La Princesse is a 50 ft large mechanical spider, weighing about 37 tonnes and with a maximum speed of 2 mp/h. [1] It is operated by at least 12 performers, who can move the spider’s eyes, legs and belly, in order to recreate as much of the insects real movements. Due to 50 “intricate hydraulic joints”,  the ‘realism’ of the giant spider’s movement is guaranteed.

La Princesse is a performance run by at least 340 people, keeping a clear eye and making sure nothing goes wrong. The giant spider is able to use 7 special effects; it has a water canon in its beak (which can fire 20ft long jets of water spray) and has the ability to use flames, smoke, wind, snow, light and sound. [2]

The spider is made of “reclaimed poplar wood” and steel. It took more than 100 engineers, 1 year, and about 2 million Euros to create this intricate performance art project. [3] It was designed by François Delarozière, who is the leader of the troupe La Machine. [4]

Showcased in Liverpool in 2008, La Princesse wowed the audience with its performance. The Guardian wrote that “[s]he waved her massive legs at the crowd and they waved back, she sprayed water and the crowd begged for more, and when se was caught in a snowstorm and went to sleep in the middle of the main retail area, the audience gave out a collective sigh of pleasure as if they had all been given a precious free gift. It turned out to be a very bad day for shopping, but a great day for art.” [5]

In 2009, La Princesse was shipped to Yokohama (Japan) to perform in the  Expo Y150, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Yokohama Port. There it stayed for the duration of the 5 months exposition. Performances included a water ballet, where it “moved its mechanical legs and shot steam and water from its mouth and rear end, while suspended over the water from a large crane. Water cannons, fog machines, lights and live atmospheric music added to the drama.” [6]

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All in all, La Princesse is an amazing piece of robotic hydraulics, and an beyond entertaining and somewhat terrifying performance by a group of French enthusiasts.

This performance is not just a robotic moving sculpture, created to entertain the audience. As Eduardo Kac says, “[r]obots are not sculptures, paintings, or video art. Art robots are not to be confused in any way with mechanical looking, static anthropomorphic statues or sculptures. Robots are a new art form an they are prone to be hybridized with diverse technologies. This quality makes them transcend the category of object to be diffused into the environment” [7]

La Princesse can be called many things, but certainly not an simple object of sculpture that happens to be moving. The fact that the creation of La Princesse took a large amount of techniques not necessarily associated with arts (engineering, hydraulics, etc.) it is a prime example of a hybridized from, combining art and mechanical art with ‘diverse technologies’. It also ignores Michael Fried’s (critic) notions that “sculpture must resist becoming theatrical in order to maintain an independent art.” [8] (it should be noted that, just because it is a form of robotic art, does not mean it is not ‘sculpted’ or can be stationary and therefore like sculpture) Rather, the entire theatricality of La Princesse is what makes it an impressive and unique work of hybridized art.

 

Links:

La Machine Website


Sources:

[1] [2] [3] McDermot, Nick. ‘Revealed: the Secrets of the 50ft Robo-Spider’. Mail on Sunday Online. 6 September 2008. Retrieved from http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1052114/Revealed-The-secrets-50ft-robo-spider.html

[4] ‘La Machine’, Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008 Website. Retrieved from http://www.liverpool08.com/streets/LaMachine/index.asp

[5] Gardner, Lyn. ‘La Machine’. The Guardian. 8 September 2008. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2008/sep/08/theatre.europeancapitalofculture2008

[6] Pink Tentacle. ‘Giant robot spider in Yokohama’. 19 April 2009. Retrieved from http://pinktentacle.com/2009/04/giant-robot-spider-in-yokohama-pics-video/

[7] Kac, Eduardo and Marcel.lí Antúnez Roca. Robotic Art (1997). As found in Shanken, Edward. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: pp249

[8] Burnham, Jack. Robot and Cyborg Art (1968). As found in Shanken, Edward. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: pp247