Artist Leonel Moura’s Robotarium X is the first zoo for robots. At the center of this public garden in the Jardim Central in Lisbon, Portugal, is a large glass structure containing 45 robots, most powered by photovoltaic (solar) energy. The robots are all original, created specifically for the project, representing 14 species classified by distinct behavior strategies and body morphologies. Obstacle avoidance, movement or sunlight detection and interaction with the public are some of the robots skills.
Robotarium X approaches robots very much in the way as we are accustomed to approaching human beings. We, humans, enjoy watching and studying the behavior of other life forms and many people also enjoy capturing and killing them. However, in this case, although the robots are confined to a cage, the Robotarium is their ideal environment with plenty of sun, smooth surfaces to move on, tranquility and attention. There are no fights or aggression and the only competition is to assure a place under the sunlight (1).
As Jack Burnham asked himself in his essay ‘Robot and Cyborg Art’, ‘Is it possible then that art is a form of biological signal?’ ‘If man is approaching a time of radical change, one not controlled by natural selection and mutation, what better non-scientific way exists for anticipating self-re-creation than the spiritually motivated activity of artificially forming images of organic origin?’ (2) Following this, Robotarium X can be seen as an art work of a new kind of art that realizes a critical questioning of knowledge and culture. Notions like nature, life, the artificial, machine, art, culture and science, are challenged by this display.
Inspired by the Johnson Solid named ‘Bilunabirotunda’ the structure is made of steel and glass creating a very transparent environment that allow for a good visibility from the exterior and plenty of sun exposure for the robots. The space inside is around 22 m2 with 4 meters at its higher point (3).
Another great artwork by Moura, which involves animal or better ‘insect robots’, is ‘Portable Robotaria’. This is a series of lab-like displays containing ‘insect robots’ fed by electric light.
2. Jack Burnham, Art and Electronic Media, p. 247