The SWARM exhibition has provided a spectacular opportunity for students and staff to work with artists pushing technological and creative boundaries.

We are all increasingly connected through social media and digital interfaces. Part exhibition, part experiment, SWARM explores the crux of human behaviour and questions what drives us to be social, through a series of 16 interactive works at the Science Gallery Melbourne.

Working with staff and students from several Faculties, as well as the artists themselves and other collaborators, over 10  students and staff from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) helped to create the collaborative exhibits and projects, developing software, contributing to the promotional website, and providing support in running the exhibition.

Dr Airlie Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Mechatronics (Mechanical Engineering) and a member of SWARM’s Expert Advisory Group, said involvement in the exhibition provided a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the creative side of technological innovation.

“The exhibits are excellent examples of interactive technological collaboration. They show how expertise in STEM can contribute to achieve and enlarge artistic vision,” Dr Chapman said.

FEIT's involvement with SWARM includes:

Anthropomorphic Machine

Australia’s most prominent performance artist Stelarc created the Anthropomorphic Machine with collaborators from FEIT, the Melbourne School of Design and the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music.

The Anthropomorphic Machine is an eight-metre-high kinetic sculpture that senses and responds to the presence of humans. The murmuration of connected robots spring to life and perform pre-programmed, coordinated movements that are actuated by the viewer in front of the installation.

Research fellows and PhD candidates from FEIT’s School of Computing and Information Systems (CIS) worked on the project with Stelarc. CIS oversaw the technical and creative aspects that make the machine interactive. Research Fellow Qiushi Zhou was actively involved in the development of the Anthropomorphic Machine from its conception.

“It was a fun and challenging task for us to create the sense-organs and neural connections for the Anthropomorphic Machine, and to explore how it behaves among humans,” Qiushi said.

“As researchers in Human-Computer Interaction, we had a unique opportunity to approach this project as a case of Machine-Human Integration, which gave us new perspectives on the roles played by humans and computational systems in our past, present and future.”

Senior Research Associate Dr Eric Schoof from FEIT’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering provided technical assistance in the later stages.

Sentient Forest

The Sentient Forest features forest listening stations where one can hear a soundscape, exploring tree communication and bioacoustics, while being immersed in the aromas of the forest through specially-curated scents.

Dr Eric Schoof was lead engineer of this exhibit, building the robots and programming their behaviour. This collaborative effort drew on input from others in FEIT’s School of Electrical, Mechanical and Infrastructure Engineering; the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences in the Faculty of Science; Monica Gagliano, an Australian academic specialising in plant intelligence; and UK multi-sensory designers Bompas and Parr.

Scrape Elegy

Created by artist Willoh Weiland, Honorary Fellow in the University’s Interaction Design Laboratory, together with the Centre for AI and Digital Ethics (CAIDE), this exhibit uses the power of data-matching software.

Its algorithm builds a personalised audio profile, based on what can be found on mobile phones. Through a series of prompts on the iPad and Instagram profile, information is received and translated to reflect the user’s unique audio journey.

SWARM can be experienced at the Science Gallery Melbourne, with events scheduled and exhibits on display until 3 December 2022, running Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 am - 5 