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Rossum's Universal Robots at The Soap Factory

The first robots-destroy-humanity play ever written inspires an exhibition at the Soap Factory.

Rossum's Universal Robots at The Soap Factory
Color Pages — Katie Murken’s colorful phonebook towers symbolize discarded technology.

Ben Heywood is a curious sort of curator. The director of The Soap Factory doesn’t choose artists based on a theme, he chooses a theme based on the artists. “I’m not interested in what curators want to do,” says Heywood. “I’m interested in what artists want to do.” The theme suggested by the nine artists whose work appears in a group exhibition opening this month? R.U.R.—as in Rossum’s Universal Robots, the seminal 1921 science fiction play by Czech playwright Karel Capek.

Capek’s play asks us to consider a world in which human-like robots do all the work. Unfortunately, when infertility in the human population begins to spread and the robots revolt, humanity is imperiled. You see where this is going. The exhibition takes some of the play’s most salient themes—the way identity is constructed, our relationship to labor, the tension between artificial and authentic—and runs with them.

One artist uses phone books to create large-scale sculptures that explore color theory. Another uses ceramics to illuminate the constraints (self-imposed or otherwise) on identity, while another creates a machine powered by discarded copper etching plates that references the intersection of art and labor. R.U.R. mines this rich terrain in myriad ingenious ways. One of the artists in the show is even using the historical identity of The Soap Factory itself as a launching point to reflect on the multiple identities of the building and the neighborhood around it, which is rapidly shedding the veneer of its industrial past. March 2–April 21. The Soap Factory, 514 SE 2nd St., Mpls., 612-623-9176, soapfactory.org

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