Oliver Wolf

Swiss artists-in-labs Programm 2010
Institute/Lab: Labor für Künstliche Intelligenz (ai lab), Institut für Informatik, Universität Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
Artistic background: Art
Oliver’s Website


Oliver Wolf (*1975) was born in VS-Villingen (GE) and is now based in Zürich (CH). In 1998/99 he finished his course in Mediacommunication and Telematics at the Leopold- Franzen Universität, Innsbruck and then commenced studying at the Universidad Central de Barcelona at the faculties ‚Communicacion Audiovisual‘ and ‚Bellas Artes‘ in 2000/01. He further attended courses at the Computer Art & Film/Video, School of Visual Arts New York in 2004 and in 2005 obtained his MA in New Media at Zurich University of the Arts. Currently he is assistant to the professor at the ZHdK Department of Media Arts and focussing on his own artworks and film-/videoprojects. His projects include site-specific art installations for Park Hotel Waldhaus Flims (2004), production design and space ship avionics for the Sci-fi movie ‚Cargo‘, Winterthur (CH) (2008), the Robotic installation ‚HASA-Laboratories‘ and the exhibition ‚Robots – From Motion to Emotion‘ at the Museum of Design Zürich (CH) (2009), as well as his contribution to the exhibition ‚UTOs-Unidentified Technical Objects‘ at V8 Plattform, Karlsruhe (GE) (2011). In 2010 he was artist-in-lab at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, University of Zürich (CH).


For his work ‚Teleonomies walking the Eigenplot‘ Oliver Wolf created robots, which start floating on a self-made air table and generate feedback sounds. Their movement is directed by the applied phonotactic behaviour – whereby the robots head towards sources of sound stemming from other surrounding robots. The sound is composed of the feedback noises created by the microphones and speakers on the individual robotic modules and their relative positions.

The artist started the project by abstracting design principles from UFOs, investigating robot locomotion and finally building his own air table to provide the robots with an almost weightlessness-like environment. For the robot locomotion he employed the principle of morphological computation and created a shape for the robots that includes the ability to control the modules with the least use of actuators, whilst also considering the use of the properties built within the materials and their environment. In this way his insights into contemporary robotics concerned with aspects of embodiment reflect on how science builds models as intellectual vehicles to understand the world. Such models are based on physical parameters and their interrelations. Functionality is the driving force behind reintegrating such vehicles into the world.

In scientific terms, his experiment could be considered a nonlinear system: the system is setup to run by itself without any external interaction. In fact, the robots‘ behaviour is predetermined and preset. In the observer‘s eye, however the robots always generate something new. Gradual modification of individual behaviour affects collective behaviour. The spontaneous evolution of structure and meaning in these activities is a proper basis for further exploring aspects in the aesthetics of emergent systems – especially the behaviour of machine-like systems (robots) and how their expression stimulates our imagination.

Self-made air-table, robots made from ABS PLUS plastic & silicon membrane, Arduino-microcontroller, Long Throw Micro Servos.


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