Core77 Design Awards
- Other Years
Spanning art, technology and sports, The Constant Gardeners was a vast, kinetic art installation commissioned to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Inspired by 'karesansui' or Japanese rock gardens, that traditionally depict patterns found in nature, The Constant Gardeners used a team of four robotic arms to record athletic movement in an expansive gravel canvas. Analysing and reinterpreting video footage from a wide range of sporting disciplines and events, the artwork created a new visual language to communicate and celebrate the motion of professional athletes and their feats of physical prowess. Located in Ueno Park, famous for the many museums located on its grounds, the artwork offered visitors a peaceful space for quiet introspection. It explored a new narrative around robotics, showing this technology to be a force capable of artistic creativity and experimental action.
The Constant Gardeners was the result of an open call issued by the Arts Council Tokyo in 2018. The original brief asked for a monumental, temporary public artwork that would coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Against the backdrop of this exciting sporting event, Arts Council Tokyo required an exhilarating artwork that would engage and inspire large audiences. As part of the Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL cultural programme, the brief outlined three key aims: to have impact, be accessible to all and to expand the potential of the arts.
In response to the brief, Jason Bruges Studio (JBS) envisaged an artwork that resonated with Tokyo's rich identity - a high-tech, automated city that's steeped in tradition – and provided an antidote to the high-octane buzz of the Games. Taking inspiration from a traditional Japanese Zen garden, four industrial robot arms were poised around an expansive gravel canvas before they awakened and started to rake the surface. In a series of daily performances, these 'gardeners' worked together to create unique, evolving illustrations representing the movements of athletes. Generated by a series of bespoke algorithms, that analysed video footage of Olympic and Paralympic events, some illustrations depicted a movement unfolding over time while others shone a light on one spectacular sporting moment.
To establish a language of mark-making that would be in keeping with the traditional aesthetics of a Zen garden, JBS had to undertake extensive research and development. Eventually, the team settled on two main techniques that rely on a combination of computer vision and artificial intelligence to extract movement data from video footage. 'Pose estimation' was used to recognise and track joints, and 'background subtraction', mapped the outline of an athlete over a series of keyframes. Using these tightly honed methods, JBS were able to establish raking patterns that resonated with those conventionally performed by monks.
Moving away from pre-baked choreography towards real-time content generation, The Constant Gardeners paved the way for robotic art that is generative and everchanging. Responding to live Olympic events rather than relying on a tightly ordered programme of performances, the artwork gave audiences reason to return. From its launch on the 28th July 2021 until its close on the 5th September 2021 almost 50,000 people visited the installation. Displaying new illustrations each day over the course of the Games, returning visitors always saw something different. Throughout the duration of the Games, 'the gardeners' worked together to create around one-hundred-and-fifty unique illustrations.
The Constant Gardeners was a boundary-pushing project forging new applications for industrial robotics within art contexts and urban environments. It offered a harmonious vision of the future where man and machine work together to elicit positive change.