[ISEA2016] Artist Statement: Daniel Miller — Ouroboros

Artist Statement

Robotic Art, 2016. Steel, aluminum, poly carbonate, HDPE, vacuum hose, vacuum, wire, dc motors, LED’s, fans, heater, heat controllers, microcontrollers and various electronics

The “Ouroboros” is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. Here something is constantly re-creating itself. This symbol has a variety of interpretations and is found represented in number of ancient cultures, the two oldest being China and Egypt. One interpretation of the Ouroboros is the idea of the eternal return, where the universe is having been recurring forever. Ouroboros the robotic artwork is an embodiment of this idea. Using various DIY mechanisms and components this robot extrudes a plastic coil like “tail” that winds across the floor. The “tail” ultimately is returned to the robots “mouth” as a vacuum and rollers in the machine intake the plastic “tail” grind it back up, melt it down and re-extrude the tail as a new coil.
HDPE, High Density Polyethylene is the common material used in everything from milk jugs to toys and cutting boards. With proper collection and resources this material is easily recycled. Instead of using a ready made filament or plastic pellet the Ouroboros robot only consumes shredded plastic milk jugs. It will thus only recycle and renew as long as it has its tail or extra shredded recycled plastic to consume. Obvious parallels are made here between the symbol of the Ouroboros and the potential of a recycling system.
The tail of this robotic serpent will have the capacity to enlarge as it recycles with each generation from ingesting additional the plastic source material through its roller mouth and vacuum. Dual linear actuators fitted with blades from a wood planer will cut the plastic filament as it is rolled into the head of the robot. In addition to the “tail” enlarging there will be variation in each new iteration of the tail. A form of reincarnation occurs through constant rebirth of the Ouroboros’s plastic tail. The interaction of material, process, variation and machine connects to many other possible interpretations including ideas from: biology, ecology, behavior studies, industrial production and micro-manufacturing.
This “Tail” material is melted at a safe temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit or less where minimal off gassing will occur. All heat and shredding components are safely secured inside the “body” of the Ouroboros mechanism. Blow formed transparent polycarbonate panels will provide windows into the body of the serpent robot where observers can witness these processes unfolding. Select parts of the robot are also made from recycled cast HDPE using a different process than the extruded tail. These recycled mechanical parts will be cast and fabricated in Daniel Miller’s studio at the University of Iowa. The processes used in Ouroboros connect to a larger DIY community where recycling of plastics into 3D printing filaments and other components provides a possible real low cost alternative for individuals and production at the local level worldwide. Ouroboros represents a larger body of planned work where robotic artworks utilize current technology with recycling and recycled components to explore contemporary societal issues and environmental concerns. One can regard the human animal as not above, separate or other but rather equal to the world we inhabit. The effects of human technology are woven into the destinies of all beings of this planet. While the Ouroboros directly references the serpent or snake form, its mythology is also very much human. The recycling system that takes place within the body of the Ouroboros both looks at ideas of mechanical manufacturing and material processing and the biological analogues to these processes. Within the Ouroboros a central electronic nervonervous system controls functions in each of the four sections of the robot. Additional local controls monitor various processes from ingesting plastic filament to vacuuming the “chewed” plastic pellets through the hoses and extruding hot filament. Further correlations can also be drawn between this project and the natural recycling system of plant earth as seen through plate tectonics.
The DIY systems used within the Ouroboros represent a shift in hierarchy from Governments and corporations to open source communities and individuals. This shift has been taking place for the past 20 years, as robotic technologies become ever more accessible at the local level. DIY systems used in the Ouroboros include: Ardunio controllers, homemade filament extruders, a repurposed vacuum cleaner and various prototype mechanisms. While some of the Ouroboros’s structural components are made with CNC tools other parts like the polycarbonate windows are made with simple electric cooking ovens and compressed air.
The Ouroboros challenges ideas behind automation and manufacturing. Robotics has infiltrated ever level of manufacturing. Commercial production processes have been key to the ever-evolving biopolitical relationship between humans and their natural world. The Ouroboros approaches these ideas from a more intimate and social level where the micro-manufacturer can change the relationship between machine and body.
Technology and materials used in Ouroboros includes: Arduino microcontrollers, heating elements, DC motors, linear actuators, digital temperature controllers, wiring, IR sensors, shop vacuum, power supplies and various other electronics. The mechanism is fabricated from a variety of materials including: plasma cut steel, machined aluminum, blow formed polycarbonate, electrical wire, HDPE plastic (both extruded and cast), rubber and hardened steel blades.

  • Daniel Miller (USA) creates generative forms that use an array of technologies, integrating code and mechanical form to investigate space, ecology and the contemporary landscape. His projects have been investigating various ecologies and our relationship to the environment and landscape. This artwork creates points of access where the viewer can contemplate on their surroundings. Through the use of electronic media Miller is able to explore the multi dimensional landscape. With the use of motion, light and sound he is able to activate space and engage the viewer’s senses in a dynamic way. Incorporating contemporary mechanical & digital technologies allows Daniel Miller’s ideas to interface the physical world in real time. Time is an essential component in his work. Through the use of code he is able to sequence and control timing of events in his artwork. Miller’s artwork reflects the fact that we live in a transitional environment. The machines used in his artwork act as surrogate performers allowing him to investigate durational compositions.  Experimentation is integral to Daniel Miller’s process. He will spend a significant amount of time testing, developing and understanding his subject matter before engaging in the physical creation of artwork. Miller has an ongoing investigation of complex relationships that exists in our world. Through his artwork he is able question conventional use of materials and processes. Miller is interested in the parallels that can be drawn between mechanical systems and the natural world. danmillerart.com

Full Text and photo p.  193-196

This project is being funded in part with support from an Old Gold Summer Fellowship from the University of Iowa.