Imaginary Landscapes of a Robot in Denial

Duration 3’16”

 

This anthropoid has obviously evolved so far in his artificial intelligence that he imitates man even in his choice of death.

Niko Hendrickx’ latest installation is a sinister affair: a robot commits suicide in three different – fairly traditional – ways: he hangs himself from a tree, he cuts his wrists while lying in a bathtub and he shoots himself in the head.

Originally the installation was entitled Suicide Attempts of a Robot in Denial. The way the title change came about is typical of Hendrickx’ artistic approach. After having completed the work, he made a video version of it. While looking for an appropriate music score, he stumbled on the Langham Research Centre in the UK, who make recordings ‘the old-fashioned way’, i.e. with analogue equipment. In February 2014 they released John Cage -Early Electronic and Tape Music, which contains the piece Imaginary Landscapes No. 5, amongst others. Hendrickx immediately saw the potential of the composition for his own work, and changed his title accordingly. In doing so he purposely allows ‘chance’ to play a part in his art.

Interpretation

For most of us suicide is a shocking, or at least a controversial and disturbing subject. That is evidently the case in Hendrickx’ work, too, but at the same time there is a touch of irony in it: it is, indeed, a robot who commits the fatal act. This anthropoid has obviously evolved so far in his artificial intelligence that he imitates man even in his choice of death, thus denying his own existence of wiring and electronic circuitry. For a robot choosing ‘the human way’ to end his life is futile and inefficient, of course. He does not need a rope or a pistol to end his life – he merely needs to switch off the power source that keeps him running.

In the video some landscapes are realistic, others are digitally designed. The artist suggests that the robot is anxious to see reality, like man, but that he cannot: until further notice his optical sensor will not be able to provide him with more than, indeed, imaginary landscapes, i.e. digital recordings of reality. Today it is still man who creates and controls. It is therefore also man whom the video shows cutting the rope, taking the gun away and emptying the bathtub.

Ethics

Imaginary Landscapes is, like many other works by Hendrickx, about ethics. The artist expresses his concern about technology and science, which seem to move away from us at high speed. Who takes the time to ask the necessary ethical questions? Are we still master of the monster we created, or is it out of control?

Imaginary Landscapes is made of polyurethane foam, covered with polyester and glass fibre, and it is finished off with a layer of blue polyester plaster. The complete installation measures approximately 5 x 5 x 1.80 meters. Between concept and completion a period of three years elapsed. (iv) (2015)