ATC Lecture — Leonel Moura, "Non-Human Art"

Colloquium | October 21 | 6:30-8 p.m. | Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Osher Theater

 Leonel Moura

 Center for New Media, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute

Can a machine create its own art? This question, raised around the year 2000 by Leonel Moura, is at the core of his work with robotics and artificial intelligence. With the development of artificial intelligence of recent years, the possibility for machines to be intelligent but also creative is at the center of a debate on the future of humanity. Will machines take over? Or, is there an exaggeration over their capacities?

Based on a new kind of algorithm inspired in ant behavior, Moura has over the years built several artbots able to generate unique drawings and paintings. One of these machines, named RAP (Robotic Action Painter), is displayed at the American Museum of Natural History. RAP creates drawings, decides when they are finished, and signs with its name. The
process demonstrates that based on simple rules and concepts such as feedback, emergence and stigmergy machines can create something that is not predetermined and can be considered art works in the contemporary cultural context.

Moura resorts to science but doesn’t claim to be a scientist. His work is inscribed in the history of art and its constant surpass of boundaries.

About Leonel Moura

Leonel Moura is a European artist born in Lisbon, Portugal, who works with AI and robotics. In 2001 he created the first robot arm able to generate unique paintings operate by an ‘ant algorithm’. In 2003 a swarm of ‘Painting Robots’ were able to produce artworks based on simple rules and emergent behaviour. Since then, he has produced several artbots, each more autonomous and sophisticated. RAP (Robotic Action Painter) was created for a permanent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Bebot for the Expo Astana, Kazakhstan, Grand Palais, Paris and Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. ISU (The Poet Robot), generates poems and paintings with letters and words. In 2004 he launched the Symbiotic Art Manifest stating that “machines can make art” ( In 2007 the Robotarium, the first zoo dedicated to robots and artificial life, opened in Alverca. Other works include 3D sculptures, interactive installations, generative art, augmented reality, space art and the play R.U.R. from Karel Capek, with 3 robots performing aside 3 human actors, which premiered in São Paulo in 2010. He has published or participated in several books, such as Robots and Art (Springer); Nonhuman Art (LXXL); Hiperdesign (IADE); Robot Art (Obidos Patrimonium); Man+robots: symbiotic art (Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne). In 2009 he was appointed European Ambassador for Creativity and Innovation.

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