Artist Chico MacMurtrie, U-M students to demonstrate border-crossing robotic sculpture

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

Chico MacMurtrie holds a prototype of the "Border Crosser" at the University of Michigan's Wilson Student Team Project Center. (Photo: Robyn Han)

ANN ARBOR - In a studio lab on University of Michigan's campus, students have been hard at work creating a sculpture designed by world-renowned artist Chico MacMurtrie called "Border Crosser."

A team of 16 students from the schools of art and design; engineering; literature, science and the arts; and information have been working closely with the artist at the Wilson Center.

MacMurtrie, famous for his large-scale robotic works, is overseeing the project as part of his residency at The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, sponsored by the U-M Institute for the Humanities.

Close-up of the “Border Crosser” robot sculpture created with University of Michigan students under the direction of Chico MacMurtrie in U-M’s Wilson Student Team Project Center (Photo: Amanda Krugliak)

He came up with the idea to create the 40-foot sculpture 10 years ago as an effort to make people rethink the concept of borders in today's globalized world.

MacMurtrie grew up in Naco, Arizona, which borders Sonora, Mexico.

"So much has changed in my lifetime -- I remember people coming and going across the border through a hole in a fence," he said in a press release. "The border is now fortified, which is kind of senseless and counter-humane in my opinion."

The sculpture is lightweight and inflatable. It looks like a massive arm and has the ability to arc over a barrier several stories high and touch the ground on the other side.

In 2017, the first “Border Crosser” robot was built and tested at the Amorphic Ranch in Bisbee, Arizona. © MacMurtrie/ARW (Photo: Bobby N. Adams)

Ahead of his lecture as part of the Penny Stamp Speaker Series at the U-M Museum of Art at 4:30 p.m. Friday, MacMurtrie will be holding a live demonstration of the work on campus.

"Of course I've always envisioned the Mexico-U.S. border as a performance site, but there are many borders that this artwork could connect," he said in a press release. "The robots, to me, represent a peaceful gesture to both start a conversation and to unify people."

(Credit: University of Michigan Humanities YouTube channel)

Amanda Krugliak, curator at the Institute for the Humanities, said the project embodies the humanities in action.

"Just being out at the Wilson Center, working in that lab, watching Chico engage with students from different disciplines on campus -- it breaks down whatever stereotypes we have about one another based on gender, background or expertise," she said in a press release.

Chico MacMurtrie talks to students at University of Michigan’s Wilson Student Team Project Center (Photo: Robyn Han)

The U-M robot is the second sculpture of a total of six the artist hopes will perform at borders around the world.

Events featuring the sculpture:

"Border Crossers" exhibition
Feb. 16-Mar. 23, 2018
Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer St.
Gallery Hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Live robotic "Border Crossers" performances
Friday, U-M Museum of Art, 525 S. State St., 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Ingalls Mall, 6:30 p.m.
Special Penny W. Stamps Lecture by Chico MacMurtrie and artist reception
Friday, U-M Museum of Art's Helmut Stern Auditorium, 525 S. State St., lecture at 5:30 p.m., followed by reception at Institute for the Humanities, 202 S. Thayer St., at 6:30 p.m.

About Chico MacMurtrie

MacMurtrie is the artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works, an interdisciplinary creative collective located in Brooklyn, N.Y. MacMurtrie/ARW have received numerous awards for their experimental new media artworks, including five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation Grant, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, VIDA Life 11.0 and Prix Ars Electronica. MacMurtrie was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2016. 


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