Transmission in Motion

Thursday 23rd May – Opening Keynote Lectures

“Robots and dream machines – on the question of robots and transformation in contemporary performance” – Peter Eckersall (CUNY)

Dream Machines (2017), by the literary scholar Steven Connor, explores how the existence of machines throughout the ages make visible the material dimensions of the imagination.  The machine, he writes, ‘is, in fact, an apparatus for making manifest, for exposition’ (2017: 150). Dream machines are connected to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘desiring-machines’, thus, making for ‘any kinds of conjunction which enable some kind of flow’ (Connor 2017: 74). Dream machines are both material things and crucibles for the uncanny, they are transforming in and of the world around them.  While my lecture won’t dwell on ‘psychotechnographies’ of the machine, as does Connor, I take from him the idea of the ambiguity of the machine and I focus on its materiality and investment in the imagination.

To explore this further, I will consider robotic machines in theatrical performances.  First, I will discuss the Japanese playwright and director Hirata Oriza’s robot theatre (andoroido gekijô) and his play Sayonara that ends with the ‘geminoid F’ android being re-tasked to perform the role of a Buddhist priest and go into the radiation exclusion zone around the failed Fukushima nuclear reactor to say prayers for the dead.  I will further explore work on robotics in Japan by the performance scholar Yuji Sone, who shows how androids are a bridge to the soul and are representative of a new expression of transhumanism. In contrast to this, I discuss Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s use of an animatronic figure in his installation performance The Mysterious Lai Teck. The oversized android here is like a cipher, manifesting the unsteady identity of the actual political figure from Malaysian history named Lai Teck.  Finally, I will take a lateral view of robots in performance and consider the use of figures and machines as performative agents. In discussing recent works by artists such as Okada Toshiki and Kris Verdonck, we see how these agents take on a dramaturgical function that replaces the textual narrative and become transforming presences in their own right.


  • Steven Connor, Dream Machines, Open Humanities Press, 2017.

Peter Eckersall is Professor of Theatre Studies in the Ph.D. Program in Theatre and Performance at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. His research interests include Japanese performance, dramaturgy and theatre, and politics. His recent publications include: The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Politics, co-edited with Helena Grehan (Routledge, 2019), New Media Dramaturgy: Performance, Media and New-materialism, co-authored with Helena Grehan and Ed Scheer, (Palgrave 2017) and Performativity and Event in 1960s Japan: City, Body, Memory (Palgrave 2013).  He has worked as a dramaturg for more than 30 years and is the co-founder of the Not Yet It’s Difficult performance group, based in Melbourne.

“Soon in Theaters Near You: Bots Like You” – Peter van der Putten & Maarten H. Lamers (Media Technology, Leiden University)

Already in the first century, CE Heron of Alexandria described, in vivid detail, fully robotic and programmable plays. Throughout the following centuries automatons have been used to impress audiences with spectacle and miracle, and in the early 20th century robots in R.U.R. and Metropolis were scaring the public with nightmarish futures.

But how much more mileage will we get out of even more spectacle or dystopia? In this talk we go back to what underlies our fascination for robots: robots are mirror images of ourselves. We will discuss not just intelligent robots, but also emotional robots, creative robots, or even curious, helpless, failing or religious robots – to learn from the robots what makes us human.

Peter van der Putten is a part-time researcher at LIACS. His background is in artificial intelligence and he is particularly interested in how intelligence can evolve through learning, in man or machines. Peter has an MSc in Cognitive Artificial Intelligence from Utrecht University and a Ph.D. in data mining from Leiden University and combines academic research with applying these technologies in business.  He teaches  New Media New Technology ( 2011,  2012,  2013,  2014,  2015) and supervises MSc thesis projects.

Maarten H. Lamers is an assistant professor within Leiden University s computer science institute (LIACS). He is a member of their Media Technology MSc program’s executive committee and lecture in the same program. His research is cross-disciplinary, combining computer science with other interests. For his Ph.D. diploma (Leiden University, 2001) he applied neural network techniques to data analysis problems in environmental epidemiology at the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Outside the university’s walls, he co-founded the LaserMaxx laser game brand, a major brand of laser games worldwide, for which he still designs game technology. Through this work, he was a technical game producer for national TV-show “Wie is de Mol?” (2000-2014).