The Robot-Human Connection





About the Artist

b. 1959 Cincinnati, OH

Alan Rath is an artist who makes electronic, robotic, and kinetic sculptures. He designs and creates all of the electronics and software his sculptures use, and he considers this programming as important as the way his art looks. He programs his sculptures so that their movements and “behavior” change over time and do not repeat. Rath received a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are four artworks by Alan Rath in NEAT.

In the Gallery

Questions for Visual Analysis

Use the video link above or reflect during or following a Museum visit.



  • What is going on here?  What do you observe about this artwork?
  • Watch the artwork for several minutes. Note any patterns you notice. Note the materials. Notice the types and range of movements the artwork is making. Notice the structural components.
  • How is this artwork similar to or different from your expectations of a robot? How is this artwork similar to or different from your expectations of a living creature?


  • How does Rath’s choice of materials impact your reaction to the sculpture? Why do you think he selects feathers and/or images of eyes for his artwork?

    Alan Rath likes to include humor in his artworks. 
  • Do you find this piece humorous? Why or why not? How do the artwork’s movements/gestures and materials contribute to the humor? Do you think other visitors see humor in this piece?  

    Rath is interested in the interaction and blurred boundaries between the human and the technological, as well as the notion that his sculptures are self-contained, artist-created machines.
  • Where do you notice this in his work?
  • Compare Forever to Rath’s other sculptures in the gallery. How is it similar? How is it different? How does the absence or presence of a screen or image affect your reaction to the sculpture? See if you can identify and analyze Rath’s use of humor, programming, and the human/technology connection in these pieces.


Alan Rath creates robotic sculptures he programs himself using computers he builds

  • Based on your observations, what would you guess this sculpture is programmed to do? Think about patterns, variations, repetition, and reactions.
  • Test your hypothesis about the programming of this sculpture by observing the sculpture in the gallery and the way visitors and your classmates interact with it. What conclusions can you draw?



Low Tech: Choreographing Robot Motions


Alan Rath imagines and programs his robotic creations to move in certain ways, then tweaks, adjusts, and combines the movements to create his artworks. We usually think of robots having very stiff motions due to the industrial material with which they are built. Rath’s robots show us some ways to play with this notion. Collect playful materials like feathers, hats, a handheld fan, or an apple. Break into small groups as a class and ask each to choreograph three or four moves, both using the materials and not, demonstrating ways a robot might be “programmed” to move for expression rather than industry.

High Tech: Make your own Robot


Check out these instructions for making a moving robot using a toothbrush, a small motor, and a watch battery. Then, see if you can add features to this robot that explore your own ideas about the connections between robots and humans.



High Tech: Program a Robot!


Use WonderWorkshop’s robots and lesson plans to program robots to do all sorts of tasks. Or, check out these robots at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.




Kinetic Sculpture