Elena Knox

Medium: Video (2014/2015, 4′57″)
Issues: Identity, Immigration, and Robotics

Project Links


Obliged to fill in a border-transit form to enter a particular country, a female-appearing, humanoid robot wonders what it will do. What are its ambitions, possibilities, likelihoods, dreams? Occupation ponders numerous robot roles in society, taking into account what we already know about the societal roles and occupations of women and immigrants. The robot ‘imagines’ and then announces a litany of occupations it might take up once it passes the physical border. The screenplay draws from the existing online knowledge network: the occupations (with a couple of exceptions) were gleaned from the Australian Department of Immigration’s website. The robot shares booth-space with a creature of nature, the common fly, and it follows the insect’s trajectory with jerky, robotic head movements as it tries to pass as human, or as integrated into a humanized landscape. The android can certainly watch the fly, and have a relationship to the fly, and follow the fly’s line of flight with its camera-eyes, its computer-driven eyeballs, and its roto-head. Nevertheless, it cannot really (or, yet) ‘act naturally’ like the fly. It performs its ontology as a stranger. This young stranger, a machine-woman of the future, considers what to write on her immigration form: can a being be reduced to its functional identity? Thus the video revels in the disinclination of the imagination, and even the internet, to be reduced to fields on an administrative form.

Studies have found that institutional hiring policies, and also the general public, adopt particular gender stereotypes toward many occupational roles. The backlash effect, wherein people who violate occupational stereotypes are evaluated as less advantageous workers, extends into the field of human-robot interaction via humanoids produced to do certain tasks. For instance, a 2013 study in Singapore by Tiong et al. found that people perceived a security robot with matching gender-role stereotypes (male) as being more useful and acceptable than a “mismatched” security robot (female).


Elena Knox is a media and performance artist. Her works stage enactments of gender and presence in technoscience and communication media and are presented in première venues internationally. Knox’s experimental projects are nominated for awards including Australian Art Music Awards and LA Underground Film Forum. Recent shows include: Future and the Arts, Mori Art Museum Tokyo; A-S HELIX: Integration of Art and Science in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, National Museum of China; Beijing Media Art Biennale; 9 Tomorrows, China Academy of Art; A Better Version of You, Goethe Institut China/Korea; Video Art and Experimental Film Festival, New York; International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA), Hong Kong and Gwangju; re:fuse, K11 Art Foundation China/HK; Snoösphere, The Big Anxiety Sydney; Athens Digital Arts Festival; Cairo Video Festival; Simultan Festival, Romania. Knox is a researcher in Intermedia Art and Science at Waseda University, Japan. She works with the Creative Robotics Lab at Australia’s National Institute for Experimental Arts, and she co-directs the production house Lull Studio. Her writing appears in literary and academic publications.