Robots and Art

Part of the series Cognitive Science and Technology pp 149-175


Cultivating the Uncanny: The Telegarden and Other Oddities

  • Elizabeth JochumAffiliated withDepartment of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University Email author 
  • , Ken GoldbergAffiliated withCITRIS “People and Robots” Initiative, IEOR and EECS, College of Engineering, Art Practice, and School of Information, UC Berkeley

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The concept of the Uncanny has attracted the attention of art critics and scholars for over a century. Freud’s 1919 essay The Uncanny considers objects and other phenomena that evoke a powerful psychological response of fear and fascination. Freud links the human experience of the Uncanny—essentially an awareness of awareness—to repressed fears and desires. The Uncanny Valley—a related but distinct concept—was proposed by Masahiro Mori in 1970 concerning the design of robots and prosthetics. This chapter explores the Freudian and Morian concepts of the Uncanny and their influence on artists working with robots. We identify two categories: the representational uncanny is triggered by objects that look lifelike, and the experiential uncanny is triggered by non-anthropomorphic phenomena that behave in ways that signal awareness. We focus on the latter in our examination of three artworks—The Telegarden (1995), Six Robots Named Paul (2012), and The Blind Robot (2013)—which create a heightened atmosphere of awareness and challenge assumptions about authenticity and agency.