Editor’s Note: This story is part of “Smart Creativity,” a series exploring the intersection between high-concept design and advanced technology.
Since it was first unearthed in 1506, Laocoön and His Sons has been one of the most revered works of classical sculpture.
The Hellenic marble statue, depicting three male figures under attack by sea serpents, has inspired everyone from Titian and Michelangelo to William Blake and Richard Deacon, all of whom have channeled its form and emotion. It’s been on display at the Vatican in Rome for centuries.
“It is really the symbol of perfection, and the benchmark that was used throughout the academia,” says London-based artist Davide Quayola.
Quayola has himself recreated the beauty of the Laocoön. But instead of lifting a chisel, he programmed a robot to do the work for him.
“Experimenting with technology is not something completely new in art. It’s always been present since the time of Renaissance,” Quayola says. “I’m very interested in taking such a familiar object and, by contrast, looking at this object through the eyes of the machine.”
Following an algorithm, a robotic arm chips away at a block of pulverized marble until it has created an incomplete but entirely unique version of the original. The process and its results are an exploration of humanity’s ongoing quest for perfection.
“I’m mostly exploring the space in between an original block of matter and the Laocoön that might be inside. It’s like these infinite possibilities of how you would reach these, and what kind of logic you use to reach this geometry inside the block,” Quayola explains.
He recalls the apocryphal Michaelangelo quote: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
Watch the video above to find out more about Davide Quayola’s Laocoön series and how technology informs his practice.
Parts of this video were filmed in the Cast Courts at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A’s new Ruddock Family Cast Court and the Chitra Nirmal Sethia Gallery will open on Dec. 1, 2018.