We recently came across this article about a robot that painted a two-storey mural in San Jose. The robot named Lisa by San Jose startup ViBOT works like a giant vertical printer that shoots paint on the wall. Lisa is able to dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to paint a mural at half the price a human artist would.
But these robots are nothing new. A quick ‘robot paint mural’ search on Google leads me to something closer to home: NTU and their PictoBot, a spray painting robot that can paint 25% faster than two humans.
From the speed of the robot in this video, I think you might mean 0.5 humans.
Technology is moving at such a rate that these inventions shouldn’t be that surprising anymore. ViBOT’s offering fills the gap when it comes to large wall spaces with time and budget constraints that they don’t see themselves stealing artists’ jobs.
In the public space where commissioned murals are one of the main income sources for street/graffiti artists and muralists, I decided to drop a couple of texts to friends in the industry about their thoughts on this new technology being introduced into the market.
SPAZ, visual artist: But then again, I also have a love-hate relationship with technology. The only way I see this working for us is if artists will be able to use this technology, and it’s a bit far-fetched though because this probably costs a bomb too.
Soph O, visual artist: I think it’s a great thing to be able to have new tech and new tools for making work. Safety wise it’ll aid greatly for those who are commissioned a 15-20 storey high building. There won’t be a need to risk one’s life, right? I see it as another medium and it can be convenient if the project is in some faraway place. I’m not pro it nor against it. I think we as artists can find interesting ways to use this technology to our advantage.
Mindflyer, illustrator: Reminds me of the time when they started DTP (Desktop Publishing). Welcome to the new age of big, quick, cheap and ugly! Craft and quality will always prevail but first, you have to live through the initial period of adjustment where cheap bad design will rule the landscape for a while until the community realises how ugly it all is (the clip showing the bad gigantic Korean ads is really an eyesore). The big brands with taste will steer clear of this big, bad, ugly pixel wall printing.
ZERO, urban artist: My first thoughts on it was the finished output looks rather cheap and devoid of the human touch. I don’t think it’ll catch on anytime soon; 3D printers still haven’t caught up as a mainstream thing. Once the cost can be kept down, clients will probably go down that path. In its early stage, it’ll be a novelty but eventually, down the line, it’ll revert back to the traditional way of doing things. Photoshop and all these design tools have been around but it did not make designers obsolete. I think we can make the same argument as when cameras were invented. It was seen as a death knell for painting. Painting was obsolete because image-making became more democratic, but it’s not the case.
ANTZ, graffiti artist: It’s really up to humans to choose if they want actual artists or machines. It is still a matter of “what you see [as the sketch] is what you get”. If it’s hand painted there is more room to play around with it and robots can only do so much.
ANTZ: Well we have a number of clients who want “something painted over there” as compared to “I need an ANTZ piece there”. I am a pretty flexible artist and sadly that is how the Singapore market works.
ZERO: For now we are in this position to do stuff that we specifically do, but most clients just want a mural and not “whose” mural. There are those who want that artistic process as an important factor towards realising the final output and there are clients who just want the final product and do not really care how it was created. It depends on the target consumers. There’s always that value added when one works with an artist but not everyone cares about that.
Soph O: There’s no account for taste and taste takes time to cultivate. There will always be people who will pick a vinyl sticker over a hand-painted sign [or] prefer convenience over craft.
SPAZ: Given that a lot of business owners don’t understand the nuances of art I can imagine how this thing can backfire as well. A robot is a robot and unless they develop the AI, it’ll just print whatever is programmed into it. Without an artist at the heart of the process, it can just be very bleh. It’s also not impossible for corporations to jump on this and turn these walls into ad spaces at the end of the day. We won’t have murals but ad spaces.
The way I see it, human touch: 1, technology: 0.