From Ancient Greece onwards, humans have been swept up in a race to replicate and rebuild themselves. We design automatons that mimic human functions or improve on them, born from a desire to take evolution into our own hands, or even play God. In fact, every form of cultural expression has at some point investigated the rich and stimulating field of robotics, reaching different conclusions and outcomes every time. Robots have infiltrated our social consciousness. They are everywhere, from Leonardo da Vinci's drummer robot to the futurist man-machine; from Frankenstein to the works of Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick, inventor of the 'replicant'; from Edward Gordon Craig's theory of the actor as a super-puppet to Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, the krautrock band who used replica mannequins of themselves at the end of their concert. It doesn't end there, either. Robots feature heavily in cinema (Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and George Lucas's Star Wars saga, to name a few). They star in innumerable comic strips and cartoons (from Astro Boy to Marvel comics and Japanese manga).
Fields like design, architecture and fashion, where creativity encounters industry, turned the robot into a commodity rather than a character. 'Robot' became a style in itself: kitsch and chic, fun and futuristic. Nowadays, when laptops, tablets and smartphones, the robots of the contemporary age, are in every house, car and pocket, the tin-and-steel robots of yesteryear have acquired an irresistibly vintage flavour, which makes them all the more desirable. Robot: A Visual Atlas from Ancient Greece to Artificial Intelligence appreciates this rich variety. Through tracking the conceptual development of the robot through western cultural history, it uncovers the roots of our fascination with artificial humanity.
Luca Beatrice is an art critic and curator, as well as a lecturer in Contemporary Art History at Turin's Accademia Albertina. He has published several critical texts on established and emerging artists, along with numerous volumes on the relationship between the visual arts, music and cinema.