Since 1992, Chico MacMurtrie and Amorphic Robot Works have conceived and created more than 250 abstract or anthropomorphic mechanical sculptures. Skeletal Reflections is part of the latter category. Closer to the human form than most of the previous sculptures, Skeletal Reflections represents the human body stripped of its skin and its flesh, but whose skeleton is covered by a network of cables and tubes. The foundation supported the conception and creation of the sculpture's interactive components.
Jacques Perron © 2004 FDL
Drawing both on considerations that are proper to sculptural practices and cutting-edge technological research, Skeletal Reflections is an autonomous and interactive humanoid robot. Made of aluminum, it not only imitates the form of the human skeleton but also its function. The spinal column is made up of plastic elements that function as substitutes of the disks and vertebrae, and which offer a support and a flexibility similar to the human spinal column. The musculature is made up of computer controlled pneumatic valves. The "muscles" are covered by a layer of "veins" that transmit the electrical current and data required to animate the robot. The head of the robot is equipped with a device that allows it to look from side to side. Fourteen independent motors integrated in the head enable the humanoid to express facial expressions. Equipped with motion sensors and a system that allows it to make interpretations, it reacts to your presence by imitating you, but only if you strike a classical posture, such as Rodin's thinker for instance. Two cameras hooked up to two computers are pointed towards the viewer and record and analyze his/her posture and compare it to images stored in a database that contains classical poses from art history. If the captured image matches one of these historical references the humanoid gently executes a sequence of movements until the posture is imitated.
According to MacMurtrie, the underlying intention of Skeletal Reflections is to make the public aware of the importance of body language. From humankind's first appearance to today this language has played a key role in human communication. The artist set out to meet the challenge of constructing a robot that is endowed with dexterity and reacts to the presence of others. It is the analogy between the communicative functions of body language and the repertory of human gestures with which stories are told in artistic representation that inspired him to take art history into account. Furthermore, since these are well-known images that are often evocative they are likely to appeal to a wide audience.
Skeletal Reflections made its public premier in October 2002 during the Digital Crossover Media and Art Festival in Munich, Germany. Afterwards, it was presented in 2003 at two festivals in France, EXIT in Créteil and VIA in Maubeuge. A more refined version saw the light of day in July 2003 during the ROBOT exhibition and conference held at Eyebeam in New York. From December 2003 to March 2004, Skeletal Reflections was part of the retrospective dedicated to Amorphic Robot Works in the context of the Lille 2004- European City of Culture. On this occasion, and for the first time, all of the machines conceived by ARW were brought together in the same place.