Where Science Meets Art

Liat Segal
"Art ex Machina"
The David Lopatie Conference Centre, Weizmann Institute of Science

What exactly happens in the space where humans and machines communicate? Does their shared presence in that environment, or the actions that at times directed toward the same goal, blur the boundaries between them? Liat Segal examines these questions in an unconventional system: The production chain of an artwork: At one end is a human artist who shapes ideas in her mind, and at the other end, a machine that brings these ideas into life, almost without human intervention, and may do so even without the human’s physical presence.

The question of the status of a work of art created in this way depends to a large extent, according to Segal, on the question of what exactly happens, or happened, or may happen, in the space between these two ends, in the intermediate stages of the “assembly line.”

Segal, who holds a master’s degree in computer science and biology, a master’s degree in information analysis and complex systems, and is a graduate of the Interdisciplinary Program for Outstanding Students at Tel Aviv University, previously worked at Microsoft’s Innovation Center Labs and several start-up companies. She taught at Bezalel and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “I see the world as collections of data, mathematical representations or sometimes through the lens of biological models,” she says. “Technology – mechanics, electronics, software, and chemistry – whether the newest methods or more conventional ones – are my raw materials. I design and build technological systems based on their fundamental characteristics; and then I place them in other contexts, posing new and intimate goals that have nothing to do with their function or usability in the original context.”

Her machines built layer upon layer: A mechanical structure that performs physical movements and actions; an electronic command and control system that receives instructions from a computerized system, including software – which Segal programs herself – and databases chosen for specifically each task.

Segal: “It is important to me that I build the machines myself. The technical choices I make affect the final creation, just as a painter’s brush stroke affects the painting he creates. But I also leave room for randomness in the interstices between the different steps in the artwork chain – in the interaction between the human operator and the mechanical system, or in the way in which the machine follows the instructions in the physical process of producing the end result. Once I have completed the system of instructions and the system begins operating, in a sense, I become a kind of a passive observer in the creative process, unable to intervene or influence it.”

Segal’s works have been exhibited in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, several museums in Germany, the National Museum of Jewish History in Philadelphia, at the Amsterdam Light Festival, and others. In some of these exhibitions, the whole process was presented as performance art -- the artist functioning as the choreographer or director.


The phrase “not a typewriter” is a technical term. Though it is, perhaps, reminiscent of René Magritte’s This Is not a Pipe (The Treachery of Images), one of the basic expressions of the development of conceptual art; in the context of Segal’s work, it is important to note that the expression is also an error code used in the early days of Unix operating systems to indicate invalid input or output. Unlike an algorithm, which “gets stuck” at an “invalid” expression, in a dead end of sorts, a human observer may seek alternate patterns and meanings in invalid input, for instance, visual representation or code.

The nexus of Segal’s “This is Not a Typewriter,” -- some of its results are displayed in an exhibition at the David Lopatie International Conference Centre at the Weizmann Institute of Science -- is a large painting machine, which she planned, programmed, and built. The machine executes visual codes that start out on paper as verbal codes, move into digital dimensions and are then translated into the mechanical actions of movement in space that create calligraphic strokes. The result – on a sheet of paper laid at the base of the machine – is a graphic expression of the spoken, or written, word, which can be seen as the visual “encryption” of verbal information. “The ‘encoded’ images are unreadable to the human viewer,” Segal explains, “but contain all the textual information summed up in permanent ink on paper.”

The verbal inputs for the machine (“not a typewriter”) are created by a fake news generator: software that creates combinations and manipulations of texts from the Internet to produce “fake” statements, which are then subjected – en route to the mechanical-calligraphic implementation – to such additional tweaks as noise in the electronic and mechanical systems.

This work was created as part of Segal’s residence in the Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator, in collaboration with Eigen+Art Lab gallery in Berlin in 2016.


The work “Plate Recorder,” some of the results of which are on display in this exhibition in the Weizmann Institute of Science, is, first and foremost, a digital-age tribute to the bygone analog world. The work, which was created in cooperation with ceramics artist Roy Maayan, converts sound waves (from speech, music, or recordings from various sources) to physical, visual representation. Ready-made ceramic plates are the medium for recording this auditory information. A drawing machine, not coincidentally reminiscent of an old record player, converts voice into increasing spiral-shaped representations of sound waves on the plates. In a sense, this work goes back to the ideas of musician and painter Luigi Russolo, one of the first Futurists, who sought to convert sound to the language of painting. Mixing up the senses of sight and hearing, according to Russolo, expresses a prominent feature of modern life – machines that create noise and evoke a sort of synasthesia.

Then sources of the sounds translated and documented in this work are, among others, recordings of various people who agreed to “talk to the machine.” This work has been presented as a performance piece that included all stages of the work up to the final result; in the Jerusalem Design Week (2018); the Cluj Ceramics Biennale, Romania; and the Latvia International Ceramics Biennale, Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre.


This work, representing Segal’s early efforts, was the output of a painting machine originally built to create paintings in the style of American abstract expressionism (“The Originals Machine”). The computer system uses input from a Google statistics tool (Google Trends), used to analyze the incidence of search expressions over time. The numerical information becomes the input for the painting machine, and these control motor movement and the pumps that extrude the paint. The canvas and painting machine are in a vertical position so that the released color droplets drip downwards, creating over time thin lines of color.

The visual outcome fits in with the basic principles of American Abstract Expressionism, which advocated the artist’s release from traditional aesthetic values while sanctifying personal and spontaneous expression. Segal takes this statement of intention a step further, asking whether spontaneous personal expression is not only the right of the person, but also of the machine – itself a human creation – or perhaps even of some combination of human and machine together.

Curator: Yivsam Azgad