Simon Lewandowski on his work "The ReBabeliser: Eyes of March"
Its very exciting for me to have this piece in the Lux gallery [Hoxton
Square, London] for two weeks–it was first developed back in 1996 for
the International Symposium of Shadows, then refined into its current
state for the ROOTless festival in Hull in October 1997 (this historical
and background stuff is on the British School of Telepathy site at
http://arts.falmouth.ac.uk/fineart/schoolof/telepathy.htm). The work
would not have been possible without the technical and engineering input
of Alistair Metcalf and David Buckley, both of whom did terrific stuff.
Its not really accurate to describe it as a "computer controlled"
walking machine–and I wanted to expand on this point not to be pedantic
but to put over some central themes of the work. Aside from the on-off
switch and a speed control, the walking motion is controlled only by its
own mechanism, i.e. it walks in a certain way because that's how its
made, it "drifts" to one side for the same reason, the latter wasn't
planned but we left it because we liked it and meant it would
theoretically cover the entire floor area of a site in its wanderings; I
also liked it as another manifestation of its "stupid" nature. It has
two simple sensors that were adapted from a Maplin's "parking radar"
kit–when the machine gets within a certain range of anything solid it
triggers a sequence which stops it and puts it into reverse. The
technology is strictly analogue, and as far as I know could have been
built anytime in the last 30 years or so, though maybe some of the bits
would have been bigger: I'd like to think of it as Garage
technology–with whatever implication that has when the piece has been
shown as part of an exhibition of digital work.
It gets referred to as a "robot" but I don't think it is–any more than
a sewing machine or a chainsaw. It is a machine for carrying out a
particular task, walking. The sensors are there to provide limits to its
travel, but don't allow it to in any way build up an internalised model
of its surroundings or any of those "smart" kind of things; it just
reacts blindly and stupidly–there, of course, lies its metaphorical
centre as far as I'm concerned. The piece was designed as a kind of
species self-portrait. At another level I'd compare it to a prayer
wheel. It walks on my behalf, carrying out an action (walking) which is
variously redemptive, therapeutic, compulsive and unavoidable.
In the past I've talked about it's "Emergent behavior" but really that's
just a game…any complexity or development in its behaviour is read
into it by the audience–it's a fiction and that's just fine by me. As
an artist I reckon I'm in the Fiction, Stories, Illusions and Downright
Lies business not in the Artificial Life business. For me technology is
only as good as the fictions and metaphors I can weave from it, fuelled
by my consistent mis-reading, mis-interpretation and mis-understanding.
Long live mis-information technology!