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The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Exhibition WALL-E: robot leads tour of Hastings Contemporary

The new gallery-going robot The Double © Courtesy of Hastings Contemporary

Roll up, roll up—literally in this case—for the UK’s first robotic gallery tours! As of next week, visitors can book live online tours through the galleries of Hastings Contemporary, in the south of England, without leaving the comfort of their homes. The tours come courtesy of The Double, a two-wheeled videoconferencing robot developed by Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England (UWE). This nifty piece of remotely operated kit allows a guide and up to five visitors to perambulate through the galleries and zoom in on individual works from the vantage of lockdown. It’s a vivid and immediate way in which to share a real time experience of the closed gallery’s two shows: Anne Ryan’s Earthly Delites exhibition of brightly coloured cut-out paintings arranged across nine table tops and The Age of Turmoil, an aptly titled historical show of works made between the 1930s and 1950s by Edward Burra, Graham Sutherland and Stanley Spencer—whose mood of anxiety and discomfort resonates strongly today.

The Double does its rounds at Hastings Contemporary © Courtesy of Hastings Contemporary

The Double robot was originally developed by UWE as a means to open up spaces inaccessible to those with physical disabilities, and now in a time of self-isolation it is being applied to a wider group of users. However, while the Hastings Contemporary director Liz Gilmore is “thrilled to embrace such innovation and creativity”, she also views the use of robotic technology as a significant new means to open up the gallery to wider audiences beyond the current crisis and into the future. “Working with the telepresence robot will enable a new and pioneering means of continued engagement with our visitors,” she says. “I see it playing a part in the months ahead both with our future exhibitions as well as our education and community programmes.”

• For information about the virtual tours email info@hastingscontemporary.org