1. The Constant Gardeners
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaThe Constant Gardeners
  2. The Constant Gardeners
    Photo: Jason Bruges Studio
  3. The Constant Gardeners
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  4. The Constant Gardeners
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  5. The Constant Gardeners
    Photo: Jason Bruges Studio

See robots create a Zen rock garden in the middle of Ueno Park

‘The Constant Gardeners’ is a free art installation that rakes beautiful patterns onto a Japanese rock garden in real time

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture)
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British design team Jason Bruges Studio created this one-of-a-kind performance art installation, titled 'The Constant Gardeners'. Their project was picked from over 2,400 innovative ideas in August 2018 to be part of the Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13 and delivered in partnership with the British Council. The unique work combines traditional Japanese culture and art with technology and sports. It’s on display in Ueno Park until September 5 from 11am to 6pm daily, and is free to visit.

What is it?

Jason Bruges and his team programmed four industrial robotic arms to create impressive patterns in a Zen rock garden, a large gravel patch filled with 14 tonnes of crushed black basalt surrounded by 4 tonnes of silver-grey granite.

The patterns resemble athletes’ movements and are inspired by different Olympic and Paralympic sports. Throughout the day, you’ll see up to four illustrations, each of which takes between 30 minutes and two hours to complete, depending on its complexity. The artworks remain on show for 30 minutes to an hour before the robots clear the surface again for their next creation. Over the course of the event, the robots will draw 150 different illustrations.

How does it work?
Photo: Jason Bruges Studio

How does it work?

The motifs are re-creations of athletes’ movements taken from footage of key moments from previous Olympic Games. The studio used custom-made software to turn the moving images into numerical data. The programme analyses the athletes’ limb and joint positions, as well as the movements of their equipment.

Senior designer Adam Wadey says his team doesn’t follow a strict schedule to decide which patterns to have the robots draw. Instead, they create new illustrations every day for the following day based on the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games schedule. However, they try to incorporate motifs from each Olympic and Paralympic discipline.

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Did you say robots make the artworks?
Photo: Jason Bruges Studio

Did you say robots make the artworks?

That’s right. The artists of ‘The Constant Gardeners’ are four discarded industrial robot arms from a BMW factory in South Carolina. The design team had to hack the robots’ original programming and develop a new piece of control software in order to make them draw – that was the most difficult aspect of this creative journey, according to Wadey.

By using these second-hand industrial robots for their art, the team invites people to reconsider the role of machines in daily life and highlights their potential in experimental creative projects. Visitors are encouraged to think differently about these machines and look beyond the scary sci-fi tropes of the killer robot.

Don’t miss
Photo: Jimmy Cohrssen

Don’t miss

This cutting-edge outdoor installation is open daily from 11am to 6pm and runs until the end of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on September 5. Come evening, the image remains on the canvas, while the Zen garden is lit up. So you can even drop by after dark to get a glimpse of this creative masterpiece. 

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