SAAM's annual birthday celebration honoring the legacy of media pioneer Nam June Paik—an artist known for his interest in robotics and humanizing technology—featured artists Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Their work, the three-foot tall the willful marionette was built from 3-D scanned images of a human figure. It addresses what the artists refer to as "the frailty of the human body." On display through Monday, July 18, the willful marionette holds center stage in the Luce Foundation Center's sculpture court in the company of figurative American sculpture, and engages with viewers by reading their movements and expressions. He does what no other work of art surrounding him can do: make eye contact and react to human gesture. Little Bill (Big Bill being Mr. Outcault himself) responds in real time to spontaneous human interaction.
According to Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media art at SAAM and emcee of the birthday event, "the willful marionette belongs to the long tradition of kinetic sculpture and performance associated with Alexander Calder, but also Jean Tinguely and the E.A.T [Experiments in Art and Technology] artists, a group with which Paik later participated. In 1963, Nam June Paik created Robot K-456 in collaboration with the electrical engineer Shuya Abe. Paik described it as 'the first non-human action artist' and imagined it as his avatar."
Working collaboratively since 1991, LoCurto and Outcault have produced interactive installations and sculpture concerning the body's relationship to culture and technology. They began working with body scans early on and over the years worked with dancers to bring more human movement into their work. This led to new research and opportunities, including an invitation to do an artists-in-residence at the University of North Carolina, Colleges of Computing and Informatics and Art and Architecture in 2013-14. It's here that the willful marionette was conceived...or at least scanned.
How will you interact with the willful marionette? Visit the Luce Center before closing time, Monday, July 18, to find out. Remember to tag your willful selfies and other photos #atSAAM.