© MacMurtrie/ARW

© MacMurtrie/ARW

Totemobile is a robotic sculpture that initially appears as a life-sized representation of the culturally iconic Citroen DS automobile. In performance, this familiar figure is visually exploded, subverted and elaborated through various levels of abstraction until it reaches its final form: an organic 20-meter-tall totem pole. Upon reaching its full height, the work blooms with light, in the form of multiple organically inspired inflatable sculptures suggesting the final maturation of an enormous biological organism.

The initial form of the robotic sculpture is surprisingly simple, and belies the existence of nearly 50 interdependent machines of varying aesthetic and functional purpose. As the sculpture opens and rises, these metal and inflatable machines give voice to varying modes of mobile abstraction, which develop throughout the growth and final blooming of the full, 60 foot tall work.

As the familiar structure visually decomposes into its constituent geometric parts, each part becomes a more organic version of the original, and eventually lends its decomposing body to support the life of the new organism it harbors. This automobile’s point of natural transcendence lies in its inflatable airbags: in protecting and distancing its unforgiving synthetic body from us, the inflatable provides a point of direct contact with biological frailty. This point of contact provides the crack, which harbors the germ of the unassailable automobile’s biological aspirations. The Citroen becomes fertile ground, which this growing inflatable seed covertly consumes, co-opts and subverts for its own needs. The new thriving body yields where required to insure the viability of its new-found skeleton, the comfortable and utilitarian form of the Citroen DS leaving its pedestrian servitude and stretching to achieve the organic beauty and flexibility more subtly suggested in its original architecture.

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The form of the totem pole is narrative in nature. As the sculpture rises, multiple identities unfold. In the collision, negotiation and compromises reached between the organic and the inorganic aspects of itself, narratives suggesting entropy, domination, transformation, mortality and the nature of strength are exposed. Once the resulting half-breed reaches its full mechanical height, the inflatables finally bloom brightly into view in a moment of hybrid ecstasy, and the mechanized lid opens revealing the new growth of an organic stamen. This sign of the fully-mature organism extends further into the sky as if seeking the sun. Taking large inflating breaths, it increases in strength and size. Our creations in this world strive for an endurance and resonance so far achieved only by nature. By moving away from the idea of longevity through unassailability, toward finding it in interconnection, interaction, and adaptability, perhaps we can express a higher form of intelligence in our own creations.