5. The Robotic Church
Truly a secret gem, there’s nothing at street level to suggest that there’s an incredible site-specific installation and workshop inside this former Norwegian Seamans Church in Red Hook. Metal gates are perpetually rolled down on this brick building that dates to the 1880s. Only a doorbell next to the locked alley door gives some clue: it says “Amorphic Robotic Works”.
The Robotic Church is open for performances a few times a year – the rest of the time it functions as the workshop for Amorphic Robotic Works, a collective of artists, engineers, technicians and programmers founded by Chico MacMurtie in 1991. MacMurtie is acclaimed for his large-scale, kinetic sculptures and was most recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for the construction of inflatable bridges that can reach across the United States-Mexico border.
While inflatables are the evolution of MacMurtie’s exploration in kinetic mechanical movement, the pneumatic robots are the origin. In the Robotic Church, fifty “humanoid performers” are positioned throughout the former church nave. There’s a control tower up top, through which MacMurtie can lead the performance. A clocking mechanism sets the timing of the performance (usually between 40 and 60 minutes) and the robots communicate through rhythm using body language and sound.
The robots range in size from 12 inches to 15 feet. They’re located on multiple levels of the church, a deliberate reference to the placement of religious saints in a chapel. One robot, attached to a rope, is imbued with the objective to reach the top. Guests sit on wooden benches, “as if coming to church,” MacMurtie describes.
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