Coinciding with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London-based Jason Bruges Studio has unveiled a new outdoor art installation blending art, sport, computing and the ancient tradition of the Japanese Zen garden. 

Staged in Ueno Park, Tokyo, The Constant Gardeners is a performative piece that sees a team of four robots create illustrations by raking patterns into a canvas of crushed black basalt. Analysing past video footage from across a wide range of sporting disciplines and events, The Constant Gardeners communicate and celebrate the motion and physicality in professional athletics. 

Jason Bruges Studio, The Constant Gardeners (test build), 2021, photo by James Medcraft, courtesy Jason Bruges Studio
 James Medcraft, courtesy Jason Bruges Studio
The Constant Gardeners (test build), 2021. Photography: James Medcraft, courtesy Jason Bruges Studio

The Constant Gardeners draws on the aesthetic and craft of the traditional Japanese Zen garden, and from the sportspeople who meticulously hone their movements to reach the top of their game. 

In daily performances, the ‘gardeners’ will collaborate to create 150 unique illustrations throughout the Olympics. Some will showcase the story of an event unfolding over time, while others will shine a light on a single spectacular movement or sporting moment. 

The robotic performances are linked directly to the schedule for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, using data read from video clips athletic performances. The aim is for the artwork to complete at least one illustration for every discipline.

 Jimmy Cohrssen, Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13
The Constant Gardeners, Ueno Park, Tokyo, 2021. Photography: Jimmy Cohrssen, Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13

‘By developing new paradigms in robotics and performative arts, we hope to show how innovative technologies can be used in storytelling, offering audiences in Tokyo an accessible, meaningful experience that celebrates the Tokyo 2020 Games and the incredible skill and achievements of its athletes,’ explains Jason Bruges. 

Forming part of the Tokyo Festival Special 13, the installation was commissioned by The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo and is delivered in collaboration with the British Council as part of the UK/Japan bilateral season.

Top: Content development, pattern generation from video, vertical Line Distortion. Above: content development, pattern generation from statistical data, differential growth, layered. Courtesy Jason Bruges Studio

The robots used in Bruges’ installation were reclaimed following a lifetime in industry, working to produce cars in a BMW factory. Each was reconditioned and repainted for its new role, but it didn’t come without hurdles. The robots were originally designed to perform minimal, industrial, and endlessly repeating movements.

Using the robots to undertake complex choreographed tasks they are not designed to perform is a different ball game. To harness this technology for creative and experimental purposes, Jason Bruges Studio had to create a custom control program to ‘hack the system’. §

 Jimmy Cohrssen, Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13
The Constant Gardeners, Ueno Park, Tokyo, 2021. Photography: Jimmy Cohrssen, Tokyo Tokyo Festival Special 13