Since the late 1980s, Chico MacMurtrie has explored the intersection of robotic sculpture, new media installation, and performance. MacMurtrie’s work investigates organic life from deep within, finding geometry in all living systems. Chico MacMurtrie and his interdisciplinary collective Amorphic Robot Works/ARW have received numerous awards for their experimental new media artworks, including five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation Grant, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, VIDA Life 11.0, and Prix Ars Electronica. Chico MacMurtrie was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2016 and the Map Fund Grant in 2019.
Inspired by his 1987–89 residency at the Exploratorium, a museum of science and art in San Francisco, Chico founded Amorphic Robot Works (ARW) in 1991. It grew into an ever-changing collective of artists, engineers and scientists, devoted to exploring the potentials of machine movement, intelligence and responsiveness. What they shared was a desire to make robotic and interactive sculpture as a reflection on the human condition.
While ARW’s output over our first decade comprised largely metal machines and robotic sculptures defined by structure, Chico has focused since 2006 on developing organic “soft machines” based on inflatable components. Designed and built at increasingly large scales, these ephemeral bodies, either freestanding or suspended in mid-air, use air pressure/vacuum to inflate and deflate through various states of articulation. They exhibit the phenomena of gradual metamorphosis, growth, decay, and interaction.
Since 1991, over 60 crew-members from ten countries have participated in creating ARW’s robotic sculptures and installations. Without the help of their talented and hardworking collaborators the complex, large-scale endeavors of Amorphic Robot Works would not be possible. ARW would also like to thank the many interns from academic institutions, and those at-large, who have made lasting contributions, or who have remained involved.
MacMurtrie/ARW’s works have been presented in major museums and cultural institutions around the world including the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC), Beijing; Hayward Gallery, London; Museo de la Reina Sofia, Madrid; Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Paris; Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC), Mexico City; Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY; Shanghai Biennale; Tri Postal, Lille, (retrospective exhibition), Muffatwerk, Munich (Pneuma World); Ex-Dogana, Rome, and ZHI Art Museum, Chengdu.
Border Crossers comprise a series of lightweight robotic sculptures that poetically explore the notion of borders and boundary conditions. The inflatable sculptures rise up to several stories high and extend across a given threshold. Their choreographed performance, originating on both sides of the border, would stage a symbolic connection. The project treats the border as a physical condition that can be temporarily transcended by technological proxies. It offers a critique of militarized geopolitical borders, and a metaphorical suspension of those borders in the form of temporary arches.
Border Crossers invites the public to rethink the notion of borders in a globalized world. Technology currently helps to overcome cultural and economic borders, but is also frequently used to maintain and reinforce physical borders. This project envisions technology as a positive tool to establish dialogues beyond borders, to question borders, and to create a symbolic suspension and transcendence of borders. Their actions allude to the equality of humanity against a backdrop of tensions and conflicts over national and cultural identity. This “gesture” could reinforce the hope for peace in location where reconciliation is thought to be impossible.
The Border Crossers project has received significant financial support from
MacMurtrie was invited to conduct a Border Crosser building workshop as a visiting professor and artist in residency at the U-M Institute for the Humanities in 2018 and at the University of Applied Arts (Angewandte) in Vienna in 2018/2019.