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Oddly Moving Photos Recast Robots As Bored Suburbanites

What do robots do in their spare time? According to Pittsburgh-based artist Toby Atticus Fraley, they shop for cat food, vacuum, nap, pop pills, and play acoustic guitar–just like us! And when it comes to décor, they have a penchant for Bob Ross-style paintings of horses.

Fraley’s new solo show, The Secret Life of Robots, has a distinctly different take on the classic portrait of robots as evil schemers and soulless automatons. Fraley’s domestic scenes, with interior design inspired by 1950s suburban homes, offer a humanizing look at the mundane, wholesome lives of these artificial metal beings.


Fraley constructs his four- to five-foot-tall robots from found objects, like old thermoses and pieces of vintage picnic coolers, as well as light, sound, and animatronic elements. Their retro style was influenced by vintage Popular Science magazines from the ’50s and ’60s, which featured sci-fi-esque photographs of flying cars and other dated fantasies of the future. “I just like well-designed things made of durable materials,” Fraley says in a recent interview with Geek Pittsburgh of his fascination with ’50s paraphernalia. “Today everything just seems cookie cutter, made out of plastic. Back then, they hired a good designer, they made it out of steel and cast aluminum. That’s why they’re still around today.” Fraley spent a year and a half preparing the show, with careful attention to every detail, from the tiny telephones to kitschy wall hangings. Maybe his next project can be building a nice retirement home for C-3PO and R2-D2 once they’ve finally put intergalactic warfare behind them.

The Secret Life of Robots is on view at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust until April 27th.CD