Jimmy Cohrssen courtsey of Jason Bruges Studio

Robotic art inspired by Japanese gardens

The Constant Gardeners, an outdoor installation featuring industrial robots that use AI to analyse and illustrate the movements of athletes on a gravel canvas, is exhibiting in Tokyo's Ueno Onshi Park. It is open to the public from 28 July to 5 September 2021. The work, which is also a part of Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13, was inspired by the Japanese tradition of Zen gardens and the patterns raked into these gravel gardens. This installation was created by Jason Bruges Studio, a London-based, multidisciplinary art practice creating interactive installations and dynamic immersive experiences.

The first thing you will notice is the large gravel canvas depicting a Zen garden, which consists of 14 tonnes of crushed black basalt and 4 tonnes of silver-grey granite. Above this stands four industrial robot arms that rake more than 150 patterns into the gravel.

About the work, Jason Bruges said:

"We have been creating artworks that explore human movement for years. This time, the robotic arms use AI video analysis to extract and trace the movements of athletes in various disciplines. It may seem like an abrupt analogy, but I would say that it is like a gardener who takes various movements from nature and applies them to the ripples of a Zen rock garden.”

Japanese Zen gardens differ from the other Japanese gardens where the pond is the central element. Instead, Zen gardens exclude the use of water. This installation is inspired by the straight lines and circles of the Karesansui garden and the movement of the lines drawn by the rake. Adam Wadey, Senior Designer at Jason Bruges Studio, explains further:

 “[The performance] is about how these movements unfurl over time. It’s not about the finished image, it’s about how the movements happen. To get to the Olympics, athletes have to dedicate weeks, months and years of training and repetition to perfect their skills. They are performing precise, meditative acts similar to the careful and thoughtful movements monks perform while raking the gravel.” 

Using AI to analyse the athletes' movements

The installation analyses the movements of athletes, such as sprinters, cyclists, gymnasts and skateboarders, and has been programmed with about 150 illustrations. By selecting the appropriate data from a vast amount of video footage of athletes in action from various angles, the AI pose recognition technology detects the movements of the athletes’ skeleton and joints. The result is a flow of movement that takes place in a matter of seconds.

The ‘gardeners’ are four industrial robots that used to work in a car manufacturing plant. According to Wadey, the robotic arms have different ‘personalities’ at different times.

“Each drawing instills in the robots very different characters. Sometimes they’re very tentative and they feel very unsure of themselves, and in other illustrations they’re much more confident and their lines are much bolder and they’re drawing these big marks. So it certainly feels like they’re characters.” 


Jason Bruges Studio

An analysis of the movements of a gymnast while performing a flip on the floor ©

Jason Bruges Studio


Jason Bruges Studio


Jason Bruges Studio

Tapestry of movement and time

Jason Bruges Studio has worked with some of the UK's leading cultural institutions and has an international presence in a variety of fields including art, architecture, technology and interactive design. In 2017 they presented Where Do We Go From Here?, an art installation using 21 industrial robots, as a major project for the arts festival Hull UK City of Culture. This latest work is the result of such achievements and experience.

The venue of Ueno Park for the Constant Gardeners is surrounded by Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, The National Museum of Western Art, and is in front of the Tokyo National Museum, which houses many important cultural properties.

Wadey adds, "In the early stages of this project, we researched these very cultural assets, referring to picture scrolls and tapestries in particular. The gravel canvas that the robotic arms illustrate on is 2.5 meters wide, and we decided that this shape would be ideal for conveying the athlete's movements. The robots can then go as long as they like side to side. So, conceptually, they can extend their length widely, like a picture scroll."

Urban landscapes - public spaces and gardens

One of the key concepts of this work, which merges data, technology and nature, is how it relates to urban landscapes and people's lives. How will the installation be perceived by people who visit Ueno Park for their own reasons - for a walk, for reading, for daily exercise?

Bruges says that’s part of the process.

“These patterns are a representation, like looking at the clouds and seeing things. We call that pareidolia, which is the practice of seeing patterns in things. We’re conditioned to try and find patterns. It’s about interpretation, about people taking away their own versions of things.”

 A work of art incorporating cutting-edge technology that appears out of nowhere in a public square. The movements of new athletes are constantly being added, thus new patterns will be generated throughout the exhibition. Like strolling through a garden and enjoying the techniques of the gardener and the changes of the seasons, visitors to Ueno Park will be able to appreciate this unprecedented work of art that connects tradition to the future.


Installation Details

Date: 28 July 2021 (Wed) - 5 September 2021 (Sun)
Place: Ueno Onshi Park Fountain Square (5-20 Uenokoen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007)
Admission: Free
Opening hours: 11:00 - 18:00
Organisers: Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture)
Support: The British Council


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