The Arts League is thrilled to be collaborating with the GRASP Lab at Penn Engineering along with the Weitzman School of Design for the upcoming exhibition Experiments in Robotic Gestures. Join us for an opening celebration on Monday, November 21st from 6 PM – 8 PM.

Humans have created a multitude of automated and responsive machines that have become deeply integrated in our daily lives. Over time these robotic beings have become expressions of humanity in themselves, with traces of physical, intellectual and emotional capabilities that reflects their creators. Experiments in Robotic Gestures explores the social implications of robotics on work, culture and the environment.

This exhibition presents the work of three artists – Kathleen McDermott, Nikkita Staggs, and Sam Hensley — and the culmination of their residencies at the GRASP (General Robotics Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab at PERCH in 2022. With a month spent performing multidisciplinary research and experimentation alongside engineers and scientists in robotics, artists were able to enhance their skills while overcoming new technical challenges.  Through investigations into the definition of labor, the relationship of machines with biology, to assembling discarded parts into new fantastical creatures with varying degrees of sentience, these artists examine the possibilities that can exist when art intersects with robotics research. Angela McQuillan mentored curation of the exhibition, from meeting with the artists to laying out the exhibition. The advisory committee members for the residency were Simon Kim, Cynthia Sung, Angela McQuillan, Orkan Telhan and Diedra Krieger. Laia Mogas-Soldevila replaced Orkan Telhan during his leave of absence.” to the end of this paragraph “Diedra Krieger, Program Manager of the Robotics Art Residency, collaborated with Professor Koditschek and his lab to set up technical mentors for each of the artists. Each artist was paired with a PhD mentor: Samantha Hensley was mentored by Shane Rozen-Levy; Nikkita Staggs was mentored by Wei-His Chen; and Kathleen McDermott was mentored by both PhD Student Diego Caporale and Research Assistant and recent MS Graduate Ethan Musser.

Robotics Art Residency

The GRASP Lab at Penn Engineering and the Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, will collaborate on the Robotics Art Residency program that brings together faculty and students to explore the use of robotic technologies in addressing contemporary social, cultural, and environmental challenges. Three artists, designers, engineers or creatives from any discipline will spend four weeks at the GRASP Lab at PERCH, during which each will develop a creative project with resources offered by PERCH and the Department of Fine Arts and Design. The residents will receive mentorship from Penn faculty, use the fabrication facilities at PERCH, and interact with students across the campus through lectures and workshops. The outcome of each residency will culminate in a group exhibition and a digital form of dissemination (i.e., publication, website) which will allow them to share the results within the broader community. 

The Robotics Art Residency was awarded a 2020 Collaborative Provosts Interdisciplinary Grant from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation and is sponsored by the GRASP Lab, Kod*lab and The Weitzman School of Design. 

The General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory is an interdisciplinary academic and research center within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1979, the GRASP Lab is a premier robotics incubator that fosters collaboration between students, research staff and faculty focusing on fundamental research in vision, perception, control systems, automation, and machine learning. 

Diedra Krieger, Program Manager of the Robotics Art Residency, collaborated with Professor Koditschek and his lab to set up technical mentors for each of the artists. Each artist was paired with a PhD mentor: Samantha Hensley was mentored by Shane Rozen-Levy; Nikkita Staggs was mentored by Wei-Hsi Chen; and Kathleen McDermott was mentored by both PhD Student Diego Caporale and Research Assistant and recent MS Graduate Ethan Musser.

University City Arts League

Our contemporary art center champions intergenerational learning with a wide array of visual and performing arts programs, classes, workshops and residencies. We are committed to our relationships with surrounding schools, community centers, individuals and our neighbors. Historically dedicated to cultivating and sustaining new talent by way of offering consistent paid opportunities, professional development and exhibiting space to the broader arts community. The Arts League functions as an amplifier for creative voices of all backgrounds, providing the space for exploration, growth and joy.

Our primary goals are:

To provide a welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to experience the arts.

To encourage and support the development of the arts

To bring the arts to West Philadelphia communities through partnerships and educational outreach.

‍We pursue these goals through an exciting array of classes for children and adults, critically-acclaimed gallery exhibits highlighting local and emerging artists and outreach to our local community. Our programs are guided by an overarching commitment to these founding values:

Welcoming Community – We believe that a person’s socioeconomic status or identity should not be an obstacle in pursuing or enjoying the arts.

‍Development of the Arts – We believe in the importance of the arts to enrich individual lives, to improve the quality of life in a community; therefore serving as an important contributor in the community.

Partnerships and Educational Outreach – We believe that the arts can be a great common denominator in uniting diverse communities to explore shared artistic passion. A commitment to education through the arts is a critical component of our mission. 

The University City Arts League is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 

Artist Bios

Kathleen McDermott is an interdisciplinary artist with a background in installation, prop-making and sculpture, based in Brooklyn, NY. She combines her knowledge of fabrication with open source hardware to build a language of absurdity that merges new media, design, performance, and video. She is interested in unproductive technologies that extend and highlight embodied knowledge, and that resist control. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, The Tides Institute and Museum of Art in Maine, the Wende Museum in LA, and Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria; and has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Fast Company, and Dezeen. 

Nikkita Staggs is an artist, researcher, and product designer from Nashville, TN. She graduated from Tennessee State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications with a concentration in theatre. Staggs has performed onstage with The Nashville Children’s Theatre, Street Theatre, Pipeline Collective, Birmingham Children’s Theatre, and toured with the Tennessee Theatre Company. She has worked production management for Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Nashville Repertory Theatre, Destiny Theatre Experience, and is still waiting for her callback from Studio Tenn. Between performances she works as an educator, teaching theatre and visual arts to children grades k-12.  Staggs has exhibited her artwork across Tennessee, Kentucky and New York. Her extensive scientific research bleeds into her artwork, and Staggs adds technical elements to her designs, creating innovative pieces that combine art, science and imagination.

Sam Hensley is a Chicago based maker of both comics and animatronics. Raised superstitiously in the woods of Kentucky, a sense of both wonder and unease for the unknown is present in each creature they design. The stories of these oddly sympathetic characters often begin in the form of comics and writing. Sam then brings them to lurching life through a ritual of deconstructing old toys and other electronics, then building them completely anew as a being with a soul.


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