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Sunday, March 22 • 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Balance-Unbalance 2015: EcoQuantum 2.0

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This exhibit is open 6:00-9:00 pm March 22-29.

Robotanic Mobile Gardens--Soybots III
Shannon McMullen & Fabian Winkler

Climate, energy, agriculture, politics: the project Robotanic Mobile Gardens – SoyBots III belongs to a series of art installations and discursive interventions, collectively focused on critical gardening strategies which demonstrate just how deeply entangled these conditions are. In the global context, soybean production is at the heart of both climate change problems and suggested solutions to food security issues. Thus, soybean plants are mobilized for their significance to global food production, their strong association with a hybridity between nature and technology —in this case as a result of biotechnological strategies for increasing crop yields through genetic modification—and vulnerability to changing climate and water conditions as a result of global warming. 

Gardens express ideas and social relations; some are sites where art and technology produce material realities, social narratives and visualize politics. In this case, mobile gardens unite code, robotics and soybean plants (robotanics) to create a speculative interactive installation that suggests questions about climate, place and agriculture implicated in contemporary practices and values. As self-pollinating organisms in combination with a light-seeking mobile robotic platform, temperature and moisture sensors, soybean plants metaphorically address the evolving interdependence between humans and cultivated crops and the underlying political nature of photosynthesis. 

These relationships are expressed through three autonomous robotic platforms, outfitted with custom planter boxes containing soybean plants, that roam interior space in search of optimal light conditions and ideal temperatures while monitoring soil moisture to promote plant growth in local conditions. To identify optimal light conditions, the robot host employs a phototropic control strategy, using sensors to track and follow sunlight intensity or to locate LED grow lights. Moisture sensors connected to an Arduino microcontroller trigger a flashing yellow light when moisture levels are too low, prompting humans to attend to the plants. Finally, temperature sensors are similarly used to allow the soybeans to indicate their need for increased or decreased warmth. ‘Shivering’ indicates a need for higher temperatures. In contrast, the robot will seek dimmer locations when it is too warm. With SoyBots III, soybeans become an ‘evocative object’ (Turkle, 2011) – something that can provoke reflection, speculation and attract emotion.  


Fabian Winkler

Fabian Winkler is an artist working at the intersections of the moving image, sound, spatial structures and robotics. He explores the aesthetic potential and the cultural implications of seemingly well-known artifacts through the use of new technologies. Conceptually, his works are... Read More →

Shannon McMullen

Shannon McMullen is a jointly appointed Assistant Professor in the Electronic and Time-Based Art Program in the School of Visual and Performing Arts and in American Studies at Purdue University. She received a PhD in sociology from the University of California, San Diego, in 2007. Based... Read More →

Sunday March 22, 2015 6:00pm - 9:00pm MST
Grant Street Atrium 605 E. Grant St. Phoenix, AZ 85004