TPM x RAD

A dance + robotics collaboration

The People Movers and The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana are collaborating on an ongoing project integrating dance with robotics, currently titled Babyface. This work investigates gender roles and how machines can reinforce and/or subvert them.

The People Movers and The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana are collaborating on an ongoing project integrating dance with robotics, currently titled Babyface. This work investigates gender roles and how machines can reinforce and/or subvert them.

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“Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input/output system.”

 
— Sophia, Hanson Robotics

“Babyface” is a story about a cyborg woman who was made to be perfect — inescapably amicable, helpful, fun, and sexy. The embodiment of youthful beauty and effervescence, her primary purpose is to make others feel impressed, pleased, and inspired. To accomplish this, her creators affixed upon her a pair of wings. As she breathes in, the wings expand. Impressed at her beauty and grandeur, everyone around her gasps. As she breathes out, the wings fold in. Everyone sighs, holding in them the memory of her splendor.

For a time, this cyborg was successful, but eventually, those around her lost interest. People started to see this winged woman as “a bit too much,” and then as largely uninspiring, and, finally, as boring and passé.

All this has transpired when audiences meet our cyborg, who has since been discarded and left to grapple with her own irrelevance. What remains is an abstract narrative that synthesizes ideas around aspiration and limitation, innocence and servitude, cuteness, failure, and spectacle.

Ladenheim and Lab members are developing custom robotic wings that respond to breath and movement.

The wings are a magical, otherworldly spectacle and a physical metaphor for the unrealistic expectations placed on femme bodies via technological design and social pressures.

This is not a new societal trend — technologies from corsets to birth control to social media pressure women to look and perform beautifully, effortlessly and non-threateningly, feeding a culture that expects less of women who conform while punishing those who do not. This translates into newly created technologies that inherit those same patriarchal prejudices: game designers meticulously crafting “ideal” female characters with hyperbolic physical features and male engineers selecting feminine-voiced robots programmed to serve. In this way, “Babyface’ is as much a call to consider equitable practices in the creation and dissemination of machines, as it is an emotionally impactful journey through the insidious elements of commodified gender norms.

February 5-7, 2020

Alliance of Women in Media Arts & Sciences Conference
Santa Barbara, California

TPM Artistic Director Kate will be attending the conference at University of California at Santa Barbara and presenting Babyface.

February 26-March 1, 2020

TPM x RAD at The Performance Arcade
Wellington, New Zealand

Presenting an interactive installation of Babyface on the Wellington Waterfront, activated by performers from New Zealand’s Footnote Dance.

 

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March 5-7, 2020

CRCI: Conference for Research on Choreographic Interfaces
@ Brown University, Providence, RI

Attending and presenting Babyface at the CRCI conference, which convenes scholars, designers, artists, and engineers working across technologies of choreography, control, and recognition.

 

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March 12, 2020

MeMoSa (Media Movement Salon)
5:30 – 7:00 PM
@Barnard Movement Lab, New York, NY

Interactive performance of TPM x The RAD Lab’s Babyface, with opportunities for audience learning & discussion. Curated by Gabri Christa.

 

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March 23-26, 2020

Human-Robot Interaction Conference
Cambridge, England

TPM Artistic Director Kate Ladenheim will present academic research related to the creation and performance of Babyface.

CREDITS 

Dancer and machine choreographed by Kate Ladenheim with Wali Rizvi and Reika McNish
Music by Myles Avery
Costume by Reika McNish with Kate Ladenheim and Wali Rizvi
Machine built by Wali Rizvi and Reika McNish
Collaboration directed by Amy LaViers (RAD Lab Director)
Performed by Kate Ladenheim