BATTLE GROUND: Experiments in environment-computer integration. This site specific public performance art investigation will feature a giant interactive robot arm, a computer programmer, a movement performer and a sound designer.

Melbourne is a Knowledge City, a smart city. But who holds that knowledge and what makes it smart?

What happens when nature takes control of computer automation?

This experimental investigation involves a robot arm that is controlled by the last 100 years of Melbourne/Victorian climate and deforestation records. The aim is to visualise the increasing ferocity at which nature is responding to the climate crisis and the lack of control that people have in the face of extreme environmental events.

The robot arm could be situated in an urban forest (for example beside a billabong in native parkland). This would create an intentional visual contrast between a piece of large-scale automated machinery and a natural ecosystem. The robot could also be situated in a densely populated cement clad high-rise urban area. The robot could be surrounded by a circle of performers dressed in suits who are linking arms; a movement performer could be in the circle with the robot potentially trying to subjugate the robot, with little effect.

Audiences could watch these surprise experimental public incursions. These performance art pieces would also be video recorded and potentially edited into an art film made for climate times.

The robot’s movements could be controlled by historical environmental data and by real time data feeds from the surrounding natural environment. The robot arm’s movements will erratically increase across the performance, visualising the increasingly dramatic ways that nature is exerting itself in response to climate change. The robot arm is responsive to movement, it can sense when a performer is close and can automatically adapt. Therefore, any attempts by a performer to stop or divert the robot arm would be unsuccessful.

This experimental performance opens discussions around interactivity. Humans expect that interactive  installations involve humans having some control over a designed environment. BATTLE GROUND places our natural environment in the position of interactive control. BATTLE GROUND highlights the vulnerable position that humans are in when faced with powerful natural forces. This work also imagines a futurist reality where sentient environmental ecosystems take control of automated machinery.

BATTLE GROUND asks audiences to questions the level of control that people really have over natural and computational environments.

Sawyer Robot Arm driven by nature: image compiled by Betty Sargeant

Thanks to the support from the Exertion Games Lab at Monash University.