photo: Peter Cox
Walking the dog. 2017
The robot is a ‘replica’ of a military robot that the company Boston Dynamics was developing, commissioned by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in the United States. On the battlefield the robot must follow a soldier like a faithful dog in order to, for example, transport equipment over terrain that is impassable for vehicles.
The robot dog is robust and intimidating, but also cuddly – in the way he is theatrically placed against a palm tree. For the artist, this Big Dog robot is an iconographic object that carries many (visible and invisible) military technological innovations within itself. His version is consciously placed in a somewhat clumsy entertainment situation. A placement that is consistent with the jolly movies that Boston Dynamics puts on Youtube in commendation of the capabilities of their machines, such as three robotic dogs that, to the tune of Jingle Bells, pull a Christmas sleigh past the Boston Dynamics head office. Representation is essential in this performative re-enactment. Consumers are faced with the physical reality of a military machine, modelled and named ‘man’s best friend’. At the same time, they are seduced by the innocent way the robot dog is offered to them as a new gadget. A spectacular, cute, funny or interesting innovation without defining the actual goal, let alone going into the dark side of these developments. This form of representation, described by Baudrillard as “Disneyfication” might in the current era be even better served by the term “Gamification”. The shift from Disney to the “first-person shooter” blends violence, entertainment, humour and spectacle in such a way that the line between reality and fiction is hard to find. The two mutually influence each other.