About the artwork


In times of constant busyness, technological overload, and the demand for permanent receptivity to information, doing nothing is rarely accepted, often seen as provocative and associated with wasting time. People seem to always be in a rush, stuffing their calendars, seeking distraction and the subjective feeling of control, unable to tolerate even short periods of inactivity.

The multidisciplinary project Doing Nothing with AI intends to address the common misconception of confusing busyness with productivity or even effectiveness. Taking a closer look, there is not much substance in checking our emails every ten minutes or doing some unfocused screen scrolling whenever there is a five-minute wait at the subway station. Enjoying a moment of inaction and introspection while letting our minds wander and daydream may be more productive than constantly keeping ourselves busy doing something.

However, it seems to become increasingly difficult nowadays, as we live in a highly stimulating digital culture. Our brains are starting to adapt to these higher stimulation rates, attention spans are in decline, and our cognitive modes seem to leave deep attention behind, replaced by some form of hyper-attention. In order to promote a state of "doing nothing" in 2019, Emanuel Gollob and his team are currently working on creating a neuroreactive installation, using live EEG measurements and a real-time adaptive robotic choreography.

Over time, the algorithm increasingly learns to move the installation in a way that best supports the user's mind-wandering process, while a parametric real-time robot control system allows the creation of a space of more than 4 million possible choreographies of movement, sound and visuals. Doing Nothing with AI is an individually adaptive robotic performance based on organic movement, peakless rhythmic narration and sine wave-like repetition ? just catchy and interesting enough to help the user to enter into a state of drifting thoughts while watching. A big part of the project is testing several aesthetics, all of them inspired by situations which still catch our eye today and could provide the potential of letting the perceiver's mind wander.

In previous installations, Emanuel Gollob explored the Doing Nothing potential of geometric motions; he and his team are now focusing on choreographies of more organic movements. The challenge was to create a material which translates our large-scale robotic movements to micro surface motions. The aesthetic version you can see here features 19,000 tricoloured toothpicks placed on foam at regular intervals, multiplying the motion effect by changing the visual appearance during the smallest move in any direction. For future aesthetics, current experiments involve chaotic surfaces of 19,000 jiggling zip ties.

Project Credits :

- CORE TEAM: Emanuel Gollob (AT) - design & concept, Magdalena May (AT) - concept & research

- ADVICE AND SUPPORT: Johannes Braumann (AT), laboratory for creative robotics - robot support, Dr. ir. Orkan Attila Akgun (AT) - neuroscientific support, Magdalena Akantisz (AT) & Pia Plankensteiner (AT) - graphic design

- Supported by Vienna Business Agency. Parts of this iteration were produced in the Design Investigations studio at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

This project is part of the European ARTificial Intelligence Lab and co-funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union.