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RoboThespian at Phaeno

RoboThespian is a robot actor, created to intrigue, entertain and reveal. The concept was created by artist engineer Will Jackson in 2005.

Photography by Matthias Leitzke

Friday, 16.04.2010
15:00 (Cet)

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RoboThespian is a robot actor, created to intrigue, entertain and reveal. The concept was created by artist engineer Will Jackson in 2005.

RoboThespian started life as a rudimentary robotic puppet, and over years of intensive experimentation has developed into a sophisticated and complex creation, drawing on the talents of dedicated engineers, designers and organisers working to continously improve software, electronics, mechanical design and conceptual development.

It is at once, both an artistic endeavour and an advanced engineering project. As of February 2010 Engineered Arts Ltd employs 8 people who spend the majority of their working days involved with the perfection of an 'acting machine'. A robot with no obvious utility, RoboThespian cannot vacuum the floor, it does not have the precision to assemble cars or televisions and it lacks the mobility to deliver mail.

So what is it for?

It speaks of everything yet is for nothing. As an actor, it is a mirror. The most difficult question you may have to answer yourself is:what am I for? RoboThespian demonstrates that utility is not a prerequisite for existence, a concept familiar to the artist but alien to the engineer.

'Necessity is the mother of invention', a received wisdom, but necessity is not the mother of this invention, doubt they are even related at all.
RoboThespian taunts with childish jibes. Can a human be insulted by a machine? It howls in agony and laments about its lonely, loveless existence. Can we empathize with it? It sings, it performs. Are we entertained by it? These are simple questions to answer. We embrace the willing suspension of disbelief. Flicking patches of light on an LCD screen are not pixels to us, they are recreations of life. We accept the stories they tell without much thought for the media they are carried by. In this sense RoboThespian is a medium like theater, but more akin to cinema and
television. It automates and removes actual human interaction and replaces it with a mechanical analogue of humanity.

Modern life is defined by humanity's love hate relationship with its technological creations. It's in our nature to see life, personality and intention where none exists. We curse our computer when its software crashes, and thump our radios as it drifts off tune. These devices are not sorry for what they've done, they feel no pain. Yet we can't help feeling that they do.

RoboThespian exploits the human desire to see life everywhere, it is an anthropomorphic machine, a dot on the graph that starts with automata, and will end when we are no longer able to distinguish the living from the mechanized.

So is this the stuff of theme parks?
Is it science? Is this entertainment for the masses?
Or does it belong in an art gallery?

It is certainly a venture into the realm of which Isaac Asimov would have been proud of.

Visit Phaeno to see RoboThespian
Discover the world in phæno by touching, trying things out, finding astonishment, playing, exploring, discovering, and above all: unravelling the frequently mysterious natural-scientific phenomena of everyday life on one´s own initiative. Over 300 phenomena can be marvelled at in phæno.

Some examples

steered a car with the accelerator pedal?
created a melody out of soap bubbles?
formed a mushroom out of mist?
seen an electromagnetic hedgehog?
experienced the world’s most fiery tornado?

Two Visitor Labs, the Science Theatre and the Ideas Forum give visitors even more opportunities to see, hear, touch, smell and feel. A varied programme of events consisting of workshops and discovery tours conveys content that furthers networked thinking and action.

There are rooms for staging special events on three levels of the building as well as two restaurants. And phenomena "to go" can be found in the "Supermarket of Knowledge" - the phæno Shop.

The phæno building in the center of Wolfsburg looks like a spacecraft itself. Resting on its ten cone-shaped "feet", the concrete structure spanning 154 metres seems to almost hover in the air.  Designed by the Iraqian architect Zaha Hadid, the imposing structure sits enthroned high above street-level. The exhibition space, resting on conic supports and sublimely illuminated, emerged as the victorious project from an international competition staged in 2000. The London-based architect has devised a home for phæno that breaks with many conventions and that liberates the area beneath it as a kind of urban space in the form of a covered artificial landscape with gently undulating hills and valleys. Since November 2005 now, the futuristic apparition has been raising eyebrows in amazement and making eyes gleam with awe among passers-by.

The inside of phæno seems to be from another world as well: a free-flowing space framed by cast concrete. Without any right angles. Entwined over several levels. An ideal location for adventurers and discoverers. And a fantastic achievement from the London-based architect Zaha Hadid.



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