Tom Waugh

2021 National Sculpture Prize Finalist

Material: Carrara Marble

I am not a robot

‘I am not a Robot’ examines the phenomenon of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning as they become an increasingly ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. The title is taken from the tick box system on websites that uses algorithms to declare that the user is not a robot, paradoxically employing machines to tell us that we are human.”

Sketch for NSP proposal
Sketch from listener series
Maquette for NSP front
Maquette for NSP back
Maquette mockup photography
The artist and work

Machine learning

The pervasiveness of AI

This work draws on surrealism with the title referencing Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, calling into question the meaning of the piece and the function of a robot, whether that be to complete tasks mechanically or to create something from scratch – and what, if any, is the difference.

Tom studied  the techniques whereby marble could be carved to look like flesh, hair or fabric, and in his own work, evokes the same qualities of form and surface texture. Despite his use of traditional materials and techniques, there are tensions and contradictions in Tom’s work: between classical and contemporary art; between temporality and permanence; and between humour and serious environmental and social issues. These contradictions can present a cognitive dissonance, challenging ideas of material value, and prompting second look at the things we take for granted.




There is also a reference to Escher’s impossible ‘Drawing Hands’, suggesting the idea of a self- replicating and self-improving Artificial Intelligence. This challenges the assumption of a creator’s hand, asking when, and if, technology will be able to take on the creative role, and whether at that point it will supplant humanity.

This is a piece infused at every level with the paradox, uncertainty and irony of humanity’s pursuit of progress, inventing machines that could supplant and possibly replace us. It asks, in the end, what is the purpose of this progress? Why are we doing this?