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Updated: November 22, 2023

Robotic performance art refers to the presentation of theatrical performances in which most, if not all, of the "action" is executed by robots rather than by people. An early robotic artist was Edward Ihnatowicz, whose creation, the Senster, was exhibited in the Netherlands from 1970 to 1974. It employed sensors and hydraulics which reacted to the sound and movements of the people nearby. Shows of this sort are sometimes large and elaborate productions. The Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely ( 19251991 ) created kinetic sculptures usually made from industrial junk. They were hallucinatory and fabulous machines which performed unpredictably until they inevitably met a tragic fate, which was often to self-destruct. His "Homage to New York", a 23-foot-high ( 7.0 m ) and 27-foot-long ( 8.2 m ) mechanism made of dismantled bikes and musical instruments, among other things, was displayed in 1960 in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it dramatically caught fire and self-destructed before a crowd of onlookers.

Due in part to the many variables and complications associated with the production of performances of this kind, they have historically been just as likely to be "underground" affairs as officially sanctioned events. San Francisco's Survival Research Laboratories is considered to be the pioneer of the "spectacle" form of underground robotic art. Two San Francisco-based performance ensembles, Frank Garvey's "Omnicircus" and Chico MacMurtrie's "Amorphic Robot Works", were among the first expressions of integrated robotic music-theatrical performance, with human actors, dancers and musicians joining the mechanical performers. The robotic ensemble of the "OmniCircus" is a robot red-light district, a life-sized troupe of mechanical beggars, hookers, junkies and street-preachers who appear in OmniCircus stage shows and movies and engage in cyborg guerilla theater on the city streets. The San Francisco Bay Area has been the home and/or origin of many other mechanical performance ensembles and artists, including Ken Rinaldo's large scale robotic art installations, Matt Heckert's Mechanical Sound Orchestra, Kal Spelletich Seemen, Carl Pisaturo, and Alan Rath, making the SF Bay Area a nexus of robotic art.

David Karave's robotics and fire artwork, Home Automation, is an animatronic theatre performance, with themes of propaganda and peace. This robotic artwork was created over 3 years, by more than 30 artists in the USA and Canada. The project has toured across the United States, and was shown at the Tennessee Bonnaroo festival with The Art of Such N Such. In 'Home Automation' a family of lifesize aluminum animatronic crash test dummies musically self-destruct, as they watch color code threat alerts on their projected home TV. The robot family's heads finally ignite into circuit-breaking flames.

The German artist group RobotLab works with industrial KUKA robots in public spaces. It explores the relationship between machine and human by means of installations and performances. One of the group's installations is "Juke Bots", in which two robot arms create music by manipulating records on a turntable.

Captured! by Robots is a touring band led by Jay Vance, along with several animatronic bandmates.Vance's music-making robots were created via pneumatic actuation and 3 integrated computer systems. The ultimate goal, Vance states "is to create a live experience that blurs the line between the audience and his hard-rockin', sailor-talkin' automatons".

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