Back in 1996, before Japan’s economic bubble burst, Momoyo Torimitsu’s ultra-real robot salaryman crawled up Wall Street and through Grand Central Terminal, wearing a dark suit and a determined smile. Said the Japanese-born artist, who accompanied him dressed as a nurse, “He is smiling and enjoys being a robot. That is part of the sickness of Japanese society.” Torimitsu subsequently took him around the world for performances in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rio, and Sydney. In each city he crawled through the business district, the central station, and a shopping street while she documented his progress in a series of 10-minute videos.
Now his descendants—three equally lifelike robot businessmen (stereotypically Asian, European, and American)—crawl on their bellies across the floor of Deitch Projects (76 Grand Street, through February 7). On video, they slither along an office corridor, causing panic among live employees. “Inside Track,” with its reception area, potted plants, and boardroom portraits, is obviously about corporate competition, but it’s not nearly as simplistic as it may seem. It incorporates globalization, dehumanization, abjection, discomfort, and anthropomorphic confusion. You half expect these mechanical men—named Lee, Gunther, and Mark—to stand up and shake hands.
Torimitsu’s concurrent show at the Swiss Institute (495 Broadway, through February 21), with its army of battery-powered mini Lees, Marks, and Gunthers swarming across a miniaturized terrain, trades the frisson of the ultra-real for the satisfactions of a godlike overview. While they pound their little fists in frustration at oil tanks and blocky cities in their way, around the corner at Artists Space (38 Greene Street, through February 21), a projection shows William Pope.L crawling on his belly through the gutter in a business suit. This bizarre coincidence makes a point about black men in suits (the absent stereotype), and the difference between being locked into a system and being shut out. But that’s a whole other story.