Cartoon Robot Invasion: Artomatic 2009


Artomatic is one of my favorite things about DC: a cooperative unjuried art gallery in a vacant high-rise, staffed by artists, with live performances and mini-bars on every other floor. It's free (except for the bars). What's not to like? The icing on the top (floor) this year is Draw A Robot - a collective crowdsourced fundraising experiment by the team at

Draw A Robot is a deliciously haphazard mashup of new tech and low tech. Starting at the low tech end of the process, you sit down with the pens and paper provided at the Draw A Robot booth, and you - wait for it - draw a robot. (What, you saw that coming?) You put your analog robot in the ultra-high-tech Draw A Robot wooden deposit box, trying not to bend it up too much. Then you go look at art and have a drink. Eventually, through the miracle of the Intertubez, your robot joins the virtual speculative cartoon robot collective, and appears on one of the many posters at - all of which are for sale to benefit Artomatic:

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These posters include minimalist robots, androids, helpfully labeled robot schematics, merciless killing machines, cuddly robots, Futurama robots, Lost in Space robots, Japanimation robots, Atomic Age robots, vampirish Goth robots, fashionista robots - every genre of robot the human mind has created (usually to represent something about ourselves.) They're far more diverse than any one designer, no matter how talented, could create. (Have a look for yourself.)

When I found Draw A Robot's packed booth on the top floor on Artomatic's opening night, I couldn't even read the posted instructions through all the people standing around waiting their turn to draw. There is something incredibly satisfactory about working your way up nine stories of art, loving this and hating that, and finally having the chance to express your own creativity. Why don't more art events offer participatory art? Draw A Robot wasn't even the Artomatic organizers' idea - it's being done by the RobotDisorder collective, a group of Artomatic artists who felt like doing something cool, unpretentious, and interactive, and came up with Draw A Robot pretty much at the last minute. They've been frantically emptying that wooden robot deposit box ever since. And that's exactly how it should be!


This year's Artomatic continues at the Navy Yard Metro stop in DC for two more weeks (through July 5). The organizers had a few unforeseen maintenance snags with the building early in the month and had to cut their hours back, and I know they lost some visitors because of that, so I'd like to encourage everyone in the DC area to go if they haven't already. It's unjuried, so expect amazing art, utterly awful art, and the unexpectedly wonderful effect of juxtaposing the two.

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The only time I've worked my way up a building full of art I discovered a series of Ricky Swallow's turntable sculptures at the top/end. He was an emerging artist at the time but I remember being bowled over just the same. I've follwoed his career ever since. And yes it's fun to explore a building full of art like that, versus a gallery.