Chico MacMurtrie / Amorphic Robot Works


Inflatable Architectural Growth as installed in Shanghai, 2009.

Inflatable Architectural Growth as installed in Shanghai, China in 2009.
Photo: ARW

Inflatable Architectural Growth in front of the Oriental TV Tower in the Tower Plaza, Shanghai.
Photo: ARW

Inflatable Architectural Growth: Narrative

Inflatable Architectural Growth (IAG) is a grand-scale, inflatable, interactive sculpture that has been in development since 2007. IAG is an ambitious integration of our new Inflatable Technologies and interactive sensing systems. The work premiered at the eARTS Beyond – Shanghai International Exhibition of Media Art 2008, and has developed significantly since that time. Through participation in the September 2010 ZER01 Biennial in San Jose, California, IAG's interactive component and the piece as a whole, has finally reached maturity and achieved the sought after feel of a self-aware “living system”. The newly completed work delighted audiences at the Absolute ZERO Outdoor Street Festival, as hundreds interacted with this playful, intelligent work.

Growth is the first major robotic outdoor sculpture from MacMurtrie/ARW using their Inflatable Bodies technology. The work consists of large arches, each five meters tall, growing out of organic hemispheric forms. By entering one of the sculpture's four interactive areas–one assigned to each of IAG's four arms–the sculpture comes alive and open to the participant's input. IAG changes its shape and composition in response the visitor's movements. If one of IAG's arms lifts off the ground in the course of play, the interactant can touch the bottom of the tube, where an additional sensor provides more complex interactions and response to direct touch. Several individuals working together can put the work through its paces, forming complex compositions involving all four arms and the motions and forms of the visitors themselves. If the visiting sculptors leave abruptly, IAG will quickly return to its original form. If they move away carefully, however, the machine respects the sculptors' example and holds the composition.

As the audience learns to interact with the sculpture through movement, the symbiotic relationship between the “art” and the “viewer” becomes the point of the work. The innovative soft materials of IAG invite the audience to become a part of this symbiotic art-making process. The form of IAG, modeled on the microscopic molecular structures that underlie all life, displays a seductive intelligence, supported by the wide range of percussive respiratory sounds generated by the pneumatic engine powering the sculpture. The work opens itself and its audience up to a symbiotic, creative endeavor that recalls what unites us as individuals, groups, nature, and construction.

Watching others engage the machine is equally important. Not only is the interactive experience of others part of the kinetic sculpting that makes up the work, but audience members teach each other how to interact with the piece. The most adventurous individuals initially take on the open-ended task of communicating with the sculpture via movement. This performance gives standers-by the tools and ideas that inform and embolden their own approach to the work. Children are often the first takers. Their interactions intrigue the more subdued adult viewer, and soon the entire audience is waiting to take part.

Instead of the usual precautions limiting the audience's proximity to more standard robotic materials, ARW's Inflatable Technology invites the viewer in, both figuratively and literally. Direct contact between the audience and the sculpture is safe, encouraged, and essential to conveying the “sentience” of the work.