Robotic Ritual – Job Santé
The third session of the Transmission in Motion seminar was centred around the topic of “robotic imaginaries”. During the presentations that took part in the session, one project stood out for me, namely the NAO: Re-wired project by the Ulrike Quade Company. Within this project, a so-called NAO robot was deconstructed and rewired in order to research how such a robot works. This eventually led to the development of a performance in which the deconstructed body of the NAO robot was placed at the centre of a ritual.
The ritual took place in a small theatre room at De Brakke Grond. It consisted of the NAO robot, a person guiding the ritual, a person controlling the technical aspects of the ritual (this was a robotic ritual after all) and a person providing the music that informed the ritual. During the ritual, several participants were connected to the NAO robot utilizing heart monitors that transferred an electronic signal based on the participant’s heartbeat to a body part of the NAO robot. This signal in turn made the robotic limbs move, making it so that the participants together brought the NAO robot “back to life”.
It is this part of creating a form of togetherness in connecting with the robot that I find very fascinating. Not only raises awareness about how robotic movement and behaviour are shaped by multiple people but it also shows that robots have the ability to connect people. I think that the ritual of NAO: Rewired shows that in connecting humans through a robot in form of ritual, light can be shed upon the relationship between human and technological consciousness.
In bringing together individual bio-sensorial information (that of the heartbeat) and using that to inform the motions of the robot NAO: Rewired creates a sense of shared consciousness that is created within the robot. Bringing together people through the motions of the NAO robot to me personally had something of a meditative, ritualistic atmosphere. I had the idea it brought me closer to the people that I shared the room with. The NAO robot gives an embodiment to the heartbeats of the people, it creates meaning for the coming together, they are not simply visualised but shape movement and perhaps even purpose.
The robot ritual illustrates how datafications of human experience (in this case their heartbeats) can be used to shape robotic motions. It creates the possibility of thinking about what robotic consciousness might look like. If a ritual consisting of multiple people can control one singular robot, then can a robot consciousness not consist of multiple individuals as well? Are robotic motions informed by a singular expression or are they the work of many?
 ‘Innovatie – Ulrike Quade Company’, accessed 22 December 2022, https://www.ulrikequade.nl/innovatie/.
‘Innovatie – Ulrike Quade Company’. Accessed 22 December 2022. https://www.ulrikequade.nl/innovatie/.
Figure 1 : Ulrike Quade Company, 2022, NAO: Rewired.