Watch A Useless, Beautiful Machine Sort Rocks

Art imitates the drudgery of life

Jller Rock Sorting Machine

Jller Rock Sorting Machine

Art, rocks.Screenshot by author, from Vimeo

Geology is the science of stones, of their shapes and formations and locations and changes over time. Human history, too, is a study, in part, of stones: ones shaped by humans, piled high by humans, flung at high velocities by humans at other humans. There is history in rocks and rocks in history.

It should be no surprise, then, that there is art in the sorting of stones.

At Ex Post, a display space in Prague, the Jller machine gets to work. A camera-equipped computer analyzes the ages and types of pebbles, and then a suctiony grabber arm picks up each one and moves it to a new location. The process repeats, taking between two and three days.

Created by Czech artist Prokop Bartoníček and German artist Benjamin Maus, Jller sorts through thousands of pebbles. The machine and its computer vision algorithms were first trained by the researchers then automated and left to work.

From the creators:

Jller is part of an ongoing research project in the fields of industrial automation and historical geology. It is an apparatus, that sorts pebbles from a specific river by their geologic age. The stones were taken from the stream bed of the German river Jller, shortly before it merges with the Danube, close to the city of Ulm. The machine and its performance is the first manifestation of this research.

As art, this needs no greater application than merely existing, though machine learning and sorting processes have industrial uses. Instead, we can contemplate Jller as a sort of modern Sisyphus, diligently arranging rocks for no clear end. We need not imagine this mechanical Sisyphus happy, or even ignorant. Instead, we can imagine it contemplative.

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