The Lab

The Lab is a nonprofit experimental art and performance space located in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Norma Jeane: Scene with ShyBot


Photo: Lance Gerber. Courtesy Desert X Biennial

Photo: Lance Gerber. Courtesy Desert X Biennial

Gallery Hours: February 27–March 4; 5:30–7:30pm
Opening Reception: Monday, February 27, 5:30–7:30pm
Closing discussion: Saturday, March 4, 7:30pm–9:00pm

In collaboration with the San Francisco Italian Cultural Institute (IIC), The Lab is pleased to present Scene with Shybot by Norma Jeane, an experiment that connects visitors to The Lab with a robot wandering the desert.

Imagine a shy robot.

The Italian artist Norma Jeane worked with  CODAME to design a robot that they subsequently liberated in Palm Desert. This robot has no function in the traditional sense. It does not serve us; it probably will not enslave us (perhaps only our imagination). Instead, this robot is programmed to run. To run immediately, with nervous electric heartbeat, in the opposite direction as soon as it senses the presence of a human being. 

At the Lab the non-human perspective is multiplied. One wall projection delivers the ShyBot’s movements as recorded live by a drone. On a second wall, the ShyBot transmits a live stream of what is seen from its vantage point – a view based on an algorithm designed precisely to evade the human perspective. A third projection depicts The Lab’s spectators captured in real time by a drone that follows them.

This is Norma Jeane’s fantasy of the desert sublime: the machine is let loose in the landscape, free of the human determinism that frames its existence, and we, in turn, are free to imagine a world liberated from the indeterminacy of us. This is why Norma Jeane stages Scene with ShyBot as liberation.

Panel Discussion

A powerful question that emanates from the Shybot concerns similarity and difference between ‘the’ human and ‘the’ machine. Can one draw clear boundaries between humans and machines? It is common wisdom that humans think (and are shy) –– and that machines neither think nor are shy. Machines are mute, cold, endowed with neither reason nor emotion.

But what if … ?

What would it mean to discover a shared ground between humans and machines? What would it mean to think about both humans and machines from the perspective of this commonality? What new, what unexpected understanding of the human — or of machines — would emerge? Or is this futile nonsense, because humans are humans and machines are machines?

On March 4 at 7:30pm, The Lab will host a round table discussion conceived by Tobias Rees on the relationship between human and artificial intelligence. With:

Norma Jeane, artist
Tobias Rees, anthropologist (McGill University)
Federico Faggin,  physicist (Synaptics, Inc.)
Eric Hanson, designer (Codame)

Norma Jeane (the artist) was born when Marilyn Monroe (the movie star) died: in the night between August 4th and 5th, 1962. By taking possession of somebody else’s personal data, renouncing a specific gender, and creating a proliferation of personalities, NJ is an artist without a body, and therefore without a personal biography that extends beyond his/her artistic curriculum. Norma Jeane’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitons worldwide including MoMA, P.S.1 and Swiss Institute, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Helmhaus, Zurich; Frieze Project, London; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; Culture Station 284, Seoul; Galleria Continua, Beijing; Biennale de Lyon, Venice Biennale, and Liverpool Biennial.

A part of the Mapping the City project,  Norma Jeane: Scene with ShyBot is curated by Marina Pugliese and Dena Beard, and is a collaboration between The Lab and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco, with support of Desert X and Codame Art+Tech.