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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Robots and Lawsuits

I did more than my share of grousing last week. Should anyone think I’m just a fusty old grump, let me share a couple things that I’ve liked this week. OK, it’s one thing that I’ve liked and one that I found fascinating.

First, a little back story. I have this thing for robots. Why I have an affection for little metal men, I don’t know, and I don’t want to know enough to invest a year in psychotherapy to find out. But I blame Diller + Scofidio’s 2003 Whitney retrospective for activating what must have been a latent affection prior to that point.

Their Master/Slave (at right), created to display Rolf Fehlbaum’s collection of 1960s Japanese toy robots, hit me square in the gut when I saw it in person for the first time. During 2003 I was spending almost every week on the road and was lining up and being processed through airport security checks so often that I really should have been wearing a radiation dosimeter. Those little robots, stuck as they were on their single track in a world of high surveillance, made me see my own situation with new eyes. Ever since, I’ve felt their pain.

OK, so, things that I liked this week.

This post absolutely made my day on Tuesday when it went up on the blog The Long Tail. Since the blog is written by Wired’s editor and doles out fresh thought on a current topic of interest to business strategists, I don’t feel guilty about reading it at the office. I loved the post for two reasons: the surprise factor in finding something about robots in an unlikely place and because it contains a link to a video of the famous Japanese beer pouring machine—my absolutely favorite most useless machine of all time!

I was in an airport lounge in Japan a couple years ago and couldn’t believe that someone had invented (and that someone else had bought) a machine whose sole purpose was to pour a glass of beer. It’s not like it takes training to become proficient at pulling the tap on a keg. I think I had a few too many beers while waiting for my flight simply because I couldn’t help but play with this absurd machine.

It would be possible, I think, to make an argument using Kantian aesthetics that this thing is actually a piece of fine art. Although the object has a utilitarian function, you could claim that the reason for its existence is so completely unnecessary that it negates its own functional utility—turning it into an object of pure contemplation. Or something like that.

Also fascinating me this week was Walter Robinson’s Artnet piece, “A Tale of an Art-World Lawsuit.” If you haven’t read it already, make a point of doing so. It’s by far the best thing—rumor or fact—that I’ve seen on any of the internets in the last few weeks.

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