Experimental New Media Artwork

Georgia b. Schmidt, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Collaborator: Dr. Talia Moore, College of Engineering

I will be working with my external advisor, Dr. Talia Moore, in the Robotics department to research, design, and fabricate an experimental New Media artwork. We will construct a plinth to support an architectural diorama. A number of miniature robots will be programmed to perform and interact as protagonists within this diorama. The robots will be engineered to have a variety of actions – some will inflate, emit light, vibrate or walk. The robots will be programmed to interact with the environment created in the pedestal. The interactions will reflect and comment on how we process and examine information as a society, particularly how we filter and respond to media. A video documenting their performances will be the final outcome of the project.

Each species of robot will navigate or perform in the world according to the particular sensors it possesses. For instance, the light-responsive robots will follow a projected light source through the diorama-environment. These robots will not be able to respond to or see the rest of the environment they exist in. Other robots will be able to inflate and magnify their surroundings, and a third species of robot will be activated by the viewer.

Within this project, I will be applying known craft and methodologies of soft robotic design to sculptural forms, gaining a skill set I see as critical to my future work after graduation. While using known processes for soft robotics construction I will be applying these techniques to unique purposes and scenarios. My work has long involved fabricated environments and props that human performers can interact with. In this case, robots will assume lead roles. As in my past work, this performance will culminate in an edited video which I am intending to submit to a series of film festivals and also to science labs working on soft robotics. I have already proposed a collaboration with the Duderstadt video production studio, scheduled for May.

My past work has largely been concerned with the problematics of the synthetic and the natural–conceptual territories which sometimes overlay each other and which maintain continually unstable dynamic relations. I think of technology as an emergent property of the natural world and I am particularly interested in exploring the way conceptual categories of the natural and artificial antagonistically and sympathetically develop in co-relation. As an artist, my angle of approach is not only intellectual but also one which prioritizes felt impressions and first-hand haptic experience. While my past work used prosthetics to program the movements of human performers, in this case I will be working in the other direction: programming inanimate materials and augmenting them with capacities we typically associate with living beings. Models can help you visualize, or picture in your mind, something that is difficult to see or understand. Art can communicate information, shape our everyday lives, make a social statement and be enjoyed for aesthetic beauty. I hope to combine both goals within this body of work. I am especially interested in exploring ways of understanding and processing knowledge as they exist within mechanistic entities (digital and analog) in order to better understand our own capacity for making and finding meaning in sensory experience. The problematics of autonomy is particularly of-the-moment, as our machinery grows ever more advanced and as our claims to human uniqueness become ever more questionable.