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On ADA > by Mike Stubbs

How does a large inflatable ball embedded with oversized charcoal drawing sticks get included in a major exhibition titled “Robots and Avatars” ? What is more, why was this work one of the most popular artworks of all the technologically future-gazing works exhibited at FACT in Liverpool ?

This work of all the robots and avatars, best tested our relationship to cybernetics.
It is a contrast to works that stand in awe before technology, as many first generation media artworks of the nineties did, incorporating a modernism still celebrating technology.

Despite employing high technology, the significant practice of David Rokeby through the eighties and nineties took an early critical look at cybernetic systems and their relationship to people via surveillance. Foretelling serious concerns on privacy, data and technology. Yet many media works then and since have not moved beyond augmenting the experience with complex ‘interaction’ which if anything removes the experience further from the viewer. However ADA enacts an innate understanding of thought, cognition, mechanical action and effect. ADA asks us through play and tactility to engage directly in creating movement and mark making. Just like a hightech computer she is both art and instrument in one, and although she is a kind of a slave to our play, she escapes all voluntary action into unforeseeable movements. It is good art and like much of Smigla-Bobinskis art, performative and participatory.

ADA is a haptic drawing machine. A slave to our desire to move stuff about. Adept and accidental in making beautiful marks that might appear to have been produced by a computer. The origin of the term Robot, is derived from Slavic and Czech words denoting labour, serf-labour and slave.

This creature, ADA, amplifies our impulses and actions, it is a slave to our thoughts like many devices and tools, however this is an artwork intrinsically binding the audience, and in the process creates a spectacle for those observing the artwork being performed. When ADA is not played with, dormant, the audience focuses further on the marks, which over time become a continuous surface or pattern. With the mark-making ball absent and without video documentation present, the audience might struggle to work out how these marks were applied. By hand over a long time as an abstract fresco? Or by a computer assisted machine drawing algorithmically, across floor, ceiling and walls. And as with any “non-interactive” work, we, the audience, are left with our thoughts and ability to make our own meaning and draw our own conclusions. The cause of how the marks were made might seem irrelevant within the ontology and imagination of an artwork. But here the process, as in interaction between ADA and the visitor, the drawings on the walls and the ball itself merge into a transient state of art. It is an art-work in its most basic meaning: it is being worked on continually, from the creation of the ball to the last stages of ADAs life, when she rests used up by all inter-actors, surrounded by what they had produced together.

As John Dewey says in the Art of Experience, we know that without prior knowledge of art history or intellectual abstraction, art audiences can witness and be part of an artwork. As in everyday life we take meaning, where cognition and experience meet through direct interaction. Ontology here is this direct interaction, and the viewer, who is able to draw and be part of the production, becomes what we might call a pro-sumer (producer-consumer).

ADA is just one of Smigla-Bobinskis works which is perfectly well located in time based practice. Bridging kinetic art, drawing, installation, performance and sculpture, her works contain the method of their making, they are direct art, which foregrounds the material, movement through time and affect in mark making.

This is not to say that all artworks require a relationship with a third party to be complete, however, when a consumer is actually partially producing the artwork, through direct participation, completion is more avert. We see ADA in different states pumped up and buoyant – ready to bounce against clean walls - and tired, deflated after several weeks of ab-use from over enthusiastic kids. This image is as powerful as the work in motion. Kinetic and latent energy. And the beautiful drawing. The documentary photographs are explicit in showing the pleasure most of the audience found in the work, but maybe not all. Like clowns, for some this level of activity is obtrusive and crude, art might be viewed as a reflective mirror of inner quiet. But for an institution, it is gold dust, bringing together engagement, collaboration, participation and wonder, one that is social and democratic.

Prof. Mike Stubbsis the Director of FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, the UK‘s leading organisation for the commissioning and presentation of film, video and new mediaart forms. Jointly appointed in May 2007 by John Moores Liverpool University he is Professor of Art, Media and Curating.Encompassing a broad range of arts and media practice his arts management, curating and advocacy has been internationally acknowledged, he is currently leading a newcapital development, Ropewalks Square forming a creative and digital hub for the city of Liverpool around FACT. In 2010 he chaired the International Academic Media ArtHistories Conference, Re-Wire. He is honorary Professor at Liverpool University and the University of Technology, Sydney.Mike established the ROOT, Burning Bush and AND festivals and commissioned and produced over moving-image based exhibition programs and artworks, including: WhiteNoise, Stanley Kubrick, Pixar for ACMI, Australian Centre for Moving Image and SkInterfaces, Pipilotti Rist and Hsieh Teching, as part of Liverpool’s European Capital ofCulture 2008, the Liverpool Bienalle and the FACT programme. He is currently co-curating short films for Channel 4’s Random Acts series.An award-winning and respected moving image artist in his own right, Mike Stubbs‘ work encompasses film, video, installation and performance. He has won more than adozen major international awards including first prizes at the Oberhausen and Locarno Film Festivals, and in 1999 was invited to present a video retrospective of his work atthe Tate Gallery, London. In 2002 he won a Banff Fleck Fellowship and had solo shows at the Baltic Art Centre, Newcastle and EAF, Adelaide.