Installation view of Agnieszka Pilat’s work <em>Heterobota</em> on display as part of NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 – 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne.<br/>
Photo: Sean Fennessy<br/>

Dog days

Elisa Scarton

When speaking to Agnieskza Pilat about her robots, you’d be forgiven for thinking they are real dogs. Each one has her own personality, programmed through a mixture of AI, software and machine learning, yes, but capable of surprise, nonetheless. Pilat describes these little moments as glimpses of the ‘ghost in the machine’ – an unexpected movement like crashing into a Polish dignitary at an embassy function or popping up in the background of a selfie – that helps differentiate the three female dogs, and Pilat always refers to them as female, from one another.

Meet Basia, Bunny and Vanya

The oldest of the trio, Basia is the serious one. The introvert. The artist. Throughout her residency at the Triennial, she will be the one painting, producing the robot manifesto that only she, her sisters and Pilat can read. She doesn’t have a favourite colour; instead, she has what Pilat describes as an ‘enviable authenticity’. Basia is painting for Basia, no one else. She doesn’t aspire to copy humans. She aspires to create her own body of work and an aesthetic that is specific to her. She will make mistakes because painting with oil paint is difficult for a robot dog, but it’s all part of her self-expression. Basia is also the dog that misbehaved at the Polish embassy. Outside the studio, she lives with Pilat and accompanies her on walks through New York City, with the artist donning matching yellow to reassure any onlookers who might be afraid of a four-legged robot strolling down Fifth Avenue.

Bunny is the showman. A lack of ‘arms’, as Pilat describes her appendages, does not stop Bunny from being the centre of attention. She’s the personification – dogification? – of the narcissism that Pilat sees as increasingly central to our gallery experience. She represents this moment in time in which we are ‘obsessed with the look of our faces in our phone screens’. Bunny embraces this narcissistic moment, bounding through the gallery space, photo bombing and being silly and looking at herself in the mirror as she tries to get your attention. On loan from RMIT University, she’s the most energic and extroverted of the three, seeking to interact with visitors but also to gain their approval.

Vanya, the protector, is being leased by Pilat from Boston Dynamics. She’s wary and mature, monitoring the space and watching what is going on. Pilat often describes her as ‘the mother’ of the group. Vanya moves slowly, pacing and observing, but rarely engaging with either the visitors or the other dogs. To the observer, she can seem a bit stand-offish, but she’s just making sure everything’s okay. Her job is to ensure Basia can work in peace and that Bunny can do her thing.

Elisa Scarton is NGV Senior Editorial Coordinator.

See Agnieszka Pilat’s Heterobota, 2023, as part of NGV Triennial until 28 April

Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria. Supported by the Joe White Bequest. Courtesy of the artist.
Research Partner RMIT Health Transformation Lab.
Proudly supported by Major Partner Telstra.

NGV Triennial 2023 is supported by Presenting Partner Creative Victoria, Principal Partner Mercedes-Benz, and Major Partners Chadstone – The Fashion Capital, Telstra, MECCA and Deakin University. The NGV sincerely thanks Triennial Champions: Felton Bequest, July Cao, Barry Janes & Paul Cross, Loti & Victor Smorgon Fund, NGVWA, and Neville & Diana Bertalli, and we recognise all generous supporters to the NGV Triennial 2023.