Federico Díaz Unveils Shape-Shifting, Robot-Made Art Installation

Robots invade Venice!

Since June, two robots have been methodically filling the inside of the historic Arsenale Novissimo in Venice with little black spheres to create a sculpture that looks like a pixelated wave of death. Which is plenty haunting in its own right. But here’s the really creepy part: It shape-shifts.


The sculpture, Outside Itself, is Prague artist Federico Díaz‘s follow-up to the 2010 installation Geometric Death Frequency–141, which endowed Mass MoCA with — you guessed it! — a pixelated wave of death. But whereas Geometric Death Frequency–141 was inert, just a big dark blob presiding ominously over a quaint New England courtyard, Díaz’s latest piece is thoroughly interactive: The robots are programmed to build the wave, ball by ball, according to surrounding movements and changes in ambient light. Everything from the time of day to the number of visitors to the color of their clothing affects the look and shape of the piece. For visitors, then, it’s like watching the End Times unfold in slo-mo. And they’re the ones responsible.

Details, per the press write-up:

The mathematical program enables the two robots to build and, together, arrange about 2,000 of the 5-centimeter-diameter balls every 12 hours, completing a large, continuously shape-shifting construction over a period of several months.

So what you see in the pictures is just a glimpse of the sculpture at a single moment in time. A month from now, it could look like spume or a pyramid or maybe some kind of post-apocalyptic version of Maverick’s. One thing is certain: It’ll be bigger. By the time Díaz’s show concludes September 30, Outside Itself will feature nearly 500,000 spheres.

As for what it’s about:

For Díaz, the robot is like a “stretched hand of our senses,” that extends human ability beyond the limitations of the body, in the same way that society now uses technology to simulate or stimulate experience, or to create “social networks.” Technology is relied upon to communicate and achieve what the body cannot — to go beyond, to go “outside” of oneself.

Oh, so it’s a kind of metaphor for social networking, huh? Good one. Though we doubt it’s the first time Facebook’s been compared to a black wave of death.

[Images courtesy of Federico Díaz]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D