Bill Vorn and Simon Penny
Bedlam is a robotic installation project that intends to question, reformulate and subvert notions of autonomy, mobility and personality that normally characterize agents and creatures of artificial life. A first collaboration between artists Bill Vorn and Simon Penny, Bedlam exists in three distinct spaces simultaneously: two physically distant spaces (one in Portsmouth, England, and one in Montreal, Quebec, Canada) and a third in a virtual realm (in the mathematical space of the computer and the computer network). In each space, visitors are confronted with a robotic creature itself imitating the structure of the installation: its body is divided into two physical sections (legs and a robotic torso) and one intangible section (a virtual head). Information is exchanged between the parts of the robotic entities and between the three installation sites.
Angela Plohman © 2001 FDL
As the visitors enter one of the physical spaces, the robots react to the new presence. For example, visitors in space A influence the robot's legs in space A but also the robot's torso in space B. And vice versa: visitors in space B influence the robot's torso in space B but also the robot's legs in space A. The virtual head, projected on a video screen in each physical location, serves as more of an autonomous agent, reacting sometimes to the activities in space A and sometimes to space B. The artists have likened the robots' behaviour to multiple personality disorder. All data will be transmitted via the Internet. The artists have decided to create a Web site for the project where observers can witness the activities in the installation sites. Additionally, visitors to the virtual space can influence certain parameters that define the conduct of the virtual head.
For visitors, the interaction is much more complex than if they were relating to one robot in one space. The multiplicity of the installation sites and the complexity of the robots' reactions offer a unique encounter with intelligent machines, raising issues about perceived notions of robot behaviour and audience interaction.