Chico MacMurtrie / Amorphic Robot Works
Over the first 11 years of MacMurtrie's endeavours, he and ARW created a large ensemble of loosely connected robotic performers. This percussive cadre began with the Tumbling Man in 1992. It was the Tumbling Man's apparently incidental racket that called for further elaboration in more straightforwardly percussive machines. In 1992, MacMurtrie received a grant from the NEA to present this collection of work in a single, coherent performance: The Robotic Opera. Mounted in collaboration with composer, Bruce Darby, hardware and software engineers, Rick Sayre and Phillip Robertson, performers Mark Steiger and Hanna Sims, and performance artist, Nao Bustamante, ARW set out to build several additional musical robots to interact with a score as called for by the operatic genre.
The Robotic Opera challenged MacMurtrie and ARW to create more comprehensive experiences, and after the successful run of the performance, ARW continued developing its group of musical machines and narrative expression. As each new performer was created, sprung from the trials and errors of its forebears, the histories inherent to the artistic process with its cycles of life, growth and death became visible in the ever-larger tribe of musical machines.
With its burgeoning narrative possibilities and ever-growing robotic resources, ARW began to experiment with new performance possibilities, including the presentation of ensembles of varying size and composition, new uses of exhibition spaces, and rethinking the role of the audience as viewer, interactant and participant. As the spectacles grew, so did the audience. With limited venue sizes, the boundaries between the audience and the performer often became strained. ARW embraced the encroaching audience by incorporating interaction and audience participation into the works.
This mechanical family grew under the eyes of the world, as ARW presented its work in 13 different countries during this period. The size of this family pressure require yet another step forward was becoming imminent.
As the work reached a physical critical mass, it also began to require more physical and narrative cohesion. In 2000, MacMurtrie was invited to Nottingham, England as a visiting fellow at Nottingham Trent University and as commissioned artist for the NOW2000 arts festival. During this residency, MacMurtrie created an environment integral to the performers ARW had created up to this time. Given the large crowds that now gathered for ARW performances, this Landscape would provide a native venue, lifting the performers above the audience for purposes of narrative coherence and visual necessity.
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