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I WAS SEDUCED BY 48 ROBOTS IN A METALLIC ARENA
~Arthur and Marilouise Kroker~
Metal and music
Embraced by surveillance
Lighted by seduction
Speeded by sound
Donald Rumsfeld's on TV with the Pentagon propaganda line of the day.
This time it's those staged photos of special-ops forces on horseback
in Afghanistan, or maybe Hollywood: a perfect cinematic realization
of Bush's religious invocation for a new crusade "against evil." Jack
Valenti and Karl Rove are somewhere in the background of the media
scan smirking over this quick deployment of the image-machine to get
that just right down and dirty western lands feel of a posse on the
hunt for the bad guys.
Suddenly, the tech ecstasy of the flare-out days of the 20th century
has switched into a dark, bleak future of total control.
And the crowds roar.
They love it. They demand it.
It's a simulacrum of a truly frightened population: mesmerized by
terrorism yet comforted by the surveillance regimes of the
disciplinary state. Ethnic scapegoating is in, and snitching's making
a comeback from its halcyon days of McCarthyism. Recently, the FBI
had to shut down its hot line for snitchers because of the
overwhelming response of neighbours snitching on neighbours, friends
on friends, strangers on strangers, families on families, even
citizens snitching on themselves.
Demands for total surveillance are everywhere.
The legitimacy of torture is a debatable subject among members of the
A deep chill is in the air:
of the body, of the borg, of America, of the world.
Electronic Art as Political Theory
What's the significance of digital art in a time of political crisis?
A probe of the future or a repetition of the tech ecstasy of the
quickly vanished past? What does art, particularly big-machine
robotic performance art, have to tell us about issues of surveillance
and control? about that ambivalent psychological state where the
public mind hovers between total fascination with terror and total
willingness to be disciplined in the name of personal security. What
does electronic art have to say about the pleasure of discipline in
It turns out a lot. Sometimes prophecies of the future appear in the
most unlikely spaces. Such as at *Usine C*, a hyperreal art
performance space, during the electronic art events of ~Elektra~.
For a week, ~Elektra~ has jammed together the artistic energies of
digital performers with the spectacle-hungry energy of the Montreal
streets. Politics and art and fashion and the recent history of
technology in ruins and disciplinary politics on the rise have now
had a week to catch the scent of something big happening from their
usually particularized positions in the universe of life. This
Saturday evening, in this split city on the northern boundary of the
split empire of America, the major threads of contemporary political
history have chosen to make their first appearance by way of the
world premiere of Louis-Philippe Demers' ~L'Assemblee~.
The art rhetoric is perfectly staged in advance:
"~L'Assemblee~ is the world premiere of Louis-Philippe Demers' last
robotic installation. ~L'Assemblee~ stages a group of machines, 48
identical robotic members surrounding a metallic arena. This
performance proposes an intense visual and aural experience."
What the art description doesn't say, maybe what it cannot say in
advance since ~L'Assemblee~ has the enigmatic quality of being purely
experiential art, unpredictable in advance, is that the "48 identical
robots surrounding a metallic arena" have also been worrying a lot
about the political situation, and they are prepared to spill the
essential political secret of future days: AS SOON AS WE ARE CLOSE TO
POWER, WE WORSHIP POWER.
For these robots, the seduction of power relies on the simultaneous
proximity and alienation of the worshipping crowd. The crowd is
silent: not allowed to speak, only to listen. This is the world
premiere of 48 robotic political theorists taking us into the codes
of the future from deep within the specular logic of machine and
music. In ~L'Assemblee~ the body is the lighted star at the spectacle
of its own disappearance. The adoration of surveillance, then, as the
technological future. 48 robotic political theorists can't be wrong.
Robots as New Media Stars
The theatrical setting for the performance of 48 robots is ideal.
