The festival welcomed Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc) faculty members Curime Batliner and Jake Newsum and their unveiling of the ‘Spheres of Influence’, a temporary installation displayed in the patio of Laboratorio Arte Alameda.
Sponsored by Sci-Arc, Batliner and Newsum’s project uses a robotic system from Staubli to paint layers of graphics abstracting the city onto a series of human-scale spheres. The placement of those inflatable pieces along the plateaus of the museum’s patio defines the flow of visitors between the park, the public space and the adjacent museum — which is a semi-private space. “This change in the flow of people, and how they moved through that space, was an analogy of public space in itself,” Batliner says.
Within a translucent sphere, an industrial robot is placed at the centre for entertainment and distraction. As Batliner explains, “very much how our cell phones change the way we navigate and entertain ourselves in the public space, the robot — a device with high attention value — influenced and changed the way people navigate. Some people stopped in amazement, curiosity, scepticism, or to ask questions; while others did not bother at all but had to move around the people already standing there”.
The dynamic patterns and performance of the robots are designed as an allegory of how technology transforms public space, and how citizens navigate in cities differently throughout the years. ‘The spheres were painted throughout the festival, supporting the notion of a constant state of flux’, Newsum explains. ‘Just like this metropolis grows and changes, the installation also should never finish’. At night, the backlit spheres project the freshly painted graphics of the city back onto the surrounding historic architecture — enhancing the cultural and urban contexts of the site.
Batliner and Newsum’s installation during the Mextropli festival affords an opportunity to talk about the entanglement of cities and technology with children, parents, tourists, and local residents. “Mexico has lots of high-brow museums that do not always provide access to everyone in the city, and the same can be said of the US; if it is part of our culture it should be part of the art world and, consequently, be accessible to the public. Having this installation adjacent to one of the most popular parks in this massive city was fantastic,” Batliner muses. “Many of the visitors we talked with expressed a lot of gratitude that they had access to this form of dialog and presentation of an idea”.