EMAP residency 2018

EMAP residency programme 2018 hosting Adam Donovan and Katrin Hochschuh strives to contribute significantly to conditions and resources needed for the artistic production of their Empathy Swarm project. It emphasizes the much necessary cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary aspects of their artistic work, offering at the same time the possibility for an intensive and focused artistic research during the residency period. The residency follows EMAP’s principles of high mobility and connects the cultural sector with economies (business sector, creative industries, IT and STEM sectors). It also contributes to the international significance of contemporary artistic practices engaging local communities and new audiences, and merging productively and creatively diverse areas of knowledge.

Empathy Swarm project

Empathy Swarm is a 2-year project building upon consequences of what defines the demographic cohorts of our current society that has not fully come to light yet. It questions the impact of a generation of the Millennials that grew up with computers, the internet and mobile phones, and Post-Millennials with smartphones, social media, and online services. It addresses our constant provision of information to Big Data collections and continuous looking at pre-sorted results of Machine Learning algorithms in our everyday lives. It seems that the ease of using our devices makes us blind to the psychological effects they have on us and the social, economic and political dangers of misuse they pose on society.

Donovan and Hochschuh choose to work with non-anthropomorphic robots to create an antithesis or extension to humanoid robots like famous “Sophia” and to show that behaviour alone is able to produce a feeling of empathy and compassion. In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel already demonstrated with a simple animated film how easy it is for the observer’s brain to associate emotional attachment to inanimate objects and how our human brain is hard-wired for compassion. Building upon these findings, the artists transplant it from a digital to a physical environment by creating a swarm of robots that as a whole can adapt its behaviour and interact with the observer’s emotional feedback.

Empathy Swarm is a project that hints at the characterizing aspects of the next future generation and tries to act as a preventative medicine for a dystopian future. As an algorithm is a process hidden from the eye of the common user who just sees the result and a tailored interface, the proposed project offers a physical embodiment of the algorithm in the form of 10 autonomous robots that act like an interface or screen for the interacting observer and creates a feeling of the immediate response of the data we input.

Each robot is constantly filming its environment, using face tracking and emotion recognition as a sensory input to inform its behaviour as an individual as well as a part of the group of robots. A top-down projection onto the robots is at the same time a tool for calibrating and testing robot movements and animations as well as a visual element that puts the focus on the scene and gives the idea of the robots emerging from the ground and changing their environment. The projection gives an idea of how the robots perceive their surroundings, while the human observer experiences the decisions they make and the rules they follow through the light projected onto them and their direct physical presence.

In a very simplified way, an algorithm can be understood as an effective execution of a set of rules that is dependent on a data input. The questions then are: what drives the robot, how does it react to the sensory input - the human’s emotions - that it senses? For Donovan and Hochschuh, this leads to the question of robotic empathy or generally the question of an algorithm’s ability, not only to fulfil an optimization goal but to include a rule to overstep the rules in order to respond in a human and compassionate way.

The artists have already completed two swarm agent prototypes and will produce 10 more robotic agents, as well as implement an emotion recognition algorithm and develop new compassionate behaviours with the help of Zagreb's and Rijeka's community participation during the two months of residency. The robot swarm expresses itself through formations, animations, and behaviours, giving the human the feeling of a kind of living organism interacting with them.

Zagreb events

Donovan and Hochschuh will also hold a hands-on workshop Psychophysics Machines Jam Session for students of Zagreb's Academy of Fine Arts. Through workshop artists will transfer the basic knowledge of robotics, directional sound and visual control ranging from working with mechatronic systems to programming in processing and VVVV to cross-communication using an open sound control to students. Artist duo will talk about the insight into their artistic practice and participants will have the possibility to engage with 5 robots and use the tools artists usually use for a performance. This includes controlling the movements of the robots, the sound that is played and a custom-made visual mixer.

Additional activities in Zagreb include a collaboration with the Showroom of Contemporary Sound festival and our Mochvara Gallery programme. With Łukasz Szałankiewicz aka Zenial, the artists will perform their piece Saturn3 in Zagreb during the Showroom festival; this will be the first time they use the emotion system prototype live on stage as part of performance setup. The performance will be accompanied by a lecture entitled Robotics in/and music. Timetable for all events can be found here.

Katrin Hochschuh (DE)

Hochschuh has an architectural background in digital and robotic fabrication, exploring architectural geometries, algorithms, swarm simulation and interactivity. She has worked together with François Roche in his experimental practice New-Territories at the intersection of speculative architecture, experimental short movie production, and art. In that scope, the Timidity Symptom was exhibited at the Architecture Biennale Venice 2014 and she was also part of the production of a collaborative piece With with Carsten Höller, exhibited at Air de Paris, France (2013) and at Donaufestival, Krems, Austria (2013). Together with the ETH Zurich’s MAS she exhibited a prototype of a robotically fabricated pavilion at the Design Biennale Zurich and for the Museum of Digital Art, Zurich she developed a digital embroidery project.


Adam Donovan (AU/DE)

Donovan's artistic work relates to a specific field of acoustics and robotics merged with visual arts since 1996. He exhibited and presented his work all around the globe, in renowned exhibition spaces and festivals such as ISEA Dubai, WRO festival in Poland, NEXT festival in Slovakia and Museum of digital art in Zürich. As a duo Adam Donovan and Katrin Hochschuh exhibited Curious Tautophone – Tensor field Ontology as part of Experimenta Make Sense in Australia and have performed at major European Sound art festivals in Poland and Slovenia. Currently, as part of EMARE they work on Empathy Swarm which explores non-anthropomorphic swarm robot behaviour using emotion recognition reinforcement. Together they create sophisticated robotic mechanisms that play with the unobtrusive uncanny systems within us. Their works and machines invoke an otherness or timelessness that is only present in the here and now.