Last September i posted on Instagram about BRIA's brilliant project Slave/Master for the London Design Festival and the Digital Design Weekend at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The work of BRIA continues and their project lives on, as well as what lies behind this project being important for us all to think about and contemplate.
BRIA's project SLAVE/MASTER is about showcasing that robots are not necessarily the evil machine that have been portrayed in the movies and about changing our perceptions that a future with robots may be bleak. It also seeks to explore the interaction between human and robot and the concept of "borders".
This concept, the costumes and production for this project were devised by Brooke and Moin Roberts-Islam of BRIA.
Moin Roberts-Islam states: "if we take a look at the world around us now, and the machines working alongside humans, we see a very different picture. Medical robots are used to carry out complex and intricate surgical procedures, massively increasing success rates and minimising the number of associated complications. Cars, home appliances and even garments, in some cases, are being manufactured by large automated facilities staffed by robots. Exploration of the far-ﬂung reaches of space and of the depths of the Earth’s oceans is now possible due to robots acting as proxies for human explorers, sending back invaluable data which allows us to learn more about the world and universe around us."
From this foundation of ideas, the team set out through their work to bring about an understanding of what being around robots could mean.
"Our installation uses collaborative robots, sometimes referred to as cobots, which are able to work alongside human co-workers and can interact with them safely in a common working environment. Having these robots on stage alongside human dancers for our installation demonstrates to the audience that we can co-exist safely within the same environment, and also that it is even possible for us to have a larger effect on the functions and abilities of robots than they might conversely have on us." explains Moin Roberts-Islam.
The sensation and emotions felt watching the show are difficult to describe, but i have to say, i did tear up. The Dramatic movements of the beautiful and enigmatic dancers from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre and the incredible visual strength of the robots and visual effects with special algorithms done in collaboration with Holition projected in the room of the Raphael Cartoons at the V&A with the powerful enigmatic music by Rupert Cross were sensational to not only watch and hear, but feel the energy.
I couldn't believe that i felt empathy towards a robot, and towards the relationship these robots were having with the dancers and with the music.
The fusion of art, fashion, society with technology will eventually become the norm. However we are, and society still is getting used to this relationship.
Many of us are curious yet cautious of what is to come in regards to robots and our living and working conditions. These tender moments towards technology created and programmed in the project SLAVE/MASTER were a powerful experience and from what i could see when i was there, left an audience in awe towards the beautifully choreographed interaction.
The following provided by BRIA for their show, explains in detail what was on display:
"The piece begins with two pairs of robotic arms on separate stages within the hall, each working harmoniously to carry out a collaborative task. As the robot arms continue to work in a calm and regular manner, evolving graphics are projected onto a large disk, close to ceiling-height, at one end of the hall. These graphics reinforce the speed and fluidity of the movement of the robot arms, projecting serene shapes and colours.
Two dancers then emerge, moving around and between the pairs of robot arms, exploring the space around them, eventually invading the robots’ working space and interfering with their task. The robots move to avoid the human aggressors, recoiling and becoming more sudden in their movements, whilst trying to continue with their collaborative task. As the back-and-forth continues with the dancers antagonising and the robots avoiding, the projection graphics reflect this “emotional response” from the robots, becoming more jagged and frantic, providing a reflection of the “mental state” of the robot arms. As the robots become upset by the dancers’ interference, the music and the graphics portray this to the audience, allowing them to empathise with the plight of the machines.
The dancers’ costumes are fitted with sensors on their limbs which will also feed data to the computer controlling the projections, so that the speed of their movements will also have an impact on the patterns being projected onto the backdrop. In this way, the visual presentation of the piece is a true ‘collaboration' between the robots and the human performers."
Roberts-Islam elaborates that "By working with leading experts from KUKA Robotics UK, Adelphi Automation and SCM Handling and using software from Autodesk, we were able to program our robotic performers to act and re-act in response to the movements of the human dancers on stage with them, all the while maintaining a safe space for all of them to perform in.
The musical score, from composer Rupert Cross, builds slowly through stages of curiosity and exploration, as our human dancers/choreographers, from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre, move around the performance area, sizing up their robotic counterparts, building and developing to a state of urgency and panic as the humans antagonise and invade the space of the robots, causing them to recoil and avoid in a bid to keep their human peers safe from the recklessness of their own actions.
The performance also uses evolving projected graphics as a window into the “souls” of these robots, with bespoke algorithms and projections from our collaborators, creative digital agency Holition. Using data from the movement and urgency of the robot performers, evolving 3D shapes are formed, with overlaid silhouettes representing memories of past interactions with humans, to portray the robots’ “mood” to the audience via changes in speed, magnitude, texture and colour, ranging from calmly ordered images to more frantic violent forms at the height of the robots’ discomfort. The images are projected onto a screen emerging from an orderly clinical structure, used to represent the robots’ medium of expression to the human audience."
After the show i spoke to Brooke co-founder of BRIA about Slave/Master, she relayed to me the agency's journey in achieving this project as well as the agency's other work with sustainable textiles, fusing fashion and technology to create textiles for the future of the fashion industry and looking at recycling. So watch this space!
Though there is still so much to learn, know and regulate around technology and robots, art can be a really good tool to ease us into the future and create an atmosphere of harmony rather than destruction.
I would urge you all to tap on the video links below and watch the grace and elegance of SLAVE/MASTER where art, dance and music meets technology and innovation!
Also Scroll down for photos of SLAVE/MASTER at the Victoria and Albert Museum
KUKA Robotics UK (Robot partner and sponsor)
Holition (Projection graphics led by real-time data)
Autodesk (Software partner and sponsor)
London Contemporary Ballet Theatre (Choreography and dance partners)
Adelphi Automation (Robot engineering, support and sponsorship)
SCM Handling (Robot engineering, support and sponsorship)
Rupert Cross (Composer)
With support from Plexal (Rehearsal space)
Supported by Arts Council England