Artist, robots draw simultaneous portraits in three cities

Alex Kiessling puts himself in three places at once by getting remote robots to mimic his sketching.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Alex Kiessling
Artist Alex Kiessling is seen on a screen in Vienna while a robot copies his movements in Berlin. Another bot did the same in London. Dirk Mathesius/Long Distance Art

Andy Warhol famously had a series of studios in New York called The Factory. Part of his oeuvre was assembly-line production of silkscreens. Sadly, he had to put up with human workers.

Would that Warhol were alive today to see Viennese artist Alex Kiessling in action. The painter has just produced simultaneous portraits in three European cities with the help of two industrial robots.

The stunt, which took place in Vienna, Berlin, and London, is part of the Long Distance Art project.

Call it telepresence art.

Kiessling described the event, which took months of preparation, as the first of its kind.

He was in a studio in Vienna as an infrared sensor traced the motions of his pen while he drew a series of faces and half-faces.

Meanwhile, the ABB IRB 4600 robots set up in London's Trafalgar Square and Berlin's Breitscheidplatz copied his sketches via satellite links. They even reproduced his subtle shading and detail.

The public events featured screens with live footage of the robots and the artist as he worked away.

The faces will go on display and are designed to complement each other, as the artist explained on Facebook: "The machines and me will create several triptychs, where each drawing will work as a counterpart to the two other pieces."

"What are the machines doing, actually?" the Daily Mail quoted Kiessling as saying during a news conference. "It appeared to me in working with the machines that it was less about a kind of copy and more like a clone."

See the artist in action in the ITN report below.