Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Golan Levin

Second Advisor

Melissa Ragona

Third Advisor

Illah Nourbakhsh

Fourth Advisor

Jane Werner

Fifth Advisor

John Carson


Objects that are animate occupy a special place in the human conception of the world. We ourselves are objects that are animate. So are the non-human animals which have been food, predators, cohabitants, and later companions to us during our evolutionary history. The difference between what is animate and what is not and the question of what happens when an animate object begins or ceases to operate - in essence what gives us and the other animals life - have captivated human minds for perhaps that whole time. The same goes for the apparent differences between us and those other animals.

These dark spaces in human understanding have always been filled by stories. These take the form of myths, fables, folklore, recipes for magic, and comic strips, to name a few, which act to create a gap between animal fiction and animal truth. That gap and what has splayed it, in the past and now, play a critical role in how we view ourselves and how we relate to nature in general.

Stories were also the birthplace of animate objects of human artifice - automatons, golems, homunculi and their brethren. It seems there was a will to replicate the forces that brought us about long before we had the means to take more than a couple of steps. However, the Industrial Revolution led to a world where non-biological animate objects abound, including the behavioral objects we call robots. The tools of robot-making are my tools. Therefore, in this thesis, I also discuss the history and implications of the “robot” concept and try to refine the category, one that has always frustrated definition, in a way that is germane to my work but also, I believe, accurate in encapsulating how people really conceive of robots.

My work during the program has been frequently engaged with facets of the animal, robot, and robot/animal dialogues, at some times intentionally, at others not. If a progression can be drawn onto the scattered points of my projects, it would be away from a mindset mostly engrossed in the fictions with which we surround our relationship with animals towards an effort to use contemporary techniques for animating matter purposely to simultaneously engage with animals directly, explore notions of the concept of the robot, investigate the interplay of natural materials and artificial ones, reveal the un- animal-ness in most human perceptions of animals and, finally, uncover the animal-ness of our relationship with our own objects.

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Fine Arts Commons