Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Robot Exhibit

Last Saturday I went to the Olympic park to see the I Robot exhibit at SOMA (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art).

Art exhibits can sometimes be too post-modern for the street person and so people often walk away from contemporary art confused and bewildered. However, an art show based around "Robot art" certainly is catching.

No doubt this exhibit was full of fun, wonder and whimsy that left me feeling interested in the "robot genre".

I first got to the Olympic park via train getting off at Mongchontonsong stop on line 8 and taking exit 1. This brings you up to that huge "Peace Gate" and courtyard. I waited at the Starbucks for JH with a cup of Tazo Hibiscus Tea.

JH showed up, tried some of my tea and found it too sweet and strange, and then we moved on towards the museum.
Nearby we found a sculpture to stand next to and take pictures. (Mom: That is me wearing the sweater you gave me..)

There is a small fee for this exhibit only 3,000 Won to get in, which wasn't too bad.

You enter the museum and pass a room with large television sculptures and into one with glass cases showing robot toys.

The idea was to show how the idea of the "robot" originates from our creation of dolls. Recreating the human into a doll figure and then giving it movement, was their thesis for the origin of the robot image. Certainly they meant the "human robot" since most robots today are mostly found in factories. 

I found this theory interesting and reminded me of such films as "Ghost in the Shell" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion." 

It was fun to take a look at the toys with JH since a lot of them seemed to be from his generation in Korea. 
Here they pointed out that Pinocchio was the first robot creation. 
They moved on to show the evolution of Pinocchio into plastic.
Certainly Astro Boy is a familiar image. For JH Astro Boy is known as "Atom". Turns out the title he is familiar with is "Astro Boy: Atom", meaning that is the characters real name. Actually after college I worked a seasonal job at the Asian Art Museum and the big exhibit at the time was a Tezuka exhibit (creator of Astro Boy). Turns out there are a lot of themes and ideas to consider within the Astro Boy genre.
For JH these figures of the "fighting robot" were familiar to him and it seemed he was going down memory lane.
And then we came to the representation of females as robots, which you can read above for the best clarity. The female robot as an angel is a reoccurring theme in Japanese comics and animation, something I was familiar with due to my days in the past being a bit obsessed with all things Japan.
I am going to be a bit nit-picky here in reviewing this first room. For it felt like the curators could have pushed the envelope a bit more with their theorizing on the origins of robots. The room only had these display cases propped around the walls, which were blank except for the placards with explanations. I would have found it much more enriching if there were videos being shown to illustrate the dynamic action and history that robots have played in cinema and animation. Certainly some works come to mind, such as "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Metropolis" (although featured in a display case). Not to mention great literary works featuring the theme of robots, like works by Isaac Asimov. 

Ah - well, you take what you can get. 

The rest of the galleries seemed to be themed together based upon the level of "robotish-ness" they had. 

For example, the next room was robot themed sculptures by famous artists like Nam Jun Paik. 
Then moving out of this room you come to a hallway with a fish sculpture with moving fins, by Uram Choe.
JH really liked this one~
We then moved down the hallway and past these colorful windows.
The next exhibit was definitely a leap forward past the easily accessibility of the toy robots. We entered the contemporary arena of "robot" themed sculpture.
Unfortunately I cannot find the artist's name of this work in the catalog. This piece included these figurines moving in circular motions as the gears behind them rotated. I really liked this work because the noise coming out of the gears was very intriguing and the small movements were like a living thing. I don't know the artist's intention but to me the moving wheels in the background represented the Buddhist concept of the dharma wheel and how that is what controls or influences our life. It was a very meditative piece that captured one's attention.

Other works in this room included a large sculpture with heads sticking out from long necks. When one moved around the work the heads moved in a kind of wriggling way, making the work come alive. It coincided with something to do with iron fragments. All of which became lost to the viewer due to lack of explanation. Yet in this way the work was very explorable for the viewer.

We left this room and entered another, this one getting away from the form of robots and more into the architectural world that I guess robots create. 
I had the feeling of being inside a computer map of some kind of video game.
The next room was a return the whimsy and playful. This room included a remote control robot rigged with permanent markers so that when it traveled along its path it left a line.
Large sculptures above your head by Youngwun Yoo were both comical and strategically kitsch.
We came out and went down some stairs to the final exhibition room. 
This one was definitely showing the final "robot" image with Gundam figures and some moving sculptures. 

There were so many works of art and it all had a good balance between contemplative works and peices which were fun to look at.
I highly recommend one come and see this exhibit, which lasts till March 14th. If you have kids there is a center for them to explore robots and receive complimentary stickers. Generally the whole exhibit is great for kids since a lot of it plays to their fantasy of the robot image. 


  1. Thanks Joy, very nice review. I'll have to go see that, as a robot buff. I went to SOMA once before and was distinctly unimpressed, but this looks cool!

  2. OH yes! If you are a robot buff this will definitely peak your interest. And I would like to hear your review on your blog :)

  3. Nice review & pics Joy & beautiful sweater!
    Must be getting warmer there if you could go outside w/out your warm coat!

    For a class at CSU,EB I designed a "robosketcher"...a little toy remote control robot that would travel around in a little arena w/markers attached to its it would draw as it moved. I still have the paper describing it & and the circuits it would need, etc...


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