It sounds like something you’d read on a billboard in the seedy part of town … or the seedy part of a cemetery. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia is attempting to attract the ghost of acclaimed Philadelphia artist and photographer Thomas Eakins 100 years after his death by filling the studio with nude models and measuring any paranormal activity with ghost-detecting robots. Not only that, the robots are designed to receive signals from Eakins’ ghost and draw the models or whatever he might be inspired to pen with his original art tools. Really!
The exhibit is the brainchild of Fernando Orellana, who teaches robotic art at Union College in New York. He developed the robots that detect electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and respond to them. The exhibit contains four of his machines. The first will hold Eakins’ original watercolor box of paints and brushes and open it upon his command. The second will move a red armchair that Eakins used in many of his paintings. The third will mix colors based on EMF commands and the fourth will control an arm to draw any image Eakins’ ghost directs it to.
Yeah, yeah. What about the nude models?
Eleven brave souls have signed up to wait to be rendered by the ghost of Thomas Eakins.
According to Anna Marley, curator of historical American art at PAFA, this is the same building where Eakins taught classes using nude models 130 years ago – often posing nude with them. He was progressive in his artistic style and teaching manners and opened his classes to women and African American artists. Unfortunately, Eakins was fired from PAFA in the 1880s for pulling the loincloth off a male nude model in a class of female students.
So Orellana’s ghost-detecting and EMF-translating robots will be using Eakins’ own art tools in his old building with a room full of nude models just like the old days. Will he show up?
PAFA contemporary art curator Jodi Throckmorton says it’s possible. Unusual activities – like screens moving around during the night – have been reported.
Though that could be the Broad Street Line.
For those not interested in looking at nude models or ghost-detecting robots, collections of Thomas Eakins’ paintings and photographs will also be on display.
Ghosts and nudes. If this doesn’t get more people interested in paranormal studies, nothing will.