What if robots lived like we did?

Secret Life of Robots depicts robots in everyday situations

Jenna Bodnar Feb 23, 2014

We know that robots can do all kinds of amazing things for us, but what do they do when we’re not looking? An exhibition titled The Secret Life of Robots offers “an unpolished look into the unseen, and often mundane, lives of robots,” according to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The display opened at the SPACE Gallery in Downtown on Friday evening.

Local artist Toby Atticus Fraley drew inspiration from his sketchbook in the creation of the display. “Robots assembled from pieces of Americana illustrate mundane everyday rituals, acts of daring, and precious milestones,” Fraley said in a press release. “These scenes of great joy and crushing sadness cover the beginning to the end of a typical robot’s life span, celebrating and revering the beauty in the everyday.”

This whimsical collection of expressive robots was a pleasant reprieve from the more somber subjects of other galleries. Fraley combated the cold, mechanical monotony typically associated with robots — using the down-home comfort of their settings. The quirky robots made the relatable, humdrum scenes intriguing and delightful. The knickknacks and décor of the robots’ homes transported viewers to the more wholesome era of the ‘50s. For the opening of the gallery, DJ Gordy Greenawalt amplified the experience with sounds of doo-wop and swing.

Fraley makes mixed media sculptures and clockwork pieces on a day-to-day basis for his clients, but chose to represent his own ideas in this recent gallery. Most of the robots grew unique personalities as he built them, a modern twist on finding the figure in the clay, Fraley said in an interview. “The eyebrows — that’s where they really start getting their personalities.” Using materials that he finds in flea markets in the summer and on eBay in the winter, Fraley’s robots revitalize worn-down baubles with true American resilience.

While some of the scenes are static, others have moving parts that enhance the lifelike aspects. Among other moving scenes, an elderly robot welcomes viewers as he wavers back and forth while reaching for his glasses, and a father robot puts on a puppet show for his child. Fraley admits that there was no real formula as to which scenes had motion and which scenes had none; he simply chose to animate whatever scenes spoke to him. “There were some that I wanted to have move, like the lady reaching for the cat food, but I just didn’t have time,” Fraley said.

The Secret Life of Robots is an engaging display for viewers of all artistic tastes and backgrounds. Viewers can enjoy this free exhibition through April 27.