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A film by Sapphire Goss and Caroline Yan Zheng

This work explores possible human-machine relationships as emotionally intelligent machines blur the boundaries of the living, the ornamental and the companion. It consists of wearable artefacts responsive to bio-sensing and touch by interaction designer Caroline Yang Zheng, and video art documentation by Sapphire Goss interpreting the concept of uncanny extimacy, creating shifting chimerical and transgressive forms.

Soft robotics are an emerging class of “elastically soft, versatile and biologically inspired machines”, primarily made of “easily deformable materials” (Majidi, 2013). Whereas conventional robotics use a kinematic chain of rigid links that prioritise control, soft robotics allow an infinite degree of freedom in movement. Considered by robotic engineers as a disruption difficult to tame, this feature is a medium for artistic exploration on kinetic aesthetics – finally we can make mechanical objects that do not look or feel like machines!

These wearable soft robots are lifelike, sensual, and organic, negotiating a previously non-existing psychological space with unique tactile aesthetics; human yet eerily alien. They evoke sea creatures and the delicate and striking visuals of coral, moving as a tentacle; dexterous and mysterious. This uncanniness causes emotional engagement from its human spectators. The researcher exploits this to explore our possible relations with these wearable creature-like machines.

The work disrupts boundaries by confronting the ambiguity of dual identities– the robot as part of our body and “prosthetics” as an expressive or signifying system. The artifacts suggest inner lives as they move and respond to touch, simultaneously companion and adornment to the wearer. Such intimacy with the unknown provokes strong fascination, confusion, fear and affection- a probe into future wearables and our relation with intelligent machines. This is technology that gives us goosebumps: hope and fear at the same time.

See more of Sapphire’s work: http://sapphiregoss.com

“To ask pity of our body is like talking to an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the sea.” 

 – Proust

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PhD/MPhil Royal College of Art, fashion designer and researcher, soft robotics as emotive agents, responsive & adaptive behaviors,cross-disciplinary research, mountain trekker & cat lover Twitter @_caroline6868

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