Experiments in Robotic Gestures

Experiments in Robotic Gestures

Samantha Hensley
Nikkita Staggs
Kathleen McDermott

Runs / November 21 –  December 18, 2022

Monday, November 21, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

University City Arts League
4226 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 382-7811

Gallery Hours:
Monday – Friday, 9am – 6pm

This exhibition presents the work of three artists – Samantha Hensley, Nikkita Staggs, and Kathleen McDermott — and the culmination of their residencies at the GRASP (General Robotics Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab at PERCH in 2022. With a month spent performing multidisciplinary research and experimentation alongside engineers and scientists in robotics, artists were able to enhance their skills while overcoming new technical challenges.  Through investigations into the definition of labor, the relationship of machines with biology, to assembling discarded parts into new fantastical creatures with varying degrees of sentience, these artists examine the possibilities that can exist when art intersects with robotics research.

Humans have created a multitude of automated and responsive machines that have become deeply integrated in our daily lives. Over time these robotic beings have become expressions of humanity in themselves, with traces of physical, intellectual and emotional capabilities that reflects their creators. Experiments in Robotic Gestures explores the social implications of robotics on work, culture and the environment.

Robotics Art Residency

The Robotics Art Residency was awarded a 2020 Collaborative Provosts Interdisciplinary Grant from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation and is sponsored by the GRASP Lab, Kod*lab and The Weitzman School of Design.

The General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory is an interdisciplinary academic and research center within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1979, the GRASP Lab is a premier robotics incubator that fosters collaboration between students, research staff and faculty focusing on fundamental research in vision, perception, control systems, automation, and machine learning. 

Diedra Krieger, Program Manager of the Robotics Art Residency, collaborated with Professor Koditschek and his lab to set up technical mentors for each of the artists. Each artist was paired with a PhD mentor: Samantha Hensley was mentored by Shane Rozen-Levy; Nikkita Staggs was mentored by Wei-Hsi Chen; and Kathleen McDermott was mentored by both PhD Student Diego Caporale and Research Assistant and recent MS Graduate Ethan Musser. Angela McQuillan mentored curation of the exhibition, from meeting with the artists to laying out the exhibition. The Advisory Committee members for the residency were Simon Kim, Cynthia Sung, Angela McQuillan, Orkan Telhan and Diedra Krieger. Laia Mogas-Soldevila replaced Orkan Telhan during his leave of absence. Laia’s student, Victor Li provided poster and digital design for the exhibition’s promotional materials.

University City Arts League

Our contemporary art center champions intergenerational learning with a wide array of visual and performing arts programs, classes, workshops and residencies. We are committed to our relationships with surrounding schools, community centers, individuals and our neighbors. Historically dedicated to cultivating and sustaining new talent by way of offering consistent paid opportunities, professional development and exhibiting space to the broader arts community. The Arts League functions as an amplifier for creative voices of all backgrounds, providing the space for exploration, growth and joy.

Our primary goals are:

To provide a welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to experience the arts.

To encourage and support the development of the arts

To bring the arts to West Philadelphia communities through partnerships and educational outreach.

‍We pursue these goals through an exciting array of classes for children and adults, critically-acclaimed gallery exhibits highlighting local and emerging artists and outreach to our local community. Our programs are guided by an overarching commitment to these founding values:

Welcoming Community – We believe that a person’s socioeconomic status or identity should not be an obstacle in pursuing or enjoying the arts.

‍Development of the Arts – We believe in the importance of the arts to enrich individual lives, to improve the quality of life in a community; therefore serving as an important contributor in the community.

Partnerships and Educational Outreach – We believe that the arts can be a great common denominator in uniting diverse communities to explore shared artistic passion. A commitment to education through the arts is a critical component of our mission.

The University City Arts League is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Sam Hensley: The Creatures
(video credit: Brandon Daniel)
Nikki Staggs: Articulated Wing Movement
(video credit: Brandon Daniel)
Nikkita Staggs: Linear Actuator Flower Movement
(video credit: Brandon Daniel)
Kat McDermott: Movement Studies
(video credit: Brandon Daniel)