The Robotic Church


© MacMurtrie/ARW


The Robotic Church is a site-specific installation and performance series comprising 50 computer-controlled pneumatic sculptures. Created between 1987 and 2006 and installed in ARW’s studio, a former Norwegian Seamen’s Church in, Brooklyn, New York, these machines mesmerize with their percussive sounds and gestures. They express themselves through rhythm and body language, ranging from introspective solos to powerful ensembles erupting from different corners of the space. Rather than merely amplifying sound, the percussive machines are programmed to beat, strum, vibrate, spin, and otherwise play their own bodies to communicate in their own unique voice. Their syncopated outbursts of call-and-response evoke the origin of communication.

This collection of animated machines, formerly known as the “Ancestral Path,” traces the evolution of MacMurtrie’s first robotic sculptures from the late ‘80s, from works such as “Tumbling Man” and “Drumming and Drawing Subhuman” to later ones possessed of more kinetic abilities and refined movements such as “Urge to Stand” and “Transparent Body.” They all are part of MacMurtrie’s/ARW’s “Society of Machines,” a body of work comprising over 250 individual sculptures, which have performed in different configurations in Europe and in smaller formats also throughout the United States, Latin America, and Asia.

Photos by Eve Sussman, Andrew Boyle, Mathew Galindo, and Douglas Adesko

The Robotic Church machines, deemed “robotic saints” by their creator, inhabit the triple-height space on all levels and all sides. Surrounding the audience, they bring the architecture to life and draw eyes up toward MacMurtrie’s upside-down “Floating Tree” sculpture suspended from the rafters. Together, these “robotic saints” create a complex sonic texture, accentuated by the sharp rhythms of “Tabla Player”, “Electrodrummer”, the “Mulabandas” and the large xylophone “House Player”. On the other hand, machines such as “String Body”, “Chime Body,” and the “Minis” provide a more lyrical quality with their ethereal, almost otherworldly intonations. Although responding to both pre-programmed and live computer sequences, MacMurtrie’s robots are anthropopathic and organic in nature. The Robotic Church opened to the public in New York in 2013 and continues its performance series on selective dates throughout the year.