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White, Norman T.
The Helpless Robot The Helpless Robot
1987-2002 1987-2002

Norman White is a major innovator of experimental, computer-based art whose work first gained recognition at the landmark Some More Beginnings, Experiments in Art & Technology (E.A.T.) exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1969. He has shaped the current generation of electronic media artists in Canada during his tenure as an instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design from 1978 to 2003, and since that time at Ryerson University, Toronto.
The Helpless Robot is an award-winning interactive artwork. Conceptually brilliant and technically accomplished, the piece exposes machine/human relations through a hilarious reversal of assumptions of machine servitude through a language-based personality that solicits help and responds to viewer actions.

Building on his conviction that electronic art offers valuable, “absolutely useless” experimental models, White began work on the first of many versions of The Helpless Robot in 1987. The piece tests viewer willingness to respond to and obey a voice program housed in a simple armature, at the same time exploring a knowledge-building system of software and sensors. The Robot’s brain is a modified 80386 computer; the body is a truncated volume of plywood and angle iron hunched on a swivel platform. The Helpless Robot, incapable of movement on its own, urges gallery visitors to rotate it using simple side-mounted handles. When ignored, it becomes friendly and solicitous; greater levels of assistance produce more petulant demands. The behaviour of The Helpless Robot simulates temperament and its blatant emotional manipulation highlights our social relationship with machines. This is robotic art that insists upon interaction, playing upon our willingness to participate, the desire to please, and the pleasures of compliance.

 
White, Norman T.
San Antonio TX 1938 San Antonio TX 1938
The Helpless Robot The Helpless Robot
1987-2002 1987-2002
steel, plywood, electronics, custom software steel, plywood, electronics, custom software
overall: 177.8 cm x 101.6 cm x 81.3 cm
Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program and the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund, 2003 Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program and the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund, 2003
46-003

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