Intrepid art lovers across Scotland’s capital city are searching out Artobotic’s innovative art vending machines. We ask project originator Denny Hunter ‘what is an Artobotic?’
When, where and why did Artobotic begin?
Vending machines had always interested me because of their autonomy. As a child I was always sucked in by the flashing lights of arcades, something that a lot of people under a certain age have little or no experience of. I thought that if I could get a vending machine and put my artwork in it instead of cigarettes or condoms it would be a good way of marketing my own artwork.
I envisaged a small box that would have a ‘glorified business card’ inside and would cost very little. I thought that it could spark a conversation at a pub and maybe get my name out there. So, I set about researching cigarette machines. Pretty quickly I discovered that there was a lot on the market because of the cigarette ban and also with the new one pound coin change people were just getting rid of ciggy machines.
I knew that I could adapt a certain type (those old clunky ones where you literally hear a ‘clunk’ as the solenoid releases when you insert your final coin) so I prowled eBay for weeks to no avail. I bid on one very ornate Wurlitzer type machine from the 1940s that would have needed a lot of work but lost out to someone who paid over £300.
Just as I was about to give up I fleetingly noticed a very boxy looking, pillar type machine that could be adjusted for coin type, sale price and box size. Totally perfect! It was on at a starting bid of £50 which I thought was a bit high but I read on in the description to find out that it wasn’t a vending machine that was for sale at all but five vending machines and there was a spelling mistake! I bided my time and bid at the very last second and won the auction.
So there I was with five vending machines standing in my sitting room! My partner is used to my crazy projects taking over the sitting room for a day or two but when she got back home to find an army of meter high robots she asked what they were and my response was. “It’s Artobotic! I’m going to sell artists artwork for them”. That’s how it started.
What do you hope to achieve?
In my previous incarnation as a picture framer I used to see a lot of cheap ‘online’ prints coming through, the type of thing that sells on eBay and it struck me that a lot of people were unaware that they could go to open studios and buy original art from a real local artist for the same price, probably with framing included and keep the wolf from the door for someone. This stayed with me for a long while and threw up questions about accessibility, affordability and public perceptions of the art world in general.
By giving the public a small affordable investment in artists work Artobotic will hopefully encourage people to delve deeper. Perhaps to see whether or not they should have their box insured but hopefully, along the way, talk about the artwork with friends and family and ultimately fall in love with it and commission the artist.
Ownership is important and makes people feel in control. Even a small box like this from a vending machine is their little stake in the world of art. Hopefully, it will spur them on to find out more.
Artobotic is primarily about making artwork accessible to the public by bringing it to them – at their local bar, barbershop or thrift store – and making it affordable. The format keeps the price down and artists enjoy working to this size (110mm x 65mm). Even David Mach who was working on an installation of 20 tonnes of magazines at the time of making his contribution loved the format so much that it encouraged him to make a complete set of original collages at this size.
Where do you work, what’s your average day working?
I’m fortunate enough to work as a technician at The Edinburgh City Art Centre as a day job. My job is very varied; one day I could be installing an exhibition like the current A-Z exhibition, comprising of over 300 artefacts and spanning over 60000 years of history, the next day framing important documents like William Henry Playfair architectural drawings for a forthcoming exhibition, so there isn’t an average day.
Recently I started a photo blog on Instagram called ‘The Secret Technician’ – a behind the scenes look at what goes on within some Edinburgh Museums and galleries. You can find it on Instagram @the_secret_technician
How do you select the artists you work with? What advice would you give to artists looking to get their work out there?
Artobotic has a responsibility to deliver quality artwork to the buyer. For this reason, the standard of work has to be high. First, we ask artists to provide a digital submission with any supporting material, we research their website and try to understand their work and practice sometimes talking on the phone until we’re sure. Sometimes artwork shines through. The artists may have no formal qualifications and some of our artists are ‘off the grid’ so this is definitely open to everyone with genuine talent.
Being part of Artobotic is about not pandering to the market. We want to give the public original and challenging artwork to take them on a journey of discovery. The second thing I would say is that although you will be paid for artworks sold, do not think of it as a moneymaking exercise, think of it as a way of presenting a small example of your artwork to someone who is curious and open to understanding your work.
Thinking about the visual arts in Scotland, what inspires and excites you? Is there anything that frustrates you, what would you like to see change?
I am excited to be living in Scotland at this time and I can feel a real swell of creativity. Artists are finding ways to work around their day jobs and daily routines, helped in part by Artobotic and projects like Bonkers Contemporary which aims to give artists creative freedom and a show to work towards that is not market driven, also there are other feeder initiatives which support visual arts like The Tool Library and free gallery space like The Tent Gallery all of which contribute towards building a very solid and fertile substrate for artists to build upon and work around the rigidity of the market.
There are things that frustrate me about the visual arts in Scotland like the ever depleting funding pot and I would also like to see more artists making work that the general public can identify with.
Tell us more about some of the Artobotic projects you are most proud of?
I’m proud of having turned Artobotic from an idea into a reality. I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of my wonderful partner Alison and my friends, family and work colleagues who have been tremendously supportive but it’s the artists who have poured their soul into the idea that I am most proud of, the people who sit and create works for the project and just love the idea, this is the lifeblood of the project.
What is your next big project?
Artobotic has a lot in the pipeline. First up will be Bonkers Contemporary a special event curated and produced by impresario Freddie Thomas which will see all four floors of the Biscuit Factory transformed to accommodate works by some of Scotlands finest emerging talent like Celie Byrne, Kate Livingstone, Samantha Boyes and Anna Oberfeld to name a few.
Artobotic will have a machine that satellites the venue in the lead-up to the show and another very colourful machine painted by furniture artist Vanessa Gibson which will be permanently inside the venue for the duration of the show.
You can find Artobotic at Bonkers Contemporary 2017 opening on 5 October at The Biscuit Factory in Edinburgh.