Artbots :: Matthew Gardiner

19 – 20 September, Dublin Ireland

Oribotic futurelab 2

Oribotic futurelab 2

ArtBots has been on my radar as the coolest place around to show your robotic art, since I started making bots in 2003, however it was not until after of Oribotics [network]was completed that I considered my work suitable for submission to ArtBots 2008.

I created the Oribotics [network] with international exhibition in mind. The work is deliberately portable in size and packing. It could travel as hand luggage – if bizarre shaped metal parts would actually make it through airport screenings in the present state heightened of security measures – and so shipping is not a major problem or expense.

The timing of Artbots was perfect, just 10 days prior to the start of my artist residency at the Stiftung Künstlerdorf in Germany, so I could buy one plane ticket to do the whole trip.

I submitted my application to Artbots and waited, and as the date of announcement approached, I grepped (grep is a unix command line tool used for searching in textfiles) the logs of my website and it revealed that a number of IP addresses within Trinity, and Colombia University, had viewed the application, this was a positive sign. Then I noticed that the referring URL (now inactive) was a complete list of all the submitted projects. I followed the link and a quick glance over the projects made my heart drop, there were so many amazing submissions, and a cloud of doubt invaded my confidence… Would they select my work?

Of course they would, and I awoke on the 9th June to an email informing me of my selection in the show. I was ecstatic! Perhaps the butterfly effect of my singing of sweet molly malone in the streets of St Kilda was benificial after all. I was going to Dublin!

No dramas to report for my work, as it traveled perfectly, and arrived undamaged and was not in any way withheld by Irish customs. (Thank goodness!). Although they waved me through I stayed my position that paperwork was necessary, and the customs officers handed over some sheets of paper.

The exhibition format has a few nice quirks; the artists stand by their work for the entire duration of the exhibition (its hard going with 6000 visitors all asking questions); the show asks the audience to vote for their favorite work; the votes are tallied and prizes are awarded in a talent show styled presentation.

The main benefit of this style of show is that you actually hang out with the other artists as a result, they are close by their work, you can ask detailed questions about the realisation of their projects, and you can consider their works over time.

Selected exhibit: What it is without the hand the wields is, Riley Harmon
Acrylic glass, circuit tape, relays, electronic solenoid drippers, medical bags, arduino, computer running custom counter-strike game server (2008). Violence is a mechanical function of the human brain, hard-coded down through time by culture, genetics, and evolution. Mediated experiences of killing change our perception of violence and death. When players kill each other in a live public videogame server for Counter-strike, a popular online first person shooter, the electronics communicate to valves, discharging a portion of fake blood. The trails left down the wall create a physical manifestation of nebulous kills. Once purely cerebral experiences are transformed into tangible occurrences.

First person network shooter games are full of bloodshed, its almost a fact of modern life that boys (and some girls) love to play with guns, but how often does the reality of the action of shooting a player manifest itself? ‘Gamer style’ shootings in high schools around the world have manifested metal-detection, padding-down security measures to keep weapons out of schools.

Riley’s work expresses the bloodshed of the game on the wall of the gallery in a gesture that grants the virtual blood a visceral and physical reality that is immediately present. After a day of virtual bloodshed the drips had developed into a pool of blood below the work. Riley enlisted a team of friends shooting to ‘play’ each other during the Friday night opening, and then during their downtimes virtual ‘bot’ game agents wouldensure the bloodshed would continue unabated.

Momo Che-Wei Wang / Kristin O’Friel
Lasercut Masonite, Servo Motors, GPS, Digital Compass, Microcontroller, Crocheted Wool (2007). Momo is a haptic navigational device that requires only the sense of touch to guide a user. No maps, no text, no arrows, no lights. It sits on the palm of one’s hand and leans, vibrates and gravitates towards a preset location. Akin to someone pointing you in the right direction, there is no need to find your map, you simply follow as the device leans toward your destination.

A beautiful idea and an expressive tactile/kinetic/spatially aware work guides a single member of the audience through a spatial trajectory, aiming to bring the user to a specific GPS co-ordinate location. The Science Gallery was somewhat of a GPS black-spot, however the work functioned interestingly, leaning here and there, and the users would collaboratively move in response.

The delicate forms had small knitted baskets to give them a personifying warm egg like appearance that also bore an aura of tea cosy. The mechanical parts were made from radio control server motors moving laser cut layers of wood. The tactility and simplified interface to direction finding gave a feeling of being guided by a soft, and, in a loving-way, daft creature. It knew where it had to go, and would point always at its destination, if that lay beyond a wall, then the user had to be smart enough to walk around it.

Chewi made a lasting impression on me by admitting that he presents my oribotic work to architecture students at the end of lectures as inspiration for kinetic architecture.

der Zermesser Leo Peschta
Metal struts, motors, batteries, microcontrollers, sensors, computer, custom software, wireless network(2007)”der Zermesser” is an autonomous, room-filing object whose end in itself is to feel its way around and to articulate the connection between its own form and itssurroundings. The basic shape is a regular tetrahedron, capable of changing itspropagation in the room by means of attached motors. It can also move freely by tilting and therefore capture space.

