Machines are running the gallery

9 June 2016

Four Finger Fandango, opening at Toi Pōneke in July, is the debut exhibition of Wellington artist James Gilbert-Milne. Supported by Wellington Emerging Artists’ Trust, Four Finger Fandango questions the everyday invisibility of machines and elevates mechanical process to a performance.

Artist James Gilbert-Milne in his workshop

The machine that gives its name to the exhibition uses robotics to replicate the role of a desktop printer, but while a printer produces images almost instantly, Four Finger Fandango slows the process down, giving the audience an opportunity to contemplate every deliberate drop of ink.

Accompanied by the gentle whir of motors and gears, four robotic limbs work in concert to create images. Each limb combines recycled rimu with steel, aluminium and electronics guided by simple microcontrollers.

While completing a Bachelor of Design Innovation at Victoria University School of Design, James was first introduced to 3d printers. Ever since, he has been fascinated by the potential of things that make things.

“Our world is populated with amazing technology, extraordinary devices brought to life by excited electrons swarming through copper, gold and silicon, says James.

Every year, next-generation devices are crafted with faster processers, more features, and promises of a better lifestyle. Rarely do we pause to appreciate all the processes that occur to deliver the anticipated outcomes”.

His fascination has also led to involvement with the League of Makers, participation in the Wellington Makertorium, and a research internship exploring the use of robots within a chemistry lab to create bone implants. 

James credits raw enthusiasm and naivety for his ability to overcome a lack of knowledge of integrated systems, software creation and basic principles of mechanical design. So should we be worried about robots becoming sentient?

“Certainly not, says James – at least not the Four Finger Fandango, the most it will be able to achieve is to slowly, menacingly craft threatening messages”.