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Report From Artbots 2005

Report from Artbots 2005
July 15-17, 2005
Saints Michael and John Church
Dublin, Ireland

By Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah (at) coin-operated.com)

Held for the first time outside of the US, the 4th annual "Artbots:
The Robot Talent Show" took place in Saints Michael and John church
in Dublin, Ireland. During an unusually warm summer in Dublin, the
yearly event showcased over 20 projects from 10 countries ranging
from kinetic art-producing robots to solar robot and scrapyard sound
workshops. Organized by Douglas Irving Repetto and curated this year
with Michael John Gorman and Marie Redmond, the event featured an
even more international group of artists than from previous years
coming from as far as South America, Europe, US, and the Middle East.
The show was held in conjunction with the larger, summer-long "Save
The Robots" festival about the culture and history of robots
organized by The Ark, a cultural center for children located in the
heart of Dublin's Temple Bar district.

Upon entering the venue, visitors were greeted by Venezuelan artist
Elias Crespin's "Malla Electrocinetica #1", a mesh of 64 nodes
hanging from the ceiling that subtly moved in a wave above the
entrance stairwell. This piece's delicate movements were as intricate
as they were beautiful and precise. Moving further along the first
level and down the hall was Will Tremblay and Rob Gonsalves' "Wave
Puppet", a physical simulation of waves across the ocean's surface.
Following a similar aesthetic to Crespin's work, the project was
built from a combination of servomotors, acrylic walls, and a rubber
surface that bent forward and backwards like a steady moving wave.

As the entrance hallway extended, there were two workshops that
allowed visitors to the event to build their own robots or musical
instruments. Ralf Schreiber and Tina Tonagel's "60 minutes bot"
workshop integrated simple electronic components including wires,
electric motors and solar panels to create simple bots that exhibited
varied movements based on their exposure to light in a small exhibit
space. The second workshop, which I ran with Katherine Moriwaki, was
called "MIDI Scrapyard Challenge" and allowed visitors to create
musical controllers out of cast off or discarded materials found in
local junk shops and in the refuse bin of local computer labs. Both
workshops engaged participants from varied age groups to get involved
in the creation of robots and electronic instruments with little or
no previous knowledge of electronics.

Further down the hallway along the walls was "Sketch of a field of
grass (dunes, Pacific Coast, 2005)" by Ryan Wolfe. The project
consisted of a row of mechanically controlled blades of grass that
responded to each other's movements mimicking a breeze blowing
through a field. The simplicity of this array of grass was a nice
reminder of how natural movements can be emulated through simple
motorized controllers. Across the walkway was Amanda Parkes and
Jessica Banks's "Curiously Strong", an array of 250 mechanically
controlled Altoid's tins that opened and closed as a large kinetic

Moving into the main exhibition space, robots exhibited ranged from
those that created art as a byproduct of their movements to those
that questioned the very definition of mechanical or autonomous art.
Bruce Shapiro's "Ribbon Dancer" was two long metal arms mounted on a
banister that moved wildly around the space with ribbons attached to
the ends. Their actions resulted in a lively and fluid stream of
animated fabric high in the air. Further along the far wall was
Sabrina Raaf's "Translator II: Grower", a mechanical robot that
measured carbon dioxide levels in the room and drew green blades of
grass of varying heights along the walls. This type of immediate
analysis of the environment was a nice constant reminder of our own
physical output manifested by the machine. Further across the room
was local Dublin artist Peter O'Kennedy's "Escape", a collection of
15 small mouse-shaped robots all attempting to move towards a single
passageway that was only big enough for one of them. This simple
concept proved addictive to watch as the small bots scurried towards
an awkward freedom.

Though not a competition, Artbots awards two prizes each year: one to
the artist's choice and one for the audience choice. This year's
audience favorite was Garnet Hertz's "Cockroach-controlled Mobile
Robot #2". Hertz's robot consisted of a large Madagascan Hissing
Cockroach perched atop a modified trackball that controlled a
three-wheeled robot. As the cockroach tried to move forward, its feet
caught on the trackball, pushing the robot ahead. Thus allowing the
roach to "drive" the robot around depending on its activity. This bot
got a lot of stares from pedestrians as Hertz took it out to a local
square to give it more space to manouver. The artist's favorite prize
was awarded to Elias Crespin's kinetic mobile described earlier.

Also located in the main exhibition space was the masochistic
"Shockbot Corejulio", a computer-based device that affected its own
behavior by placing a piece of metal over its exposed circuit board.
With each touch from the metal, the bot consequently "shocked" itself
causing the graphics output of the screen to change. The resulting
display resembled a Mondrian painting which became more and more
abstract the further the bot was shocked. Moving down into the
basement of the church, "Nervous", by Bjoern Schuelke, consisted of
small, bright orange, furry objects that coated the walls of the
space. As you got closer and touched them, they began to shake and
emit nervous sounds. This project was a nice simulation of the "human
side" to artificial life and a reminder of the "fragility" of
automated creatures.

As the show came to a close, it was evident that automated or
mechanized art is not dependent on the creation itself. Most of the
work in the show came to life with audience involvement and through
the individual perception each participant and author brought to the
works. Throughout its four year existence, Artbots has presented a
sample of work that re-defines what "robotic art" is or how it could
be perceived (see the website for a list of all works included). Each
of the works in this year's show were unique reminders that
technological art can produce the same visceral reaction usually
associated with traditional art forms. The kinetic nature of the
works adds a relational aspect for the viewer who can project their
own experience on the piece. This remarkable quality to the work and
high standard of curation from a yearly open call, has turned Artbots
into one of the most unique and eclectic electronic art festivals

— By Jonah Brucker-Cohen (jonah (at) coin-operated.com)