am Münster 

(Richental-Saal; Wessenbergstraße 43,
78462 Konstanz)


Reimagining the

Liat Grayver (Berlin) and
e-David Painting Robot
(Uni Konstanz)

Nov 5 – 

Dec 5, 2021 

(Tue – Fri 10 –18 h; Sat + Sun 10 –17 h)

by Dr. Katerina Krtilova

A brushstroke is not yet a painting — it oscillates between intention and contingency, meaning and insignificance. It balances precariously on the verge of meaning, just marking the “iconic difference” (Gottfried Böhm) that allows the viewer to see something on a surface or plane, not just the exterior surface of an object.

Following Vilém Flusser’s concept, the individual brushstroke affords analysis of the gesture of painting. As a gesture, painting cannot be understood from the “outside”, prompting a scientific — biological, physiological or sociological — explanation of the process: observers see the gesture of a brushstroke and not just a random figure, because they recognize themselves in it, and they see the final image as the trace of a bodily movement they could (potentially) reproduce. Flusser also rejects the idea of an “inner” motive, intention, idea or spirit of the painter expressed in the painting, disconnected from the “outside” of the gesture, the movements of the body, the brush or the paint on the canvas, etc., because it inevitably prompts a correlative understanding founded on comparison of the assumed idea or intention and the final painting, without giving proper attention to the act, the performance of painting. The painter and the brush are only abstractions; what is real is the actual form of the gesture, he stresses.

In contrast to the idea that painters use the brush as an instrument in order to realize ideas that have formed in their minds, Liat Grayver’s use of the analysis of the gesture of painting focuses on the interaction of different bodies — the painter’s hand, her arm or feet, the brush, the pigment, the canvas — and the techniques of painting, which simultaneously restrict and diversify the manners of handling the canvas (or any surface), paint, frame, etc. Facing a robotic arm performing preprogrammed painterly actions confronts the painter and viewer with tools and techniques that are not part of the artist’s “inner” motions, and shapes what can be painted, imagined or seen in the first place. Brush, paint, canvas and linear perspective are elements that are not completely controllable, despite the painter’s intentions, but rather induce her to do something she might never have imagined, bringing forth unexpected and indeed unforeseen results.

Grayver and the e-David team’s unique collaborative development of computational and robotic-based tools alongside traditional painting techniques informed by calligraphy — half a century after Flusser’s essay — enables reflection on the gesture of painting within the realm of digital technologies. Precisely by not pursuing the idea of the machine mimicking human behaviour and the current widespread fascination with “artificial creativity” — simulating human artistic practice — but rather by questioning the technical analysis of the gesture of painting. The necessity to “explain” the gesture to allow the robot to reproduce it does not restrict the realm of robotic painting tothe practice of copying existing paintings (or creating new variations — a “New Rembrandt”, for example). It allows for a reflection of painting as a process of creating meaning as a technique, a movement of body and eye, a dynamic synthesis of different artistic and technical elements, the emergence of form, and more. In confronting the painter’s self-reflexive gesture with the algorithmic logic of the computer program, the gesture exposes its incomputable dimension: the individual, unique movement of a hand, creating a singular material trace that cannot be reproduced, but only repeated in new brushstrokes.

At the same time, the phases or parameters into which Grayver and the e-David team decompose her gestures are not derived from the “outside”, but are in fact just as much integral components of the brushstroke (the hand-brush-paint-paper complex) as the digital tool (the brush-robot-program-paper complex). This effectively allows her to explore and enrich the gesture of painting, connecting technique and imagination, intention and contingency, passivity and activity, the affordances and constraints of the tool, the material and the body — or program — and includes experiments and errors that create new possibilities. An infinite mechanical variation and a singular, unrepeatable experience.

A Reverberation oft he Finite in the Infinite of Outer Perception and Inner Vista. Pigments, charcoal, spray paint and gesso on canvas, 200 × 150 cm.

Work Descriptions

The show instigates a complex dialogue between an evolving deterministic process, computational vision analysis and organic painterly action. Data extracted from a simulated world is transformed into real-world materials before being translated back into data in a continuous loop of action and reaction, of observation and depiction.

Eight robotic-calligraphic paintings are hung to occupy and integrate into the space, thereby restructuring the architecture of the building. The individual paper works are extracted from a complex of computer-generated particles (Simulation of a World Overview) according to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Scaled to different sizes, each can be viewed not only as an individual work but also as part of the modular installation. The fragility of the ink-infused rice paper works in particular stands in sharp contrast to the industrial robot used to create them. As with Japanese calligraphy (the reference is obvious and undeniable), the brush trajectories and the ink’s behaviour as it penetrates the surface are here of several magnitudes more importance than the perception of the object itself.

A portable e-David painting robot creates live paintings over the course of the show. The initial state of the initial painting is set during the vernissage as a performative act by the artist, as she triggers the ongoing process with a singular brushstroke on the bare, white paper. From that point on, it is the e-David that applies each of the successive brushstrokes. The visual feedback mechanism at the heart of its system is exploited as part of a custom configuration that constantly generates new data to inform the robot’s continuous activity. Upon the completion of each painting of a brushstroke, the evolution of the new stroke is analyzed by the visual feedback and the “target” is reset according to the state of the evolving image.

This infinite state-to-state process continues in a loop over the duration of the exhibition. The ever-changing light quality in the space — direction of the sunlight, natural vs. artificial light, filtered through the hanging paintings or direct — is one of the factors that impact the controlled feedback procedures, challenging the computer to “correctly” interpret the state of the painting at any given moment. A complex visual structure gradually emerges through this exponential variation process that is unique to the specificities of the interaction of computational mechanisms and physical action.


The e-David (Electronic Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display) is a pioneer project in the field of robotic painting and was one of the first to use a visual feedback system. It is an ongoing project at the computer graphic department headed by Prof. Oliver Deussen and is currently being developed by PhD candidate Marvin Gülzow. The software for the show was development by the graffiti artist Dr. Daniel Berio (Computer Science, Goldsmith University of London) and Emily Bihler (University of Konstanz). 

Liat Grayver is a Berlin-based cross-disciplinary painter and media artist, investigating methods to redefine one of the primitive forms of art — painting — within the current technology-based era.

Dr. Katerina Krtilova is a media theorist and media philosopher, researcher and lecturer at the Zurich University of the Arts and coordinator of the PhD program Epistemologies of Aesthetic Practices. In 2021–22 she is professor for Media Culture Studies at the University of Bonn.

e-David Live-View


Design+Code: botlik.net