This Artist Is Creating 3 Paintings In 3 Cities, At The Same Time, With The Help Of Robots

Artist Alex Kiessling and robot friends will create three works, simultaneously. Will they all look exactly the same?

Viennese artist Alex Kiessling will create three pieces of art simultaneously in three different cities today (September 26) when he paints a picture on a canvas in Ovalhalle, Vienna, to be replicated using advanced robotic technology on canvases in Breitscheidplatz, Berlin, and London’s Trafalgar Square.


The artist, who admits to a lifelong fascination with robots, will use two ABB IRB 4600 industrial robots, each 2.8 meters high and weighing in at 435 kilograms, which will be controlled via satellite to produce the Berlin and London artworks.

The robots’ movements will be dictated by sensors that capture the movement of his hand and track the exact location of the tip of the pen using an infrared frame that extends marginally beyond the confines of the actual canvas so enabling any movement within this space to be registered.

Robotic assistance redefines the concept championed by Andy Warhol’s Factory where assistants carried out the work of their master, Kiessling believes: “In this process, several pieces come to life at the same time in different cities worldwide in a decentralized global workshop or studio.”

But though three identical artworks could be produced, he adds that he is more interested in the fact that minimal differences between the individual robots will lead to fine variations between the three. “It is not about copying each other,” he insists. “It will be really interesting what the robots’ output looks like but no matter how it looks it will fit together with my work because it is an experiment.”

A further area of interest is the collision between one of the oldest means of cultural expression and one of humanity’s most recent achievements.

“The question of whether human beings are ultimately toying with their own replaceability is something that has occupied generations of scientists, sci-fi writers, and philosophers,” Kiessling adds.


Designed and used for industrial operations such as spray painting and welding, the robots’ manufacturer ABB promises its IRB 4600s deliver “unrivaled path accuracy and motion control thanks to rapid acceleration and high maximum speeds.”

But despite this, the team from Vienna-based interactive design / digital media experience studio Strukt that is working to bring Long Distance Art: Global. Studio. Vienna to life, face a number of technical challenges.

During tests, for example, as the robots kept pace with the speed of the artist’s movements, one tipped over despite being bolted down. The large distance between each robot and its data source is another challenge.

In a typical industrial setting, the robots respond to a predefined, programmed series of movement instructions. For Kiessling’s purposes, however, there are no pre-programmed routines. The robot is only notified of the precise location of Kiessling’s pen. The sensors monitoring his movements will then relay “instructions” to the robots live.

Furthermore, care will need to be taken to ensure only the artist creates movement within the infrared frame used to capture every stroke. In one test the robot drew a long line across the full width of its picture when a fly landed on Kiessling canvas.

Long Distance Art: Global. Studio. Vienna. was conceived by the Vienna Tourist Board to promote the city as a tourist destination and showcase the MuseumsQuartier where Kiessling will paint–one of Vienna’s centers for art, design, and culture.


The project’s aim is to break new ground in art and tourism marketing, Vienna Tourist Board Chief Executive Office Norbert Katter explains.

“We are well aware that this is something of a gamble from a technological viewpoint,” he says. “When it comes to the simultaneous transmission of art using robotic and satellite technology we have absolutely no knowledge to fall back on.”

But the gamble sits well, he claims, with Vienna’s “long-standing reputation as a pioneer in culture and the arts”.

A live stream of the event on September 26 is available here.

[Images courtesy of Vienna | Alex Kiessling]

IRB 4600_01 in Action

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.