The May 2015 Spotlight Interview is with Montreal-based robotics expert Erin Gee. She’s a remarkably talented robot builder and artist who shares her fascinating views. Enjoy!
How did you get started building robots?
I remember seeing a video of the artist Stelarc when I was an undergraduate art student in Saskatchewan. He was walking around a room in an exoskeleton suit, and talking about how he devoted his entire practice to exploring cybernetic versions of himself. I wondered how I could do something like that. I’d later get to meet and collaborate with Stelarc in 2011 with my work for robots and soprano, Orpheux Larynx.
What is it about robots that draws you to them?
I feel like there is an allure to the dichotomy of a system that is simultaneously perfectly rational, free of human insecurities, and also without a soul.
What is it about robots lacking souls that you find fascinating?
The soul-less quality of robots has always gotten my interest because for many millennia, women and other visible minorities were treated as though they didn’t have souls. I’m interested in exploring the content that exists in that void, and simultaneously in exploring the dread void in all of us. But I do this in a really playful, sensual, romantic way. Promise.
What’s the most complex robot you’ve ever built?
I have been recently perfecting a fleet of mechanical carillons, Swarming Emotional Pianos, that traverse the room while receiving wireless musical messages from a live human performer – this performer is trained to move through various intense emotions, which are gathered through biosensors of my own design. My software is translating these shifts in biodata initiated through the emotion into different musical patterns, which the robots then “play” through striking bells, activating lights and moving around the room.
Where can people see your work?
This summer my work Swarming Emotional Pianos will be on display in Toronto at the University of Toronto Art Center from June 25-October 13, 2015 as part of the exhibition Flesh of the World, curated by Amanda Cachia.
I will be performing a new vocal work that sits somewhere because music and live spoken essay on the topic of virtual pop stars and the mythological nymph Echo at Trinity Square Video in Toronto on June 13th, in a series curated by Maiko Tanaka.
Also some prints of mine featuring the human throat will be on display in Regina SK from July 17-Oct 20 at the Dunlop Art Gallery, and I will be premiering new vocal quartets at the opening then.
What type of clients do you have?
Clients are a strange, diaphanous concept to a contemporary artist. My clients are art galleries and centers that are interested in displaying my work and giving me opportunities to produce new exciting projects.
What types of collaborations would you like to do?
In the future, I would love to collaborate with a science lab or engineering company to produce bio-musical products based on my research.
What do you see as the direction of robot building in the next 5-10 years?
It seems as though self-driving cars will revolutionize an entire transportation industry, and this will be the biggest breakthrough in robotics in the foreseeable future.
What changes in robotics would you like to witness?
I would like to see robotic companions as a more socially acceptable part of our society, especially as a kind of avatar-extension if we are say, skyping with a loved one.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Creative. Playful. Capable.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to contribute to the study and development of new practices for music and art therapy by participating in art as research programs, either as a PhD student or an independent artist. I predict that I will have opportunities to work with increasingly interesting people to develop technologies we haven’t thought about yet.