Mawhrin-Skel © 2006

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Deanne Achong, Kate Armstrong, Joelle Ciona, David Floren, and Matt Smith, with help from Dina González Mascaró.

Sheryl [Crowbot] (DA), The Problem of Other Minds (KA), TangleBot (JC), Phono, Mono, and ChartBot (DF), RadBot (MS).

Artists in Residence working with Robots.
October 2005 - May 2006 at the Western Front artist run centre
Performance and demonstration Thursday May 11th at 8pm. Two day exhibition noon-5pm May 12 and 13th.

This project brings together an eclectic group of local Vancouver artists who work variously in new media, electronics, sculpture, installation and performance.

"Mawhrin-Skel" is a fictional character - an intelligent drone that, having failed to meet the conditions of its original purpose, is decommissioned and left to wander aimlessly through a near utopian environment where it becomes a social nuisance and prankster. This character - invented by Ian M Banks in his 1989 novel "The Player of Games" - provides an interesting social and cultural entry point into the study of robots as both cultural artifacts and autonomous members of society. Robots typically have industrial applications - wireless mines that can dig their way out of the earth and move to a "better" location, machines that cleanup radioactive waste or other hazardous material, surveillance equipment, toasters, coffee makers, etc. It is unusual to build a robot that doesn't have an overt industrial purpose - it may be decorative, dysfunctional, nailed to a tree and bleeping. It exists purely to raise questions about industrial and technological philosophies and ethics in our society. This project examines ideas of function, autonomy, artificial intelligence and purpose-driven technology.

The residency will begin as a series of workshops based around a wireless Internet device that is the size of a 2-dollar coin. The artists will work with a pre-built circuit board that contains an embedded controller, a wireless Internet connection, motor controllers and sensor inputs. The system has some simple software tools that allow it to transmit and receive sensor data and motion commands in a "poetic" programming language - a way for the artists to connect language (in many different forms) to the activities and/or observations of the tiny robot "mind." The artists will customize these circuits by altering the language of the controller, adding sculptural components (static and moveable) adding sensor components, and designing behaviours. These objects are intended to sit on window sills, desk corners, over doorways, nailed to a post on the back deck, in the gravel pit in the basement, etc. The wireless Internet connection allows the devices to talk to each other and mingle their conversations on the web. The "eyes" of one machine can influence the actions of another. Keywords can generate furious activity or silence. Following the series of workshops, the results of the artists' experiments with robots will be exhibited to the public through a number of events in May 2006 and January 2007.

The Mawhrin-Skel robots communicate with each other using the Scrambler - a message server that was developed in 2003 to connect electronic installation works around the world.