*~AI~ cut with ~Road Warriors~ to produce a ~Blade Runner~ version of
a ~Blue Velvet~ moment*. The robots are mounted on a large-scale
metallic scaffolding. An architectural membrane for robots. The
visual effect is intensely cinematic. Each robot machine is
simultaneously a light source, a motion vehicle, a site of sound
performance, a witness of the gathering spectators below and a cosmic
entry-point to the digital blast above. Pneumatically controlled, the
robot lights are individually programmed, capable of finely machined,
beautifully nuanced movement in tune to the surrounding dromoscopic
sounds: light waves sweeping across the crowd of faces, arching
upwards in ~Triumph of the Will~ light sculptural motifs-sometimes
released from the codes to move at the pace of individualized robotic
whimsy; sometimes aggressively grouped together like a robotic
performance of Ayn Rand's ~Atlas Shrugged~. Robots as new media
For spectators, there is a certain degree of freedom. Why not? In
~L'Assemblee~ humans are simultaneously essential plug-ins to complete
the artistic circuitry of the 48 robots in a metallic arena, and
completely peripheral to a robotic performance which functions
automatically. To the question: What to do in the simulacrum?
~L'Assemblee~ answers simply: it doesn't really matter. Extreme
technology in the form of robots running on automatic software codes
are the essential locus of power, animated equally by answering
responses of adoration or indifference. ~L'Assemblee~ is the first
artistic sign of the epoch of the post-human, with an existential
robot philosophy of tech adoration cut with hyper-boredom.
It's never easy to be peripheral to the (technological) action, to be
refused an easy confirming assent to persisting dreams of imprinting
(human) biology on technology, but if that's the way it is, then with
~L'Assemblee~ you take your pre-programmed, pre-configured, pre-coded
subject-position. You can choose to be a ~robo-lurker~, sitting on
the dark edge of the concrete floor, smoking and looking and thinking
and feeling the pulsating sound wave-forms and moving light arrays of
the 48 robots. A spectacle of immense seduction in a metallic arena.
Or moving physically into the epicenter of ~L'Assemblee~-your body as
part of the crowd triangulated by 48 robots, strobe lights, and
cameras-you can choose deep immersion in the emotional experience of
~L'Assemblee~. It's the preferred position of many: part adoration of
the choir of 48 robots above; part narcissism of being the
light-object of technological desire.
Life in the interval between adoration and abandonment. This is an
art of experience, not an art of observation. Its outsourcing of the
future can only be activated by human spectators. Perhaps that is why
as you sway with the crowd, caught up in a strange trance-like mood
of seduction of the image/sound/light machine, you can actually
~feel~ the ocular regime of the eye of surveillance. All those light
arrays, all that drone sound, all those blurred images, all that
hypnotic movement as the orchestra of robots moves from a single
light and a single sound that registers the beginning of the
simulacrum to immensely complicated, immensely beautiful wave-forms
of light and sound and images that hook their way directly to the
pleasure receptors of the nervous system. Participants in the
interval of the simulacrum are simultaneously humiliated (you are
forced to look upwards at the robotic light array) and transformed
into instant stars for one new media moment (robot lights constantly
sweep over the crowd, displaying the captured faces on video
It turns out that robots are skilled in the language of seduction and
the games of artifice. Fascination is the only rule, with a gradient
of aesthetic pleasure running from the exterior of the performance to
its interior, from people as spectators on the outside of the
metallic arena to the body of the crowd tranced on the concrete
floor, transfixed by the beat and lights of the 48 robotic
machine-performers. Total sensory involvement through total bodily
As suddenly as ~L'Assemblee~ began, it abruptly ends. Robot lights go
dark. Sound vanishes. The surrounding networks of screens go blue,
then black. Bodies have their trance-plugs pulled. Everybody falls
back into the loneliness of the digital crowd. Crescendo followed by
blankness: the code of the new body. So, you are left standing there
on an empty performance floor thinking what is the relationship
between large-scale robotic performance and the relentless movement
of contemporary technology towards the invisibility of genetic
engineering, nano-technology, machine-to-machine communication via
spyware. Is this nostalgia or futurism? And of course it is both:
nostalgia because ~L'Assemble~ is a resurrection-effect of ancient
collective rituals-adoration, congregation, transcendence, shared
ritualistic experience that always marks the entry of the sacred; and
futurism because ~L'Assemble~ indicates that the space of the
(technological) sacred is running on full automatic, with the
worshipping (electronic) crowd as alternating currents of adoration
and indifference. Future nostalgia as the opening code of the 21st
Post-performance, we're talking to David Therrien, a nomad artist
from Phoenix, Arizona who was there to see the show and maybe to lend
a body jolt of solar energy to the performance. Therrien is one of
those larger than life performance artists of the American scene:
probing at the edge of robotic technology, restless to look beyond
the horizon, experimenting with new communication technologies to
reverse-engineer globalization. With a wireless imagination that's
truly global and a performance body as a suicide machine, he tells
us that he has just started a new performance space in Phoenix. In
the 90s it was called the *Icehouse*. Now it's a factory space for
large-scale machinic performance called *Automatic*. Why *Automatic*?
