Skip to content

Robotic plants

by Michele Hutchison on June 13th, 2010

Visitors to the Poetry International festival can always expect the unexpected in the foyer of the Rotterdam City Theatre. Last year you would have been encouraged to take off your shoes and wade or shuffle through a mountain of peat, this year the visitor is greeted by an army of mobile plants. On the opening night I caught up with young Dutch artist, Thijs Ewalts (1979), commissioned by Poetry International to design the installation for the foyer.

“How does your art relate to poetry?” I asked.

“The installation is themed around nature, something I’d been wanting to work on. There is no specific link with the poets or poetry at the festival. It’s more an organic, intuitive connection.”

“Are the plants remote controlled or are they actual robots?”

“They’re robots designed to seek out other plants or people. They have built-in sensors.”

“You’re not worried people are going to steal them? They must be expensive.”

“They’re not cheap.”

He then pointed out a central area where a number of plants are hooked up by thick black cables to some kind of large electrical device. This is where they recharge after a tour of duty. It’s spooky, bringing to mind a television adaptation of The Day of the Triffids that had terrified me during my childhood. Yet somehow when you see the plants roving around they seem innocent, friendly, perhaps they do successfully embody a desire to connect, perhaps there is a relationship with poetry.

Thijs peers winningly through his long fringe and goes on to explain that part of the joy of the installation is when things happen to the plants, when they nudge people’s legs or crash and spill soil. A theatre employee is wandering around with a dustpan and brush as he speaks. In the same vein, he was able to integrate other parts of the installation with the material of the building itself. Since it was due for a refit, he was allowed to dig out sections of the floor and turn bench areas into miniature gardens and this pleases him no end.

Benches dug into floor

foyer decay: autonomous plants

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.