His Study of Life – 2016
Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art – Morris Gallery
His Study of Life is a continuation of my investigation into the paranormal, the nature of the human soul and the question of how to create robotic interfaces for dead people. Taking inspiration from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art’s (PAFA) long-standing tradition of working from the human figure and its wealth of the painter Thomas Eakins’ archival materials, I created the installation His Study of Life for PAFA’s Morris Gallery. The installation included four robotic machines outfitted with electromagnetic field (EMF), temperature, and infrared monitors — tools used by ghost hunters to detect paranormal activity — as well as some of Eakins personal possessions from PAFA’s archives. When the monitors sense fluctuations in the Morris Gallery, each robot helped Eakins’ ghost carry out a specific action.
These actions included opening Eakins’ watercolor box, rotating the prop chair Eakins’ used in many of his paintings, and, through a series of LED matrices, to mix colors over Eakins’ palette. The installation also included a drawing robot that allowed Eakins to create ghostly drawings of either the photographs that he made when he was alive or new rendering made by his ghost’s direct navigation of the robot. Carrying one of Eakin’s paint brushes, this drawing robot functioned like a paranormal joystick, allowing the dead to move a graphite pencil up, down, left or right across a piece of through the direct manipulation of EMF sensors.
Given that Eakin’s primary subject in his paintings was the human figure, the installation also included a nude figure model that posed for Eakins to come and render them. While standing in the installation, the models cycled through various poses that Eakin’s captured through his photography, thereby giving Eakins another opportunity to exercise his memories and creating a type of life drawing study for the dead.
Materials: Mixed media with robots