So, when somebody asks you to assist with a project involving an eavesdropping robot-head, there’s only one answer: Duh, JA!
Thus, I assisted this week with helping to set up a new installation at BTH in, of all places, the Länken cafeteria. The robot is part of the “Audio Elsewhere” art work, included in the Baltic Goes Digital Exhibition, a collaboration between Gdansk City Gallery in Poland and Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, my home-base, in Karlksrona, Sweden. The exhibition was created as an Art Line contest and asked artists to imagine a fictional and utopian version of a “Baltic City.” The exhibition runs from Sept 14 to Nov 4, 2012.
Audio Elsewhere is a project designed by Polish artist Marek Dybuść and is intended to allow listeners in Poland to audibly experience a remote location across the Baltic sea. Visitors to the gallery in Gdansk will be able to overhear sounds transmitted from BTH via a “robot-head” mounted on a female mannequin that transmits the audio from Länken to Poland. Digital images of the Länken installation will also be sent via a webcam and will be projected on a screen in the gallery. The “robot head” responds to listener’s head movements in the gallery and moves accordingly to focus on a selected sound source. providing the gallery visitor with an entirely realistic digital audiosphere of a distant place.
To assist with the installation, I met Polish artist Maciej Pomianowski , who worked on the technical development of the work, at the Stena Line ferry terminal where he had traveled overnight with the robot, actually a life-sized mannequin with a robot-head, dressed in stylish black and white skirt, sweater, and bright red stilettos. Oh, did I mention the gold paint? (The feminist in me chose to ignore the styling and concentrate instead on how we were going to get “her” quickly installed given some of our technical needs and a short length of time.) Maciej apparently had quite the time on the ferry explaining to fellow travellers what he was doing with a “woman” wrapped in plastic and strapped to a dolly. Eventually, he chose to say nothing and just allow them to guess. Good call. Oh also, the cab ride with her was fun 🙂
Eventually we got her set up, hooked to the BTH wireless, via her own eduroam student account, and put her on display. The fact that before she was settled in place, she remained partially “nude” in our computer lab, save her gold paint, while Maciej made technical adjustments in her rear end, often with her skirt hiked over his head, cussing at wireless problems, was a source of great amusement for me. But I digress.
During the opening in Gdansk, a few of my students and colleagues joined her in our location at BTH for some celebratory champagne and to generate some good conversation upon which that others could eavesdrop from afar. A good time was had by all, and she shall remain in place until November 4th.
Update 1: I was able to visit the gallery in Gdansk while I was in town for the Polish opening of The Telling the Baltic exhibition. It was very cool to surveil the cafeteria at BTH via webcam and sound-feed after seeing “her” for so long on the other side of the Baltic. I definitely enjoyed operating her head movements so as to frighten students who were holding a meeting on the couches just out of view. Good times. Also the other pieces in the exhibition were inspiring as well and quite elegant in their attempts to use digital media to construct a fictional Baltic city. Art Line wins again.
Update 2: Check out the interview on Swedish Radio I gave about the robot and her placement at BTH as a conduit for sharing Baltic identities. (Tune in about 11.25 to hear me…)