ATC Revisited: Chico MacMurtrie

09 Mar, 2019

ATC Revisited: Chico MacMurtrie

Recap by KC Forcier, the 2018-2019 Graduate Liaison for the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium.

Chico Macmurtrie​: In and out of the Body and into the Machine

In 2014, British science writer Oliver Morton mused that robots are immigrants - not from a distant land, but from the future. In introducing roboticist and artist Chico MacMurtrie at last Monday’s ATC lecture, Ken Goldberg posited that “our fear and fascination with robots is about our fear of immigrants and others more generally.” MacMurtrie’s work touches on both our fascination with the other, and - in Border Crossers, one of his most recent pieces - on contemporary politics of immigration.

From his earliest robotic sculpture, which grew out of his origins in metalworking in the Bay Area, MacMurtrie’s work has sought to understand the human more fully. His first such piece, the Tumbling Man, was an exercise in parsing and replicating human motion, which gave birth to a decades-long series of sculptures. MacMurtrie’s Society of Machines is a body of work comprising some 250 robotic sculptures that mimic or perform human gestures. The artist’s recent work has evolved from exploring the intersection of human motion and the machinic, to consider more fleshy forms. Border Crossers grows out of this series of inflatable, organic forms which, through their translucent skins and pliable limbs, suggest a more vulnerable existence.

Border Crossers are a series of lightweight robotic sculptures which rise to the height of the US-Mexico border wall and slowly unfurl to arch over the structure, to “create a symbolic suspension and transcendence of borders,” according to MacMurtrie. It’s a provocative gesture, and one that raises the question of who and what can cross borders. Border Crossers emphasizes that in an age of globalization, machines and the machinic may cross borders more easily than the human.