If you visit the Art + Technology Lab this weekend, you'll be invited to participate in artist Annina Rüst's project, A Piece of the Pie Chart. After signing a waiver, you'll pick up your "pie" (really more like a cookie, to ensure a long shelf life) and place it on a sensor that lets the robot know it's there. Next, using a software interface developed by Rüst, you'll peruse a variety of statistics related to the underrepresentation of women in the worlds of art and technology. Choose one, then select the option "put this on a pie"; your pie makes its way down a conveyor belt where, first, it is blasted with a heat gun that causes the white chocolate frosting to melt just enough to adhere a pie chart. A vacuum suction tube powered by robotics customized by Rüst slowly makes its way to the printed pie chart of your choosing, picks it up, and gently places it on the frosting. (My favorite part of the piece is the unexpected moment when the vacuum cleaner suspended overhead switches on with a roar.) The pie continues its journey down the conveyor belt and pauses beneath a camera that snaps its picture, which the robot then sends out to the world via its own Twitter feed. You're not done yet: as the pie comes off the conveyor belt, a label printer spits out a mailing label that includes the address of the site associated with the statistic depicted on your pie. Pop the pie in the box, adhere the mailing label, and you have the option to keep or deliver your pie in protest.
I was demonstrating the piece for a group of LACMA supporters just the other night when someone in the crowd asked "Which part of the piece does the artist consider to be the art?" I replied that, if I were to speak for Annina, I would guess that she consider the whole thing to be the work of art - not just the robot, or the pies, but the concept and the performance itself, including the actions that the audience participant might take in distributing the pies to sites of their choosing.
In a hands-on feminist data collection and visualization workshop that she ran along with fellow artist Micol Hebron last weekend, Rüst introduced artist and activist Ann Isolde, who took part in protests at LACMA in the early 1970s. Isolde noted that, historically, feminist activists have often used humor to capture and focus attention. Rüst's piece is no different; people often laugh while the robot is doing its thing, aspects of which are amusing and adorable. But the pie charts tell a story about gender imbalance that is no laughing matter.