If you ever feared the robot revolution, Melbourne-based French artist Mathieu Briand will assure you that it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, if at all. A self-professed megafan of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, anyone familiar with Blade Runner may find some familiar elements of the franchise’s androids, known as ‘Replicants’ in Briand’s exhibition. In A-DROYX, Briand has taken over a gallery at the first floor of the National Design Centre, and transformed it into his own personal laboratory, where he will spend the course of the exhibition creating 3-4 androids, programmed to move in simple ways.
But where the Replicants may pose as threats indistinguishable from regular humans, Briand’s ‘A-droyx’ disembodied bots are much more benign and distinct, from their unnaturally coloured joints in red, green and white, and their lack of human features, such as a head. Says Mathieu: “Creation is a very personal process. I don’t have an engineering background, but I like the idea of building something completely from scratch and see it come to life.”
Mathieu’ project is partially inspired by trips to the museums he had growing up, and seeing various statues from ancient civilisations. Although these images were revered as pinnacles of human beauty and perfection, they were often amputated or missing certain parts, and yet, still manage to forge a fundamentally human connection with viewers. In a conversation with Mathieu, he brings up the concept of the uncanny valley, where humanoid objects appear almost human, but not exactly, eliciting feelings of disgust or unease within us.
Says Mathieu: “My robots are made partially from skin-like material, like cow and pig leather, and also from resin parts, some of which you can see are dyed. It’s a basic human desire to want to form a connection, and if we see something that is vaguely human, we will try to connect to it, which is what sometimes leads to the uncanny valley. I wanted to explore themes like what makes something beautiful, and how or why we might feel empathy for certain objects or creations, and not so much to create a ‘beautiful’ robot.”
Mathieu continues: “In this exhibition, I tried to create movements which would be as close to human movements as possible, and visitors will even get a chance to put on the VR headset and ‘see’ from the robot’s point of view using a camera attached to them. We live in a world where everyone is taking selfies and everyone is constantly judging other people. Sometimes we get so caught up in our external appearances that we forget what’s really important is what lies between, how we choose to see and interact with each other. ”
Thought-provoking and disturbing, A-DROYX is a truly unique interactive-performance exhibition that will have you questioning just what is it that makes us human, and why is it we may see the unusual as eerie, or perhaps, oddly beautiful, and amidst it all, seek some primal form of understanding and connecting with the most basic of human forms.