ARTIST: Christopher O'Dowd
TITLE: Untitled
MATERIALS: Terrarium, motion sensors, solar-powered BEAMs robots
DIMENSIONS: 48" x 20" x 5'6"
DATE: 2005

This piece consists of a terrarium containing solar powered BEAMs robots of varying shapes, sizes, and constructions. The solar power is provided by two halogen light bulbs powered with electricity from two standard electrical outlets and activated by motion detectors. Through the use of motion detectors the piece will be interactive and invite audience participation: while the terrarium is staged to look normal and the viewer expects a pet lizard or other reptile, as they approach they are instead confronted with BEAMs robots that gradually come to life. BEAM is an acronym for Biological Artistic Electrical Mechanical robots, electrical non-computerized machines that operate in a mathematically chaotic manner. Unique in their movements and interactions with the others in the space, the robots will form their own microcosm. While they each have solar cells and a circuit board that informs their individual goals and methods of movement, they form a collective ecosystem. This glass contained ecosystem is illustrative of the larger world: though individuals are independent, people are still affected by the action, in this case the movement, of others. The piece's meaning is made clear in its visual elements. Beyond the ecosystem that the individual robots create as a collective, the use of the terrarium is quintessential. Spiders, bugs, lizards and other reptiles are the typical inhabitants of this kind of enclosed ecosystem. As spectators approach, they see what appears to be "real", but as the lights are triggered by the motion sensor, they are forced to look closer at something often considered mundane. This piece can be seen as an attempt to challenge the definition of "real" by placing robots, inanimate without electricity, in an environment inhabited by living creatures.

Christopher O'Dowd is currently a junior at the Center School in Seattle, Washington. He had an early fascination with electricity after experiencing first hand the shocking effects of electrical sockets on the human body as he attempted to examine the source of their power. Robots had a specific draw because of their complexity and the opportunities they provided for problem solving and for the development of a deep appreciation of patience. As he mastered the technical understanding and skill to create functional machines, he realized that the same complexity that he observed in the circuitry of Spyder2 (a 9 motor walking robot) could be applied in an artistic sense to BEAMs robots. His robot building took on new meaning as he realized that his attempts to draw attention to out of the ordinary objects could serve as a kind of activism. By juxtaposing robots with banal environments and locations, he seeks to draw attention to the processes that individuals use to understand the underlying order in the world around them.

Christopher O'Dowd can be contacted c/o Patrick O'Dowd
patdowd AT