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.
African Robots is a project that functions at many levels: as a social development project, sharing skills with street artists; as an art project, leading to new works; as a critical design study that imagines alternative futures through fictional artefacts; and as an exercise in friendship and skill-sharing to catalyse innovation. The project will be on exhibition at MachinesRoom, a British Council Maker Library space in London, from 13 August – 3 September 2015.
For this presentation, Ralph Borland will tell the story of the project so far, 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. He’ll describe 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 will be hosted by Professor Linda Doyle, Director of CONNECT / CTVR and Professor of Engineering and the Arts at Trinity College.
Ralph Borland is an artist, designer and curator, and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His current research project is ‘Global Arenas’, an investigation of Southern contributions to global knowledge. He has curated exhibitions including SURFACE TENSION: THE FUTURE OF WATER at Science Gallery Dublin in 2011 and is working on ‘DIY – an exhibition of South African art, design and ingenuity’. He is part-owner of a cooperative brewery and bar in Cape Town.
African Robots is supported by the SA-UK Seasons programme, a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa, and the British Council. Additional support by Pro Helvetia’s Southern African Ant Funding programme and in Ireland through the generous support of CONNECT.