humans on a level that is productive and non-confrontational. Animal behaviors and zoomorphic aesthetics appear to appeal to audiences in a way that would not be possible for confrontational and/or anthropomorphic bots.

  • Treva Pullen is an interdisciplinary researcher, curator, artist and PhD candidate in Communication Studies at Concordia University, Montréal, Canada. Her research explores the playful and agentic capacities of media art through the lens of ‘whimsical bodies’; a term she uses as an evocative metaphor for the lively, humorous and often reciprocally engaging nature of media art objects. Her doctoral studies merge critical theory and curatorial practice based research to explore methods of display for the whimsical bodies presented through bio art; facilitating human nonhuman engagements/learning, and unpacking feminist maker methodologies enacted in bioart laboratories. Her work has been published in The Senses & Society, InterARTive, JAWS and AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. She has also curated new media based exhibitions such as #NATURE (2016) and Influenc(Ed.) Machines (2015). The author holds an MA from OCAD University in Contemporary Art, Design and New Media Art Histories, with a focus in new media, and a BFA from OCAD University majoring in Criticism and Curatorial Practice. trevapullen.com

Full text (PDF) p.  539-545