Stelarc at InterAccess (401 Richmond West, #444) to April 3. 416-599-7206. Rating: NNN
sumo robot challenge at the Ontario Science Centre (770 Don Mills), Saturday, March 22. Rating: NNN
Technology is fascinating, isn't it? It allows us to pummel each other while avoiding direct contact.Australian performance artist Stelarc has embraced technology while at the same time making it seem frightening and alien. He rose to fame -- literally -- by piercing his body with steel hooks and hanging himself above things. Prosthetics then entered the picture as he crafted another ear for himself and a somewhat functional third arm.
Now he has transcended the physical world by creating a Prosthetic Head that runs on Windows XP.
Stelarc initiated the project so he wouldn't have to field so many questions from reporters and students. The head can take care of that sort of stuff, freeing him up to spend more time hanging from hooks.
Projected on the wall at InterAccess, Stelarc's head is incredibly realistic. It's eyebrows rise and fall. The mouth moves. There's almost a glimmer of life in its eyes.
A podium stands before the image, and on it is a computer keyboard and mouse. You can move Stelarc's head around with the mouse and converse using the keyboard. Chatting with the large head is almost like having a very limited discussion with a real, albeit odd and evasive, person:
Me: You're confusing me.
Stelarc's head: That was not my intention.
Me: What was your intention?
Stelarc's head: Are you asking me what my intention was?
Stelarc's head: I don't want to talk about that right now. If you could have any kind of robot, what would it be?
Me: A sumo.
Stelarc's head: I don't know what that means.
Last Saturday, OCAD held its 12th annual Sumo Robot Challenge at the Ontario Science Centre. Designers of all ages from across the city brought out remote-controlled robots to try to take home the $100 bounty by beating the parts off other robots. While Stelarc replaces his head and mind, these bruising metal machines -- made to bash, smash and crash -- stand in for their designers' bodies.
The Sumo Classic robots are the big ones, and tend to be massive remote-controlled monoliths. Participants attempt to push one another's robots out of the 6-foot-diameter circle, with no risk to themselves aside from a 180-pound robot potentially falling on their foot.
The Clever class of robots tackled each other around a central pole. The Autonomous class used light sensors to eventually find each other and fight.
But the most interesting competitors were the Lightweight robots designed by the younger competitors. While innovative designs like the Doorstop On Wheels and Bananas Eating Cows black box put up a good fight, a design based on the solidity of the equilateral triangle -- the Flipmaster -- plowed through to take on last year's champion, Mostly Harmless, in the final. The upstart prevailed. The crowd roared.
It was a playful environment, but I was reminded of the slightly disturbing undertone of the event when a child turned to his mother during one of the many delays between fights and asked, "When is the war going to begin?"email@example.com