[ISEA2022] Artist Talk: Bill Vorn & Louis-Philippe Demers — Godspeed: A Speculative and Participative Robotic Performance

Artist Statement 

June 12, MACBA – Convent dels Àngels. Session: Speculative environments

Keywords: Robots, Performance, Exoskeletons, Participation, Rituals

A Speculative and Participative Robotic Performance. Based on speculative rituals of the machine, Godspeed is our way to say “good luck” to humanity once we reach the point of singularity.

Encouraged by the success of Inferno (2015), “Godspeed” will pursue the similar transformative experiential journey of becoming an augmented human. In Inferno, up to 25 spectators wore custom-made exoskeletons that controlled, submitted and coerced them into a dance performance driven by a rhythmic soundtrack. With Godspeed, we aim to go beyond Inferno’s far-reaching achievements by further catalysing the audience’s participation into a joint human-machine endeavour: co-creating and co-performing a series of speculative rituals inspired by the upcoming Singularity.

Godspeed is frequently conjured in the rocket launchings of American spatial missions, a predominant sign of vastly mediatised events cum rituals of modern science and technology.

In Godspeed, the ‘ritual’ takes on a broader more speculative connotation rather than a strict traditional denotation of the term, while still referring to implicit or explicit rules governing social constructs and individual behaviours. As symbolic gestures, each ritual will stage specific machines (robotic extensions, instruments to manipulate, exoskeletons, portable devices and so forth) enabling actions that lead to co-embodied communal procedures. These actions will either be absurd, repetitive, ceremonial, hypnotic, senseless, solemn or contemplative — immersing the participants in a kinesthetic delirium, transcending and fusing his/her body with the machinic counterpart.
Furthering and expanding Inferno’s performative experience, Godspeed aims to involve a larger number of participants while developing more alternate and diversified human augmentations. We will derive and explore a variety of extensions, prosthetics, outgrowths, supernumerary limbs, instruments and devices adapted to the performers, enhancing or forcing their bodies into involuntary and unpredictable movements or tasks, in a state of “augmented servitude”.

Godspeed aims to enable the amateur spectator to become a skilled performer by augmenting his/her untrained state and simultaneously, through an intuitively and easily mastered mechanical interface, to fuse into a larger performative body.

  • Based in Montreal, Canada, Bill Vorn is working in the field of Robotic Art since almost 30 years. His installation and performance projects involve robotics and motion control, sound, lighting, video and cybernetic processes. Influenced by advances in Human-Robot Interaction, he pursues artistic work based on “Relational Robotics”. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Communication Studies from UQAM (Montreal) for his thesis on “Artificial Life as Media”. He teaches Electronic Arts in the Department of Studio Arts at Concordia University (Intermedia program) where he is Full Professor. His work has been presented in many international events, including Ars Electronica, ISEA, DEAF, Sonar, Art Futura, EMAF and Artec. He has been awarded the Vida 2.0 award (1999, Madrid) and the Prix Ars Electronica Distinction award (1996, Linz), among others. He was cofounder of the electronic pop music band Rational Youth with Tracy Howe in 1981.
  • Louis-Philippe Demers (CA) makes large-scale installations and performances with technologies, AI and robotics in particular. He participated in more than seventy artistic and stage productions and has built more than 400 machines. Demers’ works have been shown worldwide and primed at Ars Electronica, Vida, Japan Media Arts Festival and at Helpman Awards (Australia). Demers’ academic journey brought him to the Superior School of Design/Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), the Nanyang Technological University, Queensland University of Technology, University of the Arts London, Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing) and the Applied Arts School in Vienna.