Machine Movement Lab

Becoming-Body | 2015-18

Machine Movement Lab is a creative research lab that explores the potential of movement and extended choreography for reimagining how machines look, learn and affect us. At its core, the lab develops new, performative methods for designing abstract robotic forms and their ability to take on a uniquely machinic presence of their own by investigating the micro-ecologies of a robot becoming body, entangled with other bodies and the world. This page shows the first series of movement studies and robot prototypes, developed between 2015 and 2017 as part of an Australia Research Council Discovery Project.

Currently most robots, made to share our social spaces, appear to be humanlike or animal-like, often cute and big-eyed, with friendly human voices. But this apparent resemblance is problematic because under the familiar, even if shiny, surface, there are still vast differences between machinic and life-like forms. Embracing these differences provides us with an opportunity to explore new, strange relationships with machines as part of our complex social environment, and, with it, questions of nonhuman agency, based on their unique machinic embodied intelligence.

The project focuses on the potential of movement, and how it can produce bodies and, with it, relations with other bodies and the world; how it engenders affect and empathy, and thus challenges the subject-object boundaries we currently encounter in human machine relationships. Our core research method, Performative Body-Mapping, harnesses dancers’ bodily creativity and sensitivity to develop the movement characteristics for strange, abstract machinic forms and their ability to activate relations with their surrounds.

Since 2015, we work with dancers from the De Quincey Co and its artistic director and choreographer Tess de Quincey. In a series of movement studies, we explored simple potential machinic forms to serve as costumes or prostheses for dancers to inhabit, move with and explore their unique material forces and abilities. The activated costumes’ movements are captured to later provide a mirror image for our robot prototypes (resembling the costumes) to learn from. Our initial pilot studies in 2015 investigated a wide range of forms and their material forces. Since then, we focused on two simple forms in particular: the expressive potential of an unassuming cube and the complex transformative configurations of a broken tetrahedron. Its broken leg was an accident; after all, serendipity is a close ally in this creative research process.

The video excerpt shows the first prototype of the cube robot, which premiered in Re/Pair, curated by Deborah Tillman, as part of The Big Anxiety Festival, Sydney, November 2017. The images show snapshots from (1) the prototype exhibition, RePair; (2) prototyping the cube robot, with research assistant Dillon MacEwan; (3) movement studies (2016-7) with Tess de Quincey and Kirsten Packham, who inhabited and activated various cube costumes; and (4) movement studies that explored both the cube form and broken tetrahedron, with Tess de Quincey, Linda Luke and Kirsten Packham.