Brooklyn, New York
Chico MacMurtrie received the Creative Capital Award in 2024. Chico MacMurtrie is internationally recognized as a pioneer of art and robotics. He has won numerous awards for his robotic sculpture, installations and performances. Immersed in the Bay Area’s Art and Technology Counterculture of the 1990s, he founded the interdisciplinary collective Amorphic Robot Works, dedicated to the research and development of his experimental, anthropomorphic, computer-controlled sculptures which evolved over the years into a “Society of Machines.” The artist’s more recent work has evolved from exploring the intersection of human and machinic motion, to creating large-scale, inflatable-robotic sculpture. MacMurtrie’s studio in Brooklyn, New York—a former 19th-century Norwegian Seamen’s Church—is rechristened as the “Robotic Church,” a permanent site-specific installation and public performance involving 50 percussive and musical robots. MacMurtrie was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016 with his Border Crossers project, a public performance series on both sides of the US-Mexico border involving a series of inflatable, border-crossing robotic sculptures. The artist has worked with institutions in the US and abroad, most recently the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts and UTEP in El Paso, Texas, to foster interdisciplinary and international collaborations between students, makers and universities.
After spending two decades developing inflatable robotic sculptures that live primarily through performance, Chico MacMurtrie would now like to channel the aesthetic and political concerns of his robotic projects into a new practice of creating permanent sculptural forms. This will entail capturing the unique locomotion of his soft machine and encasing it in static sculpture. First, he will construct an inflatable tool-machine-body out of high-tensile fabric capable of assuming a wide range of human, animal, and insect-like positions. Then, he will select one of these positions to transfer to permanent sculptural form, encasing it in an environmentally-friendly material such as high-fire clay or LG-based cement, building a skin or shell around it to capture the shape. Once the material is dried and solid, he will deflate the tool-machine and remove it from the inside, leaving a hollow form much like the skin that a reptile has shed. The resulting sculptures will invoke the terracotta statues of the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs and suggest the discovery of buried civilizations This project continues his exploration of Chicanx Futurismo, as it focuses on an entity defined by its liminality. By freezing animate motion in a permanent shape, he manifests a static form that still vigorously expresses movement. That in-betweenness or liminality makes it a “mestiza” object—to borrow Gloria Anzaldúa’s term—a spiritual crossbreed. It speaks to a broader science fiction discourse, speculating about our animal past and possible transhuman future. And, in line with Anzaldúa’s visions, it suggests dystopic readings of gender, technology, and power.