Translator II: Grower is a small ‘rover’ vehicle which navigates around the periphery of a room. It hugs the room’s walls and responds to the carbon dioxide levels in the air by actually drawing varying heights of ‘grass’ on the walls in green ink. The Grower robot senses the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the air via a small digital CO2 sensor. This sensor is mounted high on a wall of the exhibition space and sends data wirelessly to the robot. The number of people in an exhibit space breathing in oxygen and exhaling CO2 has an immediate effect on the sensor. My robot takes a reading of the CO2 level every few seconds and in response it draws a vertical line in green ink on the wall. The line height pertains directly to the level of CO2 (and therefore also the people traffic) in the space. The more CO2, the higher the line is drawn – the maximum height being 1ft. Once Grower completes a line, it moves forward several millimeters and repeats the process. By the end of an exhibition, the bases of all the walls in the space are covered with fine green lines which together resemble a cross-section of a field of grass.

The metaphoric relation is that grass needs CO2 in nature to grow. Here, my simulated grass needs the breath of human visitors in order to thrive. The height of the ‘grass’ directly reflects on the human activity or traffic in the space. The more people that visit that space, the more amenable that space is to my machine’s ability to create. The relationship between Translator II: Grower, the space, and the public becomes a cross-metabolic one. This piece makes visible how art institutions depend on their visitors to make them ‘healthy’ spaces for new art to evolve and flourish within.

My machine’s grass growing is a dynamic, emergent behavior in which humans participate involuntarily. This behavior allows the Grower to ‘nest’ the space – meaning, make the space into one where you find evidence of natural, organic change. The drawings of grass are not organic in a strict sense, but they may be read cognitively the way we read plants or gardens outside. Is the grass thriving? Has there been much activity? Watching the artistic output of a machine that is so sensitive to its environment makes the people in the space more sensitive their environment and its conditions. The grower also provides a memory through it’s drawings of those conditions.

My research as an artist focuses on making explicit the interdependent relationships of human to machine as vital entity to vital entity. Grower offers a model where both machines and humans effect each other by their involuntary cooperation. It is a model where human and machine behaviors interact in a mutually informative and dynamic manner.

Dimensions: 2’h x 2’w x 17”d

Materials: custom robotics, sensors, and ink drawing

This project was made possible from a grant from the Creative Capital foundation in NYC and a Faculty Development Award from Columbia College, Chicago.

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