Campus News

Robotics, virtual reality, intelligence of art focus of WNY’s first LASER Talk

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published November 21, 2018

“He is a trailblazing artist, working with robotics and writing critically on the roots and implications of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. ”
Paul Vanouse, professor of art and director
UB Coalesce: Center for Biological Art
photo of Simon Penny sitting on a boulder

Simon Penny

Artificial life, robotics and human-computer interaction will be the focus of Buffalo’s first LASER Talk, an international program that gathers artists and scientists for the exchange of information and ideas.

The premiere event will welcome artist and scholar Simon Penny, who will present “Embodiment, Materiality and Cognition: Reflections on Art, Technology and Culture,” an investigation of how we think, act and understand. Stemming from a critique of René Descartes’ mind-body dualism, Penny champions alternate models such as embodied performance and an artful, interactive materiality.

Buffalo is one of more than 30 cities across the world to host a LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous) Talk, an international series organized by Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST). A nonprofit organization, Leonardo/ISAST serves scholars, artists, scientists, researchers and thinkers across the globe through programming that focuses on interdisciplinary work, creative output and innovation.

Buffalo LASER is sponsored by UB’s Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM), the Department of Architecture and Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies, and Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. The series will be held at venues throughout Western New York each semester.

Penny’s presentation will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. The program is free and open to the public. Following the lecture, Paige Sarlin, UB professor of media study, will offer a response as the event’s discussant.

“Simon Penny is a true interdisciplinarian: an artist-scholar-engineer, thus a perfect beginning to our Buffalo LASER series,” says Paul Vanouse professor in the Department of Art and director of the UB Coalesce: Center for Biological Art.

“He is a trailblazing artist, working with robotics and writing critically on the roots and implications of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. One of the deep links between Penny’s practice and what we do at GEM is the way that he constantly undermines any reductive sense of things — analogous to how we find genome, environment and microbiome to be all interconnected influences on human health and individuality.”

Penny, a professor of electronic art and design in the Department of Art at the University of California, Irvine, has created interactive and robotic art pieces for more than 40 years.

His work addresses the relationship between machine and the human observer, embodied interaction, and theories surrounding artificial intelligence and materiality. He was part of a generation of artists to engage multimedia computing and the internet for cultural purposes, and produced groundbreaking work in machine vision and virtual reality interaction in the 1990s.

He established the Arts, Computation, Engineering interdisciplinary graduate program at Irvine, and held a previous position as professor of art and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Penny’s critical writings have been published in seven languages. He recently published the book, “Making Sense: Cognition, Computing, Art, and Embodiment,” a reflection on the history of computing, cybernetics and artificial intelligence, and an examination of the difficult relationship between cognitive science and art.