Sometimes, learning about the ratio of men to women working in certain industries can just be depressing. But this coming year, Los Angeles museum-goers will witness of one of the strangest, funniest ways to make a point about workplace gender inequality that we've seen: A robot that presses gender ratio pie charts onto real pies.
Before she became a professor in Syracuse University's transmedia program, Pie Bot creator and artist Annina Rüst found herself one of the few women in technology-oriented art programs in Zurich, the University of California-Santa Barbara, and the MIT Media Lab. "Generally, in the tech world, if you go to an event or something, you look around and you look at how many other women are there. At some point you realize this is a somewhat strange situation," she says.
"I started researching why there are so few women and I realized that women aren’t necessarily uninterested. Sometimes it’s an interesting environment, but unwelcoming," Rüst adds. So, in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the imbalance—and engage male-dominated companies and organizations—she built a robot that used a vacuum cleaner to suck up workplace gender ratio pie charts and affix them to melting chocolate on pies.
Last November, Rüst debuted the Pie Bot in a gallery space in Switzerland. After gallery attendees chose which technology company's gender pie chart they wanted to print, the robot placed a pie on a conveyer belt and used a heat gun to make the chocolate topping sticky. Three vacuum hoses then sucked up the charts and squished them onto the pies. The robot also has its own Twitter handle, which it uses to display its foodstuffs.
But what happens to all those pies? Rüst says that they'll either be on display next to the robot, or sent to the doorsteps of companies and organizations they reflect. And her first target will actually be the organization hosting her work. That's because the history of LACMA grant program supporting the Pie Bot actually goes back to the '60s, when, for four whole years, it featured no women at all.
"LACMA is rebooting a program that ran from 1967 to 1971 that had all these great artists in it, but when I gave it a closer look I realized it was all guys," Rüst said. "What I’m hoping people will take away is an understanding that there are different areas within art and technology, and possibly things have changed over time, or have not changed."