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.”