Selfie Automaton

Romanian Pavilion
15th International Architecture Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia

Selfie Automaton talks about mechanisms and the role of the individual in their making and functioning.

The exhibition has been assembled from three directions – architecture, puppetry and art – around a common core: automata. Uncanny and entertaining objects, automata are used as a pretext and a way of communicating, between the authors and the public of the Biennale.

The mechanisms are animating the puppets: caricatures of characters and fantastic animals are assembled in predefined scenes, parts of a show in which the visitor is granted a special role. Placed on stage, he becomes dynamo and actor in a closed and cyclical scenario, a possible generic portrait of social relations, broken into pieces.

Foto © Dacian Groza
Foto © Dacian Groza

Puppets become main characters but are deprived of their liberties in puppetry, where it is common for them to play with gravity or become aware of their own condition (to an extreme to free themselves by cutting the strings).

Even though constructed with the necessary joints that would allow them the “freedom of movement”, the wooden puppets are unstrung and literally nailed into a mechanism that allows them nothing but one predefined repetitive movement. And the visitor is no exception. Seated as part of the automaton, he is given one choice only: to make it work, by his own repetitive action.

Consequently, the comfortable bipolar stereotype of the manipulated (us) and the manipulator (them) – most often placing people’s actions at one end of the string, as humble and direct consequences of an unexplained exterior force responsible for them – is replaced by a system of closed choices. The visitor becomes an object without options – a giant ballerina in a micro-banquet, a victim of a commission, or a beggar of wishes.

Handles and pedals make the various shows possible, when provided with human power. An apparent system of gearwheels transmit the motion to cyclical scenes: a bicycle is moving a circle dance, a cooking pot generates a “grand buffet”, a crank awakens a commission or a never ending fight, a turning handle moves a goldfish, or a flying bird – prisoner outside its cage.

Selfie Automaton reflects on the characters and actions blocked in automatisms, and opens the topic of predefined patterns: do they really exist, are we part of them, their victims or their generators?