Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Robots We've Grown to Love

Robot Painting
Not long ago I attended a gallery event at Philadelphia's Fishtown Airways artist collective on Girard Ave, (now apparently splintered off into Piranha Betty's Art Market, at another location on Frankford Ave). Outside was a table featuring the playful, colorful robot paintings of local artist Evan Cairo. I was captivated by the work, and bought one of the paintings. I recall the artist saying his robots were "a lot like humans." They do seem that way...nice humans.

Evan Cairo
I placed the robot painting on a shelf in my bedroom. Each day I woke up and looked at it. As time went by, I began feeling a bit strange. It was as if a sensor had been activated within me, a circuit flipped on.

It's difficult to remember the events that followed, but one vivid occurrence remains - there was a constant pulsating flash of images in my mind, specifically of childhood memories. For days I scrambled to find similar representations of those images. I knew they were in the house somewhere - perhaps they were in books, maybe drawings I'd done, objects I'd collected.

Japanese toy robot.
Soon enough boxes had been plundered through, drawers tossed about, papers scattered everywhere. I didn't sleep or eat until I found what I needed...or maybe, what I was being commanded to find. Was it Evan's robot that was directing me? I couldn't be sure.

Whatever it was, it had gotten out of hand, especially for my wife, Anne, who'd been away during all this. I recall hearing the front door open, her calling my name, and then footsteps clacking as she slowly walked up our wood stairs to the attic where I was secluded. There I sat crouched on the floor, a three day beard on my face, everything in shambles, and showing a frenzied, maddened grin. In my hands was a shoe-box filled with little toys. The robots of my youth. The wonderful human-like droids that had inspired me to create and design my own universe.

Anne didn't exactly share the same euphoria for my re-found stuff, at least not right then. One reason could've been because dinner guests were due within the hour, and the house looked like a nor-easter had blown by. I quickly found myself wearing that special shoe-box on my head and heard a cursing emitted of which only humans are capable.

Japanese toy rocketship.

But the point is that robots have stirred the human immagination for eras. The tale above might include a smidge of fantasy, nonetheless, these mechanical beings were an unequivocal force in my aspiration to make art and to eventually become a product designer. People tend to personify machines. Possibly it's just a childlike nostalgia for playing with toys.

Or perhaps it's something deeper and universally compelling, something long embedded in the human psyche - a desire to bring to life things that are by nature unanimated, cold, and non-human. Whichever the case, that fascination still glows within me today...sort of like, well, a flickering LED light. --D.A DeMers

Below: robot-like "Moon Rover" task lamp I designed in 2004. My company proffered it to Crate and Barrel's mod furnishings company, CB2, during a meeting at the IHFC's High Point Market. They rejected it... I actually made the prototype by hand.


Below: dog and elephant toy robots, circa 1960s. Anonymous.



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  1. Hooray for Gort! Where's Robby?

    Now, just realize that if you had a Roomba, you could've gotten the place cleaned up right quick!


  2. I'll look into the Roomba thing. Thanks...
    The robot in the band poster is Robby. I didn't realize that at first.


  3. Your robot light was targeted to the wrong market. It needed to be for people like me who never grow up. I love it and would have bought it in a heart beat