Robots rule Aspen art gallery |

Robots rule Aspen art gallery

Aspen Space Station project opens a post-human art space


What: ‘Earthlings Year 4001’

Where: 601 E. Hyman Ave.

When: Through Nov. 30

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A couple walking the 600 block of Hyman Avenue on Thursday afternoon glanced into a storefront, then both stopped in their tracks, bug-eyed — pointing and taking a step away. They stared for a few moments, then walked on shaking their heads and grinning.

Inside, three of artist Ajax Axe’s robots were wandering clumsily around the bright-lit art gallery, bumping into walls and each other — going about their inhuman business.

Ajax Axe’s robots rove around the floor of the Aspen Space Station Outpost in Aspen on Friday, October 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“People walk by and freak out all day long,” Axe said as she put finishing touches on two additional robots for the art installation, titled “Earthlings Year 4001.” “I’ve just been sitting in my car and watching people react because it’s too funny.”

Through the end of November, five robots will be running in the space, formerly occupied by Almine Rech, where there will be no human presence, no staff or gallerists — just the robots in motion and QR codes on the glass separating them from window-shoppers.

The first three robots up and running were named “Spike,” “Bambi” and “Curveball,” outfitted respectively with heads made of animal horns, fur and a softball. They are an extension of a series of robots made from modified Roombas affixed with polls and lampposts and anthropomorphized with accessories, first displayed in a spartan miner’s cabin on the backside of Aspen Mountain this summer as part of Axe’s Aspen Space Station installation.

Covering about 30 acres of rugged mountainside, the Space Station drew about 500 visitors this summer. The playful mix of artwork by Axe and a collective of local artists there were pointedly aimed at the billionaire class and the new age of private space travel they’ve jump-started. The Space Station made a case for investing in and enjoying life on Earth, preserving our resources.

“I figured this was about as futuristic and dystopian as you could get,” Axe said, “to have an unmanned gallery with QR codes on the window and just robots moving around inside of it.”

The codes on the storefront direct human visitors to “adopt a robot” (yes, they’re for sale) and also to learn more about the ongoing Aspen Space Station project.

The goal here, for Axe — other than the pure weird fun of it — is to raise funds for more Space Station projects and to spread word of the idea. She plans to open the next Space Station installation in Lamu, Kenya, this winter, with hopes of next popping up in a refugee camp in Greece.

“It’s a good opportunity to keep having a presence in town with the Space Station in town,” Axe said. “And to kind of continue the dialogue.”

The robots hosted a gathering at the gallery on Friday night, and the door will be open for visitors Saturday evening. But otherwise it will remain closed and locked.

As if to underscore the post-human spirit of the gallery, Axe expects to be in Kenya for a chunk of November, when she’ll be turning the robots on and off via an app on her smartphone.


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