My first technological project, developed in 1992 when I was an art student, was an intervention into the about-to-start war in Yugoslavia. It was from that moment that I became interested in alternative configurations of technologies that manifested, and drew upon, explicit and different ethical positions than technologies of the status quo.
In the ensuing (nearly) 30 years, I’ve created a variety of technologies to intervene in the sociopolitical moment. These include protest robots, tele-operated war journalists, and a community radio as a service serving a growing network of stations in five countries on two continents.
2018 - pres
The political scientist Charles Tilly analyzed what he called “repertoires of contentious politics” – ranging from rough music to cat torture, and of course including public marches and riots. Indeed, the available repertoires of contention are both frighteningly small and mostly familiar.
Our bag of tricks looks quite empty.
Following early collaboration with artist Julio Fernandez Ostolaza and La Fábrica de Cosas Bonitas, who premiered a protest robot at a G7 manifestation, my research group is now producing tele-operated self-balancing robots to reduce personal involvement in protests to a clinical and measurable effect. Much like military drone technology, it protects the “operator” from angry police or drunken counter-protestors, while at the same time preserving the impact of an embodied, human sized protestor that can carry a sign and produce loud chants and cheers.
With Victor Hugo Aguiar and Victor Azevedo.
The world’s first robotic dj, able to scratch, mix, and randomly access vinyl records at over 800rpm with accuracy to 0.00024414062 of a second. The original system was built with an all-analog signal path at a time when many companies were vying to replace vinyl djing with digital audio-based systems. Rather than replace the vinyl, we sought to reproduce the John Henry experiment and replace human djs with an electro-mechanical system.
The robot toured internationally, from Japan to Germany, Boston to Split, performing at venues from the WMF in Berlin to the ICA in London, sometimes competing with human djs. Mothballed for 17 years, it is undergoing a reanimation using contemporary drive systems and voltage control logic.
My response (with SKIN) to 9/11, Control was a nod to the control panels of the 20th Century, the massive monuments to complex technical systems canonized in every Bond villain’s lab. In particular, images of the twin reactors at Chernobyl – one still working and the other falling to pieces – testified to how tenuous our control of nature is, even where it matters most.
My response (with CONTROL) to 9/11, SKIN was a rebuilt section of a 737, designed to look as if was penetrating the gallery. Audio transducers vibrated the fuselage with gradually varying pitches as if the plane was in flight, leaving viewers to feel as if they were standing right outside a moving plane.
My first work of art, hunter hunter was conceived between Slovenia’s vote to secede from Yugoslavia, and when the war started. Despite being euphemistically called “defense,” no one seemed to know how to stop a war that everyone knew was about to happen.
hunter hunter was a semi-serious effort to solve this problem; a simple algorithmic embodiment of a moral precept. Using three microphones and a microcontroller, it was able to 1) triangulate loud sounds in 3D space, 2) use a neural network to classify the sound, and 3) if the sound was a gunshot, and then aim its 8mm canon in that direction and fire back, all in under two seconds.
I arrived at MIT on September 7, 2001. I had a few days of thinking I’d be able to gradually figure out what I was doing there, but 9/11 happened, and as people kept saying, nothing would ever be the same again. In the lead-up to the invasion of Afghanistan, I noticed that the Pentagon was rivaling the Taliban in its desire to prevent journalists from covering the situation.