The art of safety

Pilz Australia Industrial Automation LP
Saturday, 01 June, 2024

The art of safety

The National Gallery of Australia has showcased exemplary art since its inception, including a strong collection of experimental and abstract sculptures. The acquisition of the Body Sculpture by Jordan Wolfson, however, is the first work that the Gallery has exhibited with complex industrial robotics at a large scale. Pilz Australia was commissioned to ensure the animatronic display complied with relevant work health and safety standards in Australia.

Jordan Wolfson’s latest animatronic installation, Body Sculpture (2023), is an awe-inspiring and thought-provoking work of art that seamlessly blends the realms of art and complex robotics. Currently on display at The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, this captivating creation is the first solo presentation of Wolfson’s work in Australia. The world premiere of Body Sculpture, a major acquisition for the national collection, is a continuation of the artist’s acclaimed group of animatronic works, including the renowned Female Figure (2014) and Coloured Sculpture (2016).

Wolfson is known to be a provocateur whose work reflects the situation of the world today. His masterful use of industrial robotics in his art allows him to delve into the intricacies of figuration, challenging viewers to reimagine the human body in relation to the world within an environment of intensifying interconnectedness through technology, the internet, and the rise of artificial intelligence. The anthropomorphising of the industrial robot in Body Sculpture is described by the artist as “tension between personification and reification, between object and person.” His latest animatronic masterpiece delves deep into the complexities of human existence, challenging societal norms and evoking powerful responses.

Installing and displaying a work of art as technically complex as Body Sculpture, required the National Gallery to take a different approach. This included being meticulous in adhering to all relevant work health and safety standards in Australia.

Jan Wojna, Head of Enterprise Project Management, National Art Gallery of Australia, stated that the acquisition of Body Sculpture was a big learning experience for them. “We didn’t know a lot about robots, our risk appetite for Work Health and Safety matters has always been very low, and the work was being built on the other side of the world, so just popping your head in to see progress was not straight forward. We knew from the start that the artist wanted an intimate experience between the public and the work so creating a safety fence across the art would inhibit the intimacy and connection between visitors and the work. We also knew we couldn’t appropriately grasp the relevant Australian Standards based on our own understanding and research, so we had to look for a safety partner to bring the supplementary expertise we needed.”

Body Sculpture is a metal cube with two animatronic arms, complete with large hands. A chain snakes out of the top of the cube and connects it to a robotic arm attached to a scaffold. The robotic arm moves the cube back and forth across a 13-metre-wide stage over the course of 25 minutes, while the cube performs a series of thought-provoking human gestures. The stage is an open area surrounded by the audience during performance sessions. “How do you ensure an immersive experience for the audience without sacrificing their safety?” This was the question posed by the Gallery.

Pilz Australia was faced with the task of answering this question. The National Gallery of Australia commissioned Pilz to implement the regulated, demanding risk assessment and validation process. Pilz conducted a thorough design review, risk assessment, and validation service, taking over the entire conformity procedure. A comprehensive list of hazards with corresponding safety measures was seamlessly implemented while allowing the art to speak for itself. This gave the Gallery the assurance and confidence they needed to say, “We’ve assessed ourselves against the national safety standards of Australia”, when planning to showcase this experiential art.

Customer Statement

“As a Cultural and Art Institution it’s fair to say we’re not experts in robotics, and so we need to approach different providers who might bring that expertise. The proposal we received from Pilz gave us the confidence that they knew what they were doing. Pilz were able to pinpoint granular concerns for us. Ultimately, this gave us the confidence to report to the National Gallery’s Executive team and other key stakeholders that we had undertaken a thorough and comprehensive assessment of our risks and are confident in our procedures.

The working experience with Pilz was very positive. The team was very flexible and supportive. They went the extra mile to uplift our safety knowledge and guided us from the start of Body Sculpture’s installation until we opened to the public.”

Jan Wojna, Head of Enterprise Project Management, National Art Gallery of Australia

When asked about his advice to other artists or institutions exploring incorporating robotics into their art, Wojna replied, “When incorporating robotics into art, finding a safety partner and involving them early in the concept and development phase is crucial. By bringing them on board from the outset, artists and institutions can ensure that potential risks are identified and mitigated proactively. This collaborative approach helps to make the entire process more efficient and seamless, allowing the artistic vision to shine through without compromising safety. Safety should be at the forefront, centre, and backbone of any art project involving robotics.”

The successful integration of industrial robotics into this captivating artwork is a testament to the Gallery’s dedication to providing visitors with an experiential and thought-provoking artistic experience.

Pilz Australia | | 1300 723 334 |

Top image caption: Jordan Wolfson, Body Sculpture, 2023, National Gallery of Australia, purchased 2019. Image credit: Kamberri/Canberra.

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