Daniel Knorr

A metal tube, similar to the aluminum pipes used for air-conditioning, was positioned vertically in a corner of the gallery. It had the appearance of a cold, conceptual sculpture, curved at the top like a periscope, the open end covered with a screen. This was the sole object in the gallery space during Berlin-based, Romanian-born artist Daniel Knorr’s exhibition “Urlo” (Scream). Visitors moved around it, examining the sculpture and inquiring as to its meaning. But it was only when the mysterious metal object started to move that they began to comprehend its function. Urlo, 2010, is a homemade robot that contains a computer linked to a wireless antenna. The remote-controlled object turned around rapidly, pointed its visor toward the center of the room, and slowly made its way toward the area of the gallery with the greatest concentration of visitors. It stopped from time to time before resuming its journey, rolling about on small wheels hidden beneath its metal armor. With its controller unseen, it gave the impression of being a “living” object, a presence that scrutinized people’s movements, studied gallery visitors and followed them.

One could detect the same curiosity in the public that observed this alien element. Peering beyond the protective screen, visitors could discern a small webcam and microphone, and a small antenna on the robot’s side. Rather than a self-contained sculpture, this object was in fact an interface, with the function of letting others know what was happening in the gallery. The goal was, in fact, to create a virtual community connected to a website, which was active for the duration of the exhibition. During the hours when the gallery was open, anyone could connect online and visit the exhibition through the robot’s eyes. It was possible to listen in on conversations of people in the gallery and observe their movements—though not to pilot the robot or to know who was guiding its movements. And this is where the underlying theme of the work comes into play: an investigation of the extremely subtle boundaries between information and control, between dialogue and incommunicability, between identity and anonymity—factors that are an integral part of the world of the Internet. Visitors could interact with the robot but only if the person controlling it, who remained anonymous, offered this possibility.

Knorr’s research addresses extreme social themes, from relationships between people in the virtual world to the relationship between citizen and public institution, as in the case of the four works exhibited in the gallery office, which depict four trams in the city of Bucharest. These works document a 2007 project titled Trams and Institutions, in which Knorr modified the exteriors of city trams, decorating them with colors and symbols of the most important Romanian institutions: the Orthodox Church, the Red Cross, the army, and the police. The cosmetic interventions on public transport probed citizens’ reactions to the symbols of religion, health, war, and control. The destabilizing gesture was a research tool that indirectly suggested which institutions the public would be willing to trust, and which they would reject.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.