Programming a computer and a robot to undertake a pre-determined activity is likely to result in the same outcome each time. However, that depends on what is being pre-determined in the first place. Mapping the process could lead to very different results to mapping the outcome.
Patrick Tresset's exhibition, currently showing at Tenderpixel, features robots, but essentially it's about drawing. It draws – if one could pardon the pun – on Tresset's background as a draughtsman, prior to his later discovery of computers and then robots. His frustration at being a draughtsman led him to seek out new theories and practices in drawing, with his lifelong love of drawing faces flourishing through the work. Essentially, the exhibition examines drawing as a way to pass time, and the compositional nature of drawing a picture.
The robots in the exhibition draw faces by mapping a still image from a camera into very thin, small lines on a piece of paper. In close-up, they look like little hairs. The robots move in something of a random-access fashion, very much like how a human may approach the drawing were they to use the same technique. It is this angle that fascinates Tresset.
Much of his recent work has been about simulating processes, and to see how an examination of a process, rather than of the technique in itself, can produce better drawings. As the artist argues, "You get better, more authentic results like that". Computerised work which doesn't care about the process, argues Tresset, is unable to give the drawing a history. Drawing is physical and gestural, whether it's by human or robot hand. "You can use simulators, but it's not true. Robotics deals with reality. When you work with software, you can work through all of the bugs. With robots, you can't, as you have to understand what you're trying to do."
The detail of the work goes beyond an understanding and mapping of processes, to how the facial drawings are physically delivered. Rather than send them through a printer, the robot arms are connected to hands which hold pencils. They therefore imitate both the physical and the intellectual means of artistic production. By actually holding the pen, the robot is giving the drawing a further sense of history and, literally, depth: some marks are obviously deeper than others, and the face has a "layered" feel, based on its evolution over time.