Caretaker Robots

“An air of tension, or at least an ambiguity, pervades these untitled photographs by Abbey Hepner. Each image features a human in the company of a white robot, juxtaposing humanity and science. The resulting tension in this juxtaposition reflect the artist’s own tensions—a belief in science where she roots for technology, balanced with an awareness of human need. Her scientific mindset and humanitarian awareness has a global span with an artistic practice and humanitarian activism far reaching even in her young career. From shucking seaweed to help revitalize post-tsunami Japan to cleaning photographs and negatives for families that had lost everything, Hepner has an acute sensitivity to human need.

It is with that human need in mind, particularly influenced by the use of robots in Japanese healthcare facilities, that Hepner works through the ethical dilemma of robotic care versus the human touch. Modifying a robot costume with a screen for its face was an important detail: the screen is the connection as mediator, a metaphor for the screens that now pervade our lives—smartphones and computers—and mediate our real world relationships. The robot looking after Hepner in a rare self-portrait where she floats in a pool reminds us of the psychological need to care and be cared for, but not without considering whether technology will hurt or help us, or perhaps both.”

-Maxine Marks, PhD Candidate, Art History, University of New Mexico

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Caretaker Robots

“An air of tension, or at least an ambiguity, pervades these untitled photographs by Abbey Hepner. Each image features a human in the company of a white robot, juxtaposing humanity and science. The resulting tension in this juxtaposition reflect the artist’s own tensions—a belief in science where she roots for technology, balanced with an awareness of human need. Her scientific mindset and humanitarian awareness has a global span with an artistic practice and humanitarian activism far reaching even in her young career. From shucking seaweed to help revitalize post-tsunami Japan to cleaning photographs and negatives for families that had lost everything, Hepner has an acute sensitivity to human need.

It is with that human need in mind, particularly influenced by the use of robots in Japanese healthcare facilities, that Hepner works through the ethical dilemma of robotic care versus the human touch. Modifying a robot costume with a screen for its face was an important detail: the screen is the connection as mediator, a metaphor for the screens that now pervade our lives—smartphones and computers—and mediate our real world relationships. The robot looking after Hepner in a rare self-portrait where she floats in a pool reminds us of the psychological need to care and be cared for, but not without considering whether technology will hurt or help us, or perhaps both.”

-Maxine Marks, PhD Candidate, Art History, University of New Mexico