This piece explores the delicate relationship between the human body and the emerging new breed of hybrid machines that incorporate biological elements or from those elements extract sensorial or metabolic functions.The piece creates a dialogical situation in which a human body and a robot — a biobot — have physical direct contact via an intravenous needle connected to clear tubing and feed one another in a mutually nourishing relationship. In A-positive, viewers see a human and a robot in the same space, close to one another. A phlebotomist proceeds to insert the needle in the donor’s right arm, and to start the blood flow from the donor to the biobotic arm. As enough blood reaches the biobot via a thin flexible tube, the biobot takes it in and responds by making a glucose-saline solution available to the donor and allowing gravity to start the flow of nutrients to the human body.The phlebotomist inserts the needle in the donor’s left arm to enable the donor to receive the solution. Once the blood flow becomes steady, the biobot extracts oxygen from the blood and uses it to support a very small and fragile flame.This delicate flame is meant as a vital symbol.When the blood flow is stopped — as a consequence of the transfusion having reached the recommended limit — the biobot stops and the small flame dissipates.The event is concluded. In A-positive, the human body provides the robot with life-sustaining nutrients by actually donating blood to it; the biobot in turn accepts the human tissue and from it extracts enough oxygen to support a delicate flame, an archetypical symbol of life. In exchange, the biobot donates nutrients needed by the human body, which accepts them intravenously.The conceptual model created by the work is far from conventional scenarios that portray robots as slaves that perform difficult, repetitive or humanly impossible tasks; instead, as the event unfolds the human being gives his own tissue to the biobot, creating with it a symbiotic exchange. This two-node network proposes that emerging forms of human/machine interface will penetrate the sacred boundaries of the flesh, with profound cultural and philosophical implications.The problem of artificial life has been explored so far mostly as a software-based issue. A-positive gives material expression to the artificial life concept, further blurring the lines that separate real (physical) and artificial (virtual) organisms. The increased presence of electronic and computational devices inside the human body and the accelerated investigation of biological directions for robotics and computer science suggests that the gaps are being slowly narrowed beyond what we might be willing to admit or perhaps accept. In this sense, one might speak of the ethics of robotics and reconsider many of our assumptions about the nature of art and machines in the biobotic frontier. ekac.org/apositive.html
- Eduardo Kac (U.S.A.), panel co-chair, is an artist and writer who works with electronic and photonic media. His work has been exhibited widely in the United States, Europe, and South America. Kac’s works belong to the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Holography in Chicago,and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, among others. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Leonardo, published by MIT Press. His anthology, New Media Poetry: Poetic Innovation and New Technologies, was published in 1996 as a special issue of the journal Visible Language, of which he was a guest editor. His writings on electronic art have appeared in several books and journals in many countries, including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States. He is an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has received numerous grants and awards for his work.
- Ed Bennett (U.S.A.) is a hardware designer specializing in computer control. He is the Facilities Manager of the Kinetics Area in the Art and Technology Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since 1989 he has been collaborating with Eduardo Kac on a series of telepresence installations. These works have been shown around the United States and in Europe. He has lectured on electronic art issues at international venues, such as the ISEA conference in Canada, and the Art of the XXI Century symposium, in Brazil. He has written articles on the collaboration between artists and engineers as well as on the technological development of his collaborative telepresence work.