Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi - Interview Project, 2010

Leonel Moura (1948, Lisboa)

Halim Kerim Baş, BU Civil Engineering,


Leonel Moura, born in 1948 in Lisbon, Portugal, is a conceptual artist, working with artificial intelligence and robotics. His works can be put in a category of robot art, non-human art, or artificial creativity. He is producing innovative works, ranging from RAP-Robotic Action Painter which generates art works, Robotarium, a zoo for robots, several painting robots, and İSU (the Poet Robot) which generates random poems. He is an internationally acknowledged artist; his RAP is displayed as a part of a permanent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History, NY.

Halim Kerim Baş: When did you first realize you are an artist?

Leonel Moura: I decided to be an artist very early, in my adolescence. In my family house there were plenty of books on modern art and enjoy looking at the pictures and trying to comprehend what they really mean. Very soon I understood that in modern and contemporary art the idea and the process precedes the object. This means that we are not artisans but rather visionaries.

Halim Kerim Baş: What is it that inspires you to work with robots?

Leonel Moura: I have started working with computers in the 80’s. By the end of the 90’s I was using algorithms to produce emergent and self-organize forms. At a given moment I wanted to come out of the computer. Robots appear to be the best solution as they operate in the real world.

Halim Kerim Baş: Did you get influenced by other artists? If you did, who are they?

Leonel Moura: By other artists not so much. I had a good help from some scientist friends. The art world does not interest me. It is boring and conservative. I prefer to talk with engineers and scientists.

Halim Kerim Baş: What do you do for fun (besides art)?

Leonel Moura: I read a lot. And enjoy it very much. At the moment I am reading everything that I can get from Bukowski. I also write novels for fun.

Halim Kerim Baş: How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

Leonel Moura: I have my own Gallery-like space to show my work and the work of the robot-artists. Once in a while people come and buy some painting done by the robots. This helps, but mainly I do projects of art and architecture as a way to finance the work with robotics.

Halim Kerim Baş: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

Leonel Moura: Don’t read art magazines. Don’t follow the trends. Think ahead. Be innovative.

Halim Kerim Baş: What are the best and worst parts of being an artist?

Leonel Moura: I don’t see things like that. Some of the so-called worst parts, like for example the difficulty to be really creative, are also the best if we see it as a challenge.

Halim Kerim Baş: What inspires you to work and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

Leonel Moura: I really don’t know what inspiration means. And again, things are always tough in the studio. And that is good. In art project there are random and rational components which result in an emergent process. Everything contributes. Loose thoughts, memories, experiences, knowledge, expectations, interaction with others and of course obstacles, difficulties and so on. An art project is essentially an operation of problem solving. We cannot determine from the start the outcome of such a process.

Halim Kerim Baş: Could you tell us about RAP, ISU and TARA, your painting robots? Do you think they have the creativity needed to make art?

Leonel Moura: The painting robots are autonomous machines able to situate themselves in the space and to build pictorial compositions on their own. The process is based on randomness, stigmergy and positive feedback. Which means that the action is not exclusively random, but is also not pre-determined. Of course that I am the one that did conceive the robots and trigger the process each time they run. But it is also true that the robots in their action painting gather and incorporate new information that I did not anticipate. In that sense they go beyond the initial conditions and therefore we can say that they are creative.

Halim Kerim Baş: Could you tell us about your recent works?

Leonel Moura: At the moment I am working on a theatre play with robots. It is a classic, the play RUR, famous among other things because it was in this text that comes up the word ROBOT for the first time. My version is very different from the original, not only because I have real robots on stage, but because they have a much more important role in the narrative. They play debuts next August in São Paulo, Brazil.

Halim Kerim Baş: Could you explain what do you mean by "Science solves problems. Art makes problems."?

Leonel Moura: As I have said before, we can look at an art project as a problem. But we artists don’t see it so much as a search for a solution, as it is the case with science, but as a way to raise new questions. In that sense we are more interest in creating problems, than solutions.

Halim Kerim Baş: Can you tell us about Robotarium, the first zoo dedicated to robots?

Leonel Moura: I regard robots as a new species. We have dogs, birds, bacteria, elephants and robots. They have a life and some intelligence. Hence I have decided to build a small zoo for the new species. For the moment they don’t mind to be caged. At the Robotarium they are totally autonomous feeding from sunlight.

Halim Kerim Baş: Finally, I wonder if you're going to have an exhibition in Turkey or visit Turkey.

Leonel Moura: Not planned yet.