African Robots is a project by South African artist and researcher Ralph Borland to create interactive electronic street art. ‘Street art’ in this instance means art sold by people on the street, in South Africa and Zimbabwe – usually forms of handicraft using inexpensive materials like fencing and electrical wire, beads and waste wood, plastic and metal. The project focuses particularly on wire work, where artists make three dimensional forms from wire, using a cheap material to create complex results. Basic electronic components can with the necessary know-how also be used as cheap material for creating interactive sculptures.
For this presentation, Ralph Borland tells the story of the project to date, from buying cheap Chinese electronic toys in urban markets in Sao Paulo and hacking them into wire work toys for the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe, to designing custom electronics to activate the ideas of wire work artists on the streets of Cape Town. Ralph describes the ideas informing the project, which seeks to recover basic principles of mechanics and computing: from identifying topological ethnomathematics in the approach wire workers take to creating forms, to looking at the history of automotons - taking in figures such as Al Jazari, the 12th century Islamic inventor whose work is thought to have influenced Leonardo da Vinci.
This event was hosted by Professor Linda Doyle, Director of CONNECT / CTVR and Professor of Engineering and the Arts at Trinity College.