When robots and antibodies are art materials


Do you have any routines or rituals to start your work day?

I like to go for a walk in the morning just to rest; I try to walk a few miles every day and I usually walk in nature, whether in a park or by the water’s edge, like at Fisherman’s Wharf or the Palace of Fine Arts, which has a lake in it. outside and many swans I came to know. I think it’s crucial because I spend so much time alone indoors.

How’s the rest of your day going?

I don’t really have a typical day. It depends on the project I’m working on. When I edit a video, for example, that’s all I do. I try to work in the morning because my concentration is then the purest; later my brain fled.

What is the first work of art that you made?

When I was young, my brothers took art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art. No lessons for me. I was the girl. Instead, I spent that time looking at Cézanne and Gauguin, memorizing the Rembrandts and the Turners, the works of art that became my teachers. One afternoon, as we returned from the museum, I was determined to paint. I mixed food coloring in glasses of water, cut part of my hair with scissors, found a pencil and rubber bands, and made a paintbrush. But it didn’t work – my hair was too curly. I think the first real art, the first original works that I did, were the “Breathing Machines”, which were kicked out of the Berkeley Art Museum in 1972 because they had sound. It was a drawing exhibition, and I thought sound sculptures worked because sound travels through the air like a line. I installed the pieces in the exhibition, but when I returned with friends the next day, the gallery was empty. All my work had been withdrawn. Faded away. The curator accused me of using media, which she said was not art. My first museum exhibit was therefore a completely empty room. After that, I thought, “Who needs a museum anyway?

What is the first work you sold?

It was much later. [Laughs] I knew [the French art critic] Pierre Restany, who introduced me to [the Swiss collector] Donald Hess in the early 90s. I think Donald canceled four times before he finally came to my studio, but then he bought everything in it, including all of Roberta’s original collection, which was 300 pieces. It wasn’t a lot of money, but at the time I lived in a basement and didn’t have a car, so it was a godsend. He’s the one who told me to edit things; I didn’t even know enough to do that. And he bought number one in every edition after that.

How do you know when you are done with a piece of art?

I’m interested. Sometimes it takes five years, sometimes 35. Roberta and CybeRoberta come from the same source and look a lot alike, but there is a change because the technology has changed. So it’s kinda like a rebirth. My documentary on the feminist art movement, “Women Art Revolution” (2011), took four decades to make. Viewers see artists age, get frustrated, and ultimately triumph. I racked up 250 hours of footage, so when I was finally ready to tell their story in their words, it took me four more years to put it all together.

How much of your job today is being online?

A lot, about 80 percent. I think it’s getting worse and worse, especially with the Covid.


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