Because for Therrien, "comfort and control" is the real direction of
technology. As he says: "What's really seductive is the perfection of
technology. People really want to leave their imperfect bodies. They
want to imprint biology onto technology."
In ~L'Assemblee~, if we can't exit the body, then at least for one
performance, for one ~Elecktra~ moment, perhaps we want to be in the
presence of the *automatic*, surrounded by the aura of technological
perfection, the comforting presence of Demers' seductive vision of 48
robots engaged in a highly structured ritual of total control. That
this hope for technological perfection is probably unattainable makes
~L'Assemblee's~ robotic performance all the more seductive.
~L'Assemblee~ is a dream of impossible transcendence in a troubled
time. Its visual topology is about crowds and surveillance. However,
its aesthetic topology is about something else: the new order of the
*technological sublime* as the common dream of all the assembled
With this significant political difference. Like a strange mutation,
the aesthetic model of ~L'Assemblee~ has no sooner been performed
than it slips the traces of *Usine C*, entering the political arena
as the new order of power in the "war against terrorism." Now the
*political* robots assemble, each with its scripted lines: Bush
spotlights an audience of Muslims with this aphorism: "Evil has no
holy day." Rumsfeld was last seen throwing money out of air force
helicopters, rapping all the while "It's just a matter of economics."
Those special-ops forces are still on their tired horses, deep in
bandit country. "The noose is tightening. Wanted: Dead or Alive."
The script goes on.
ELEKTRA: ELECTRONIC MUSIC
3RD EDITION NOVEMBER 08-17, 2001, USINE C (MONTREAL)
Artistic Director: Alain Thibault
48 ROBOTS, ELECTRONIC MUSIC AND VIDEO PROJECTS
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The views expressed in the forwarded article(s) are provided for entertainment
and do not necessarily represent those of Alligator Grundy.
Ever wondered what goes into the process of building a robot from scratch?
Follow a team of engineers from NYC-based Honeybee Robotics as, 10,000
engineering hours over deadline, they work to finish W.I.S.O.R. (Welding and
Steam Operations Robot), a 7ft. long, 800 lb semi-autonomous robo-welder
created exclusively to mend Manhattan's 100-year-old, 100+ mile long steampipe
system. More information about the acclaimed documentary, directed by
Negroponte, can be found here.
Hidden beneath many major cities, an aging network of pipes carries steam heat
to large buildings. When pipes leak, workers dig up the roadway, causing
traffic snarls. But soon WISOR, invented by Honeybee Robotics of New York, may
be able to help. The 8-foot-long, 700-pound robot moves through pipes somewhat
like an inchworm. A remote operator uses cameras to align the machine with a
leaking flange seam in the pipe. Once WISOR is in place, a tool in the front
prepares the joint for repair by milling a groove around the seam. The whole
machine scoots forward, moving its rear welding tool into position, and a
rubber bladder in the middle expands to block the flow of leaking steam. Then
the robot fixes the joint by arc-welding the flange shutó all at ambient
temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. WISOR has passed its endurance
tests, and the Con Edison power company hopes to start using it in New York
later this year.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:20 MDT