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Upcycling on the up

The retro-futuristic robots are prime examples of the artist’s desire to create today’s art out of yesterday’s materials

Robots start life as sketches on paper..

Parisian artist Bruno Lefevre-Brauer, aka +Brauer, created his first robot sculpture about 10 years ago in his workshop located just outside Paris. Drawing heavily on the industrial and artisanal past of the neighbourhood in which the facility was located, the original +Brauer robot was a simple construct, with keys for arms, housed in a simple metal case with an insulator for a lid.

Following his diploma in graphic arts, +Brauer worked as a graphic artist, painter, and sculptor for more than 20 years. His style has been influenced by his love of science fiction novels, comics, and American series, but also by the Japanese robots that he has collected for 20 years.

Robots start life as sketches on paper..

Over time, +Brauer has subscribed to an art form known as upcycling – a concept that defies modern society’s tendency for overconsumption through the reuse of materials. By carefully selecting components that have an industrial past (mainly from the 50s and 60s), and which have acquired a certain patina through hard use, +Brauer’s robot sculptures are imbued with the retro-futuristic character that makes them so visually interesting and appealing.

Robots are constructed not only from reclaimed metal, but also a combination of old mechanical parts that the artist has been amassing over several years, often through contribution from friends and colleagues who help contribute to his stockpile. “For years I’ve been retrieving, sorting, ordering, and storing parts. It is necessary to go through this in order to be able to create with more freedom,” the artist explains.

Inspiration can come from various sources; sometimes just the sight of a single item can be enough to provide the stimulus for the artist to know exactly what kind of robot he will create next and the personality he will give it. Robots start life as sketches on paper; metal objects are then laid on the floor in order to provide the artist with an idea of how they will look together, whether harmonious or not.

Another important factor during the early stages of construction is the robot’s inner lighting system. The lighting design is not the easiest of tasks as each sculpture is fitted with its own tailor-made lighting design that is also created from recycled materials. The internal electric system is the most complex portion of the sculpture but also the most crucial as it is the element that most vividly brings the robot to life. Once the electrics system has been designed, +Brauer beings the assembly process. Using a combination of techniques such as sawing, welding, screwing and burnishing to refine and adapt the components, the artist assembles all of the metal parts; a challenging task at times as each metal part has its own constraints when being put together with another. It is at this penultimate stage of the process that the artist can ascertain whether the sculpture requires any additional parts in order to be completed – some robots might remain in progress for months until all parts are sourced in order to complete.

The fourteen sculptures on show at the M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva are prime examples of +Brauer’s work, each one highlighting the artist’s ability to find artistic expression through the use of yesterday’s materials. Within the Viva Robolucion! Collection, we find robots that each displays a specific and unique character, each with its own name. The ‘Olga’ sculpture has a feminine air, with eyelashes and earrings made out of metal components. ‘Romeo’ wears his heart on his sleeve or more literally, the outside of his chest, in the form of a large red button that glows red, matching the sculpture’s red eyes. Along with the other sculptures, Stanislas, Ernest, Konstantin, Wast-E, Cosmos 2001, Olga, Bambino, Balthazar, Preolor, Black Foot, Leon, Commodor, Hector, and Romeo have been created for the most part exclusively for the M.A.D Gallery.

+Brauer’s robot sculptures are a clear synthesis of the artist’s various influences. Having worked as a painter, sculptor and graphic artist for more than 20 years, his style embraces his love of science fiction novels, comics and American series, as well as the Japanese robots he has collected for over two decades. Citing a love of the grandeur of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, +Brauer is an artist unafraid to seek influence outside of his direct area of expertise. The influence of Fritz Lang’s highly stylized Metropolis is clearly present in some of +Brauer’s sculpture, whose own work displays a certain retro-futuristic character to it. This is perhaps not obvious at first sight, when viewing the robots in plain daylight. It is not until darkness falls, at night, that it is the turn of the poetic, evocative light fittings concealed within each robot, to reveal their magic.

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