2022 Interview with the LA Weekly (English): Ian Ingram's Robot Menagerie Inhabits the Beall Center
2022 Interview with Carnegie Mellon School of Art (English): 5 Questions for Ian Ingram
2022 Interview with Rocking Robots (Dutch): Robots in gesprek met de natuur
2021 Interview with the Irvine Weekly (English): Robotic Animals Prevail at UC Irvine's Beall Center
2018 Interview with Vice (Dutch): Een robotkunstenaar vond een manier om met eekhoorns te communiceren
2015 Catalogue from solo exhibition Next Animals at Nikolaj Kunsthal (PDF, English): Next Animals
2014 Article in Forskning (Norwegian): Robot skal kommunisere med dyr
2014 Article in Videnskab (Danish): Skoer robot skal kommunikere med danske dyr
I have been exploring levels of communication and understanding in and between non-human animals and human observers. Each animal, including the human, experiences the world in a different way due to the particulars of its body, its senses, its adaptive programming, and really every part of its make-up. This experiential whole has been dubbed the umwelt of a particular animal. Part of the umwelt is a sensitivity to particular signals that are meaningful to the animal, often from members of the same species. Ants are very attuned to the chemical trails of their fellows. Songbirds are listening for the songs of their rivals. Humans glean great information about others' internal states from facial expressions. The world is a cacophony of signals, most essentially invisible to us. Arguably, part of the human umwelt is the application of extra meaning and narrative, especially anthropomorphic narrative, on the activities of other animals that we do perceive.
My recent work has been attempts to create a sort of messy web in the umwelts of specific non-human species and human beings by creating robotic systems that--in scale, form, behavior and gesture--make signals truly meaningful to the non-human species but often in a playful human-like narrative context. The robots use computer vision or sound signal processing to search the world for the signals of target species and then attempt to respond through similar gestural and audible signalling. The robots are trying to communicate with the animals and, in part, allow human communion with those animals in ways that our own bodies and umwelts don't allow. That human narrative stamps itself heavily onto the projects is confirmed by these becoming things like a hermaphroditic sexbot for Pileated Woodpeckers and a NORAD equivalent for Grey Squirrels.
Los Angeles, California
In Classical Geppettoism, the practitioner constructs the toy they want to imbue with life and then relies on the beneficence of a fairy godmother to give the toy a soul and a mind. Julien Offray de La Mettrie refined Cartesian materialism, obviating dualism, asserting that both the body and the mind were machines in his 1748 book, Man a Machine. In his honor, toy-makers who build both the bodies and the minds of the behavioral objects they create call themselves Lamettrian Geppettoists. Lamettrian Geppettoists have freed up fairy godmothers to pursue other activities.
As an artist concerned with the importance of play, most of my work takes the form of toy-like robotic objects and installations. Often the work is linked to stories, some clearly fictional and fairy-tale-ish but some operating at the boundary of fact and fiction and toying with our certainty regarding which is which. I try to infuse my love for the strange, for the cryptic, and for ecological balance into artworks that also explore gesture and behavior. Some of my robotic creatures, such as On Beyond Duckling, are intended to inhabit outdoor environments, both urban and wild. Some, such as The Stuttering Magpie Machine, inhabit gallery spaces but recruit viewers into pilgrimages which take them to outdoor robotic installations in nearby urban parks. With these I am partially investigating the relationship of technology to nature through playful, yet hopefully illuminative, balances between them.
Play is a vital behavior of all mammals, especially humans. Toys, the objectification of play, place human beings in a special mental space, as described by Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens, which is receptive, vulnerable, and explorative. A toy can serve as a portal to profound experience and understanding and I try to create such toys, often with associated narrative elements that lead viewers to extrapolate their own interpretations and significances. As my objects are, more specifically, robotic toys, they are tied to a historically-ubiquitous dream of mankind: creating, by our own artifice, functioning replicas of ourselves, not necessarily in our shape. I call this unending desire to create sentient, living beings through artificial means the Geppetto Complex. I am clearly afflicted by it but I worry that, as things stand, the first artificially intelligent robots will be begotten as machines of war and that that will be our legacy if they survive our species as the philosopher, Jean-François Lyotard, suggests they will. I would rather see them born as things of play or, better yet, the profound play we call art so that that, instead, will be our legacy. Much of my work is implicitly an exploration of what robots can be outside the boundaries of industrial, military, and popular preconceptions.
Making my machines requires a synthesis of robotics, choreography, animation and a sense of awe of the inner-workings of the natural world, both its macroscopic, dynamic morphologies and the algorithmic underpinnings of the systems we call life. I approach the construction of those machines that are intended for cohabitation with life, (i.e. with plants and animals, often in their habitats.) occasionally from the perspective that technology and other anthropogenic artifacts are foreign to nature and occasionally from the opposite perspective that human cultural technology is an extension of nature's biological technology. In the latter case, I am slowly working towards an ideal where my human-made outdoor robotic toys are not merely cohabitants but truly symbionts.