Fabio Carrera, Marie, Ralph Hauwert and I had the privilege of hanging out with the Six Million Dollar Dan, aka Dan Paluska, who is a hyper-talented artist and roboticist who received both his BS and Master’sDegrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT.
Totemobile is a robotic sculpture that initially appears as a life-sized representation of the culturally iconic 1965 Citroën DS automobile. In performance, this familiar figure is visually exploded, subverted and elaborated through various levels of abstraction until it reaches its final form: an organic 18-meter-tall totem pole. Upon reaching its full height, the work blooms with light, in the form of multiple organically-inspired inflatable sculptures suggesting the final maturation of an enormous biological organism. The work has just completed a three month exhibition in Citroën’s flagship showroom at 42 Champs-Élysées in Paris, where it enjoyed its world premiere in November 2007.
The Totemobile is powered by electric linear actuators controlled by an Allen-Bradley industrial control system. The machine is equipped with multiple emergency stops and four state-of-the-art industrial safety laser shields wired directly into the emergency stop system. This emergency system halts all machine movement, should a member of the audience get closer to the work than is safely advisable. Totemobile and its safety and control systems were Veritas inspected for public display in France.
The Allen-Bradley computer system keeps track of the machines’ every location by monitoring more than 100 sensors. These sensors assure each component follows a precise unfolding and regathering of all of the mechanical and sculptural elements in this 42-degree of freedom artwork during its five-and-a-half minute ascent and one-and-a-half minute descent.
The initial form of the robotic sculpture is deceptively simple, and belies the existence of nearly 50 interdependent machines of varying aesthetic and functional purpose. As the sculpture opens and rises, these metal and inflatable machines give voice to varying modes of mobile abstraction, which develop throughout the growth and final “blooming” of the full, 18-meter tall work.
As the familiar structure visually decomposes into its constituent geometric parts, each part becomes a more organic version of the original, and eventually lends its decomposing body to support the life of the new organism it harbors. This automobile’s point of natural transcendence lies in its inflatable airbags: in protecting and distancing its unforgiving synthetic body from us, the inflatable provides a point of direct contact with biological frailty. This point of contact provides the “crack”, which harbors the germ of the unassailable automobile’s biological aspirations. The Citroën becomes fertile ground, which this growing inflatable seed covertly consumes, co-opts and subverts for its own needs – the new thriving body yielding where required to insure the viability of its new-found skeleton, the comfortable and utilitarian form of the Citroën DS leaving its pedestrian servitude and stretching to achieve the organic beauty and flexibility more subtly suggested in its original architecture.