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Can this Italian startup’s robot sculptor chisels its way into our hearts?



Unsurprisingly, not everyone has been happy to meet “1L”, the 13-foot robot sculptor from Italian startup, Robotor.

Last year it was about the Ai artwork that took out a state prize in the US, and the backlash from artists, painters and illustrators questioning the legitimacy of the work. Even though it was a digital art prize the piece took home.

Joch Diaz, the writer of the piece, even mused that while the “painting” was undoubtedly beautiful, was it art? And artists across the world saw their commissions slipping away, and called blasphemy.

Straight up this year, we learned that an Italian startup, Robotor, is using a 13-foot (almost 4-metre) tall robot dubbed “1L” as its latest robot sculptor, and unsurprisingly, again, not everyone is happy with the technology.

However, it’s not new tech. In 2021, the New York Times spoke to the founders of Robotor, Filippo Tincolini and Giacomo Massari, about “ABB2”. ABB2 reportedly demonstrated some of the flair of the Italian sculptors like Michelangelo and Bernini, as it carved a select slab of Carrara marble with its 13-foot, zinc-alloy robot arm and spinning wrist, and diamond-coated finger.

Carrara marble, called Luna marble by the ancient Romans, was quarried from the Carrara mountains north of Tuscany, Italy. It was the pure white Statuario-grade marble that was used for monumental sculpture – most notably Michelangelo’s David. As that grade ran out, so did the sculpting of monuments, traditionally, and the blue/grey streaky stone quarried more recently became popular in tiling, flooring and benchtops.

So could this be a rebirth of the famous industry? Italy’s artistic output and workshops have been one of the country’s most valuable exports, and the Robotor founders believe that embracing the technology is a way to ensure the country stays at the forefront.

Some purists argue that something important can be lost when modernising the process with new technologies. So it’s interesting that Florence’s Duomo Cathedral sculptor (of the not-robot variety…) Lorenzo Calcinai, while talking to CBS, grudgingly confirmed the profession can’t remain anchored to the olds ways, but “we risk forgetting how to work with our hands. I hope that a certain knowhow and knowledge will always remain, although the more we go forward, the harder it will be to preserve it.”

And it should be said that contrary to our romantic beliefs, many of history’s greatest artists, even Michelangelo, delegated parts of their work to acolytes, artisans and apprentices.

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