Ars Electronica

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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

The Tumbling Man
Chico McMurtrie, Rick Sayre

In the installation "The Tumbling Man" by Chico McMurtrie and Rick Sayre, two players are trying to control and move a human- like robot by means of electronic sensors. The participants don't know who is in control of the arms or the legs. The aim is to gain control through cooperation.

The "Tumbling Man" is a humanoid pneumatic robot that not only tumbles, but with the aid and cooperation of two participants can attain contorted poses,sit up, and play his body as a percussion instrument. The uncertain gestures of the robot possess a convincing anthropomorphic quality, creating empathy within the participant and viewer, as the robot appears to be like a new-born primitive.

The computer in the "Tumbling Man" chooses a certain set of limbs from each participant by which he will be controlled. In any given attempt, he may, for example, be controlled by the legs of one participant and the arms and neck of the other. This choice of which participant controls which limb of the "TumblingMan" changes over time requiring the participants to redefine their method of cooperation When there is no motion from the participants, as when they are donning the telemetry suits, the "Tumbling Man" creates his own unique actions based on the patterns of previous participants.

With this piece, we hope to eliminate the barrier between performer and audience. Audience members become performers, forced to cooperate with other, formerly passive, viewers. These new performers will interact with each other and the"Tumbling Man" on both a physical and emotional level The uncertainty of who controls what, creates the need for cooperation, in order to produce control. (Chico McMurtrie / Ric Sayre)

Chico MacMutrie on his work

Eight years ago I began to mechanise my amorphic humanoid sculptures, and three years ago the computer became an essential force in my work. The ability for the sculpture to make decisions has opened up new boundaries. My sculpture investigates the primitive movement and behaviour of the human body and creates metaphors of the human condition. The transformational nature of my animated sculpture forces new impressions upon the viewer, by first setting a moment in time in the static sculpture, and then energising it by mechanical means.

From my earlier work as a puppeteer, directly attached to the puppet, controlling the sculptures' actions via radio control, being able to step away and let the audience interact with the sculptures as autonomous entities, the computer has led to the freedom of my sculptures. This release of the sculpture from my control has shifted the emotional experience from me,on to the audience, and has led to the increased ability to give each audience member a unique and personal experience.

By creating humanoid sculptures that are machines, and that mimic primitive behaviours, I am giving people unexpected insight into the de-humanising nature of man's need to dominate. (Chico McMutrie)