In the first version of my midterm proposal, I proposed robotic creatures that would roam urban areas and feed on pollution. Each robot would be equipped with a camera, a video screen and a speaker and has the ability to socialize with other robots controlled by other users via the web or video game.
In this period of isolation, I was considering connections (and to a certain extent, security and enforcement) mediated through technology, screens and proxies (and further fun imagining the visible and “invisible” networks, packets of data, routers, wires, electricity, traveling 1s and 0s looking for IP address... ). This goes back to thoughts about social rituals and dances we are often obliged to perform in various circumstances, and the inescapable awkwardness and disconnect. This also brings me back to blurbs I read by Andy Clark many years back about how we are essentially already cyborgs. Even without implanted medical devices, the world / tools we use are an extension of ourselves, or really perhaps it is hard to draw the boundaries between the projected world and our minds anyway, and just like we adapt our technologies to us, technologies train our bodies to adapt in a symbiotic relationship.
I went on to look at pollution robots by Gilberto Esparza and Jonathan Rossiter.
Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza uses electronic media and robotics to question the impact of technology on the environment and urban structure. Plantas Nomadas is a robot where vegetation and microorganisms exist in a symbiotic relationship inside of its body. The autonomous robot seeks a contaminated water source to consume from whenever its bacteria require nourishment. Through a process of microbial fuel cells, the elements contained in the water are decomposed and turned into energy that feed the brain circuits of the robot. The surplus is then used to enable plants to complete their own life cycle.
Jonathan Rossiter is a roboticist who develops robots that feed on pollution. Inspired by the basking shark and the water boatman, Row-bot is an autonomous robot that consumes algae, petroleum spirits and crude oil with a digestive system built around a microbial (living microbes) fuel cell that converts the pollution into electricity. It is also able to track and send messages with its location.
Some ideas carried through to the second version of my midterm - the idea of systems that mimic autonomous and/or self-sustaining biological systems like Plantoids by Primavera De Filippi, terra0 by Paul Seidler, Paul Kolling and Max Hampshire, and Lasermice by So Kanno. And of course, I too was enthralled by Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca.
I also made linkages from mycelium networks to tracing technologies during the COVID-19 period, as well as blockchain technologies. I am interested in making networks tangible.
I am intrigued by ideas of metaphorical / literal consumption by seemingly non-living / non-organic entities and how movement or “performative” aspects insinuates a kind of liveness or agency (which connects back to my previous works of mechanical systems and kinetic sculptures). We talk a fair bit in class about the food we consume and the energy transfer that occurs. In a sense, it is interesting too to consider how pollution or organic matter as fuel cells or cryptocurrency or electricity can be consumed.
At the same time I am interested in the reverse where humans are and/or become machine systems. After all, we partake in much programming and upgrading via education systems, social protocols and so forth. This links to my post about fears of human alteration and brings to mind what remains one of my favourite lines from Donna Haraway: “The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust”... and more thoughts about privileging the flesh, and creationism rooted in religious indoctrination.