Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown


The Discreet Charm etc.

December 2008: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Robot




images: Wade Marynowsky “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Robot” installation images

By appropriating the title of the film The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972) I pay homage to the surrealist film director Luis Buñuel. The film is about a group of upper middle class people attempting, despite continual interruptions to dine together. So what is Bunuel trying to say? That the bourgeoisie are charming because they have nothing to worry about except how and when they will dine together? Or that they are in fact hideous creatures with nothing better to do than waffle about?

Taking this question into the gallery, the bourgeoisie robot is operated by invited mystery guests over the internet, for the duration of the exhibition. The charming robot avatar waits for visitors to enter the space and then converses with them in a polite and pleasant manner. The robot is interested in talking about food, robots, dancing and other general bourgeois banter. In doing so the robot questions the role of the gallery as a place of contemplation.

The robot wears a hooped dress, which recalls the beginnings of automata, the 18th century. For example: Jacques de Vaucanson’s mechanical flute player and defecating duck (1738). Vaucanson’s automata stunned European eyes of the era producing the first uncanny moments in robotic art.

The fact that bourgeois robot’s voice is male and that he wears a dress highlights the camp sensibility of robots. As Steve Dixon states in his essay Metal performance (2005) “Robotic movement mimics and exaggerates but never achieves the human, just as camp movement mimics and exaggerates but never achieves womanhood”.

The robots head, consisting of a camera inside a plastic dome, references the now common place surveillance (CCTV) domes in shopping centres and other public spaces. Through physical inhabitation of a real-life avatar the work is concerned with the evolution of mediated communication technologies and their influence on the nature of the conversation.

Electrical engineering: Aras Vaichas, Software design: Mr.Snow, Dress maker: Susan Marynowsky, Supported by the University of Western Sydney.

Written by ICAN

August 24, 2017 at 11:58