Motion/Emotion: Exploring Affect from Automata to Robots

Elizabeth King and Richard Kizu-Blair, 1991.

Motion/Emotion: Exploring Affect from Automata to Robots

February 10, 2022 - December 31, 2022 View Exhibition Promo Video 3D VIRTUAL TOUR

Motion/Emotion: Exploring Affect from Automata to Robots February 10-December 31, 2022

This exhibition investigates the emotional qualities of automata and robots by pairing the Museum’s permanent collection with the work of contemporary artists and scientists. By highlighting the intersections between art, science, and emotion, this exhibition seeks to connect the Barry Art Museum’s historical automata to 21st-century interests while also asking how robots can help us better understand our own humanity.

Motion/Emotion explores the intersections between robots and affect in three sections. The first part takes a closer look at the Museum’s collection of historical automata, kinetic sculptures that predate modern robotics. The second section considers the work of two contemporary artists, Elizabeth King and Joseph Morris, who both explore the intersections between affect and embodiment in different ways. Renowned for her exquisite multimedia works, King creates intimate sculptures of hands, eyes, and other body parts and animates them through pain-staking stop-motion, with each subtle gesture conveying physical as well as emotional movement. Joseph Morris considers embodiment through abstract, mechanical sculptures, invoking the physicality of breathing, dancing, and other movements. The final section takes a closer look at the science of robotics and affect through a showcase of ODU projects. In this final part, we explore how ODU is at the forefront of important new collaborations regarding robotics and emotion.

If you are interested in learning about depictions of robots in pop culture, please see our Media Companion to this exhibition.

IMAGE: Elizabeth King and Richard Kizu-Blair, What Happened, 1991, remastered for high definition video 2008, silent stop-frame animation, two minutes. Image courtesy of Elizabeth King.

Curated by Sara Woodbury, Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies, William & Mary


Related Programming: 

  • Monthly Virtual Lecture Series, September 1, 2022 at 6PM

Robot Warriors and Robocops: What are the Ethical Issues?

This dialogue between Dr. Yvette Pearson & Dr. Yiannis Papelis examines ethical issues related to the design, development, and deployment of police and military robots. We identify and examine key ethical issues related to the use of robots for surveillance, reconnaissance, weapons disposal/deactivation, searches, arrests, detention, training, and combat. We consider questions such as: How are robots different from cars or tools? Will the use of police and military robots reduce injuries and fatalities? Will their use make war more humane or prevent war crimes? Will their use in policing enhance safety of both citizens and police officers? How do we prevent military or police robots from reinforcing problematic biases and corresponding social inequities? Who should be held accountable for the actions of robots in these contexts?

  • U-Nite: Movement & Breath

Inspired by Joseph Morris’ Emotive Machines, this U-Nite is all about our bodies’ distinct locomotion, the way we can harness this movement through breathing techniques and simple exercise in order to live a healthier life and possess a more positive mindset!

Exhibition Advisory Board: 

Peter Eudenbach, ODU, Art Department

Tina S. Gustin, ODU, School of Nursing

Khan Iftekharuddin, ODU, Batten College of Engineering and Technology

Petros Katsioloudis, ODU, Darden College of Education and Professional Studies

Yiannis E. Papelis, ODU, Virginia Modeling Analysis & Simulation Center

Yvette E. Pearson, ODU, Philosophy and Religious Studies


Reading & Research List: 

Abnet, Dustin. The American Robot: A Cultural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.

Ackerman, Evan. “Robotic Tortoise Helps Kids to Learn That Robot Abuse Is a Bad Thing.” IEEE Spectrum, March 14. 2018. 

Bailly, Christian. Automata: The Golden Age, 1848-1914. London: Robert Hale, 2003 (First Edition 1987).

Burwick, Frederick. “The Uncanny Valley: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Sigmund Freud, Masahiro Mori.” In Romantic Automata: Exhibitions, Figures, Organisms, edited by Michael Demson and Christopher R. Clason, Ithaca, NY: Bucknell University Press, 2020, pp. 19-34.  

Elder, Alexis. Friendships, Robots, and Social Media. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

Hix, Lisa. “Ancient Androids: Even Before Electricity, Robots Freaked People Out.Collector’s Weekly, July 30, 2018.

Hsu, Jeremy. “Why “Uncanny Valley” Human Look-Alikes Put Us on Edge.” Scientific American, April 3, 2012. 

Kang, Minsoo. Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: the Automaton in the European Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.

King, Elizabeth. Attention’s Loop: A Sculptor’s Reverie on the Coexistence of Substance and Spirit. New York: Abrams, 1999.

Kries, Mateo et al. Hello, Robot: Design between Human and Machine. Vitra Design Museum, 2017.

Lay, Stephanie. “Uncanny Valley: Why We Find Human-Like Robots and Dolls So Creepy.The Guardian, November 13, 2015. 

Meagher, Jennifer. “Orientalism in Nineteenth-Century Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.  (October 2004).

McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “The History of Creepy Dolls.” Smithsonian Magazine, July 15, 2015. 


Free Monthly Lecture Series is a series of conversations inspired by the Motion/Emotion exhibition.

All recordings of the past Spring 2022 Lectures are available to watch on the Barry Art Museum Youtube Page.