An ArtBot of impressive, room-filling scale with extensible shape and size. The tetrahedron is the most basic and stable three dimensional form possible. A geometrical construction that has four sides, each one a triangle. The pyramid-like structure was built with a telescoping frame and by continually extending and contracting its form the work morphs around the room in a slow calculating and economic way.

My own appreciation of this work is compounded by an interest in geometric form, and particularly reconfigurable geometry. The ideas present in this work give inspiration for nanoscale materials that are deformable by large variations.

Exhibition style and schedule
Douglas Repetto described ArtBots as a talent show for art robots in reaction to the ‘Robot Wars’ and ‘Battle bots’ at the time of its conception. ArtBots stood in stark contrast to the TV robots talent for destruction, and pushed a creative view of how robots might be judged. In this light, the artist is present for the entire duration of the exhibition. They stand by their work and explain its talents, at times at great length to large groups and at others in deep conversation with a like minded visitor. On leaving, the audience is asked to vote for their favorite work, and doing so provokes reflection into the robot that touched them the most.

ArtBots 2008 ran over 3 days. Friday night was culture night across Ireland, participating galleries and cultural centres were open till 11pm and free public transport toured between venues. On the opening night the Science Gallery counted 2800 visitors, totaling nearly half the exhibition attendance for the 3 days. It was a hotnight, and the Science Gallery was full of public, tech geeks, children and adults with eyes, ears and hearts for robots.

The Science Gallery: Noel Sharkey Talk
Noel Sharkey is a scientific cultural icon who gains a lot of popular media coverage. He gave a thought provoking presention to a public forum for discussing the moral and ethical dilemmas of robotics. In particular, he focused on the introduction of robots as carers for children and the elderly. Noel’s line of thought was full of fascination with technological innovation, and contrasted with a kind of  “I’m not sure this is a good idea” thrown in at the end of his arguments. The audience response indicated his prophetic warnings and negative arguments against using robotics in child and elderly carewere heeded, but there were still a few open minds supporting the idea of robot rights and not being too quick to dismiss potential. Following a lengthy question and answer session, Noel concluded his presentation by skimming over an interesting series of videos and images pertaining to the military development of robotics, a completely contrasting topic.

Outcomes/Developments in Oribotics
The presentation of Oribotics at Artbots required a reworking of the interactive interface of the robot, and a reconsideration of the text content being ‘fed’ to the oribot. My target platform was the iphone and ipod touch, as a handheld device its browser software safari is great for building up complex interactions. This was my first project for this target platform, and I learnt a lot in building the application. The hardest part was deciding on how to distribute the parts of the application to minimise network traffic and so conserver the battery life of the iphone. However in hindsight, this may not have been so necessary, as the interactive duration is not longer than 5 minutes, and it would take a lot of traffic and processing to kill the battery in this time. Still it was an interesting exercise in building a multi-user realtime web application. The interface was designed to reflect the state of the robot, and to keep pace with its changing colours. The flow of colour through the oribot represents a stream of text that is being fed to and ‘digested’ by the oribot. Each word is expressed as a colour, and the iphone interface showed the words, along with their colours, as they appeared on the robot. Thus the handheld device performed a kind of translation to the colour code. It also performed the function of changing the feed. The feed in oribotics [network] was broad, loosely defined ‘junk food’ from various news feeds from the internet. I edited the oribots diet to include only pure mathematic axioms of origami and laws of robotics. That which determines its shape, and that which determines its function. Good nutritious food for an origami robot.

Kinetica Museum
I was introduced to the director of Kinetica Museum [], an enthusiastic woman named Diane. She asked for a card, and I mentioned that I was in London the following week, and so I was invited to the opening of ‘Creatures Great and Small’, an exhibit in the Concrete and Glass festival in the hip art scene of Hoxton. The festival, a mix of sound, noise, art, public space interventions, group and solo shows,opened over two nights in the Hoxton area. A number of prominent gallery spaces, disused town hall basements and even a park pergoda were scattered within walking distance from one another. The Kinetica show opened at Rove Gallery in Hoxton Square with a warm reception on Thursday 3rd October 2008. Hoxton square is the home of the White Cube gallery and a lively hub of bars and restaurants, and free park wifi (nice!). The diverse range of kinetic art creatures was reminiscent of the week before at the Science Gallery. However the kinetic aspect was the leading factor, the artworks were not so robotic, some were purely mechanical structures with beauty in their motion.

Commercial version
General public are great for general advice, they can say things that are absurdly obvious much of the time, but occasionally a gem of advice, or an idea drops into place during a conversation. The most frequently statement about my work was that it was very beautiful, and would look lovely on a wall or as a lamp. To me this is one of the absurdly obvious things, but nevertheless a compliment, and taken in the right light, it’s actually a good idea. The frequency of this comment has inspired me to develop the design as a product. Production itself is an interesting field requiring research into form and mould making, an area I wish to explore further.

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