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‘Life Imagined – The Art and Science of Automata’ at Science Museum Oklahoma, February 24

February 13, 2019
Automata from 'Life Imagined' at Science Museum Oklahoma

'Life Imagined – The Art and Science of Automata' runs Feb. 23-Sept. 29 in smART Space.

Science Museum Oklahoma's smART Space is taking visitors on a whimsical tour of mechanical creations from 1850 to modern day in “Life Imagined – The Art and Science of Automata." From the Greek word automatos, meaning “moves on its own,” automata are the first complex machines produced by man.

Long before robots were the reality they are today, automata were created as an attempt to simulate nature and domesticate natural forces. These attempts to imitate life by mechanical means and the use of these principles have in turn resulted in the evolution of technology over centuries. From objects of entertainment and awe, automata became the foundation for advancements in industrial robotics.

“Translational motion has always been a fascination, and automata are pinnacle examples of the physics of this movement coming to life. The beauty and intricacy of gears, levers and springs seamlessly working together provide an artistic reveal of very complex motions. ‘Life Imagined’ allows us to get a close-up glimpse of these fantastic machines inspiring the imaginations of us all,” said Sherry Marshall, president, Science Museum Oklahoma.

For this exhibition, smART Space features 41 works by 15 artists from around the world. Contemporary artists featured in the show include Cecilia Schiller, Bliss Kolb, Bradley N. Litwin, Laura Zelaya, Wanda Sowry, Randall Cleaver, Jim Casey and Chris Fitch. The show also features two digital installations by Elizabeth King and Server Demirtas. The various automata on exhibit are as eclectic as their artists and include subject matter ranging from a towering birdhouse occupied by a Cowbird chick to a man rowing a boat while a fish leaps out of “water” and a tribute to the “Day of the Dead.” In the contemporary pieces the mechanics take center stage and are as fascinating as the actions they create.

The exhibition also explores the history of automata throughout time and showcases automata from the early 19th century on loan from the Guinness Collection of Automata courtesy of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. While the contemporary pieces allow the mechanics to take center stage, earlier pieces tended to conceal an automata’s mechanic preferring to instill a sense of mystery and wonder in the audience.

Alyson Atchison, associate curator, smART Space, hopes her enthusiasm for automata is contagious, “It is truly fascinating to see life-like movement mimicked in these works of art. These artists have not just created something that reflects life and nature, but they have captured the spirit and cadence of natural movement. The articulation of a fish as it jumps for a fly, or a bird as it sings, these sculptures come to life and reflect the world around us.

“It's exciting to bring artwork of this genre to Oklahoma City for an up-close and personal chance to explore it. My hope is that avid fans of automata will come to appreciate the artwork included in this exhibit, while other people will be introduced to the genre for the first time and become appreciators.”

The public is invited to attend a free opening reception for “Life Imagined – The Art and Science of Automata” from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, February 23. The gallery opening includes appetizers and a cash bar. Tickets are free but required to attend and may be obtained from the museum’s website,

 “Life Imagined – The Art and Science of Automata” will be open through September 29, 2019, and is included with general admission.

Science Museum Oklahoma is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Daily general admission is $15.95 for adults (ages 13 to 64) and $12.95 for children and seniors (ages 3 to 12 and 65 and older). Annual memberships begin at $105.

For more information about the smART Space galleries at Science Museum Oklahoma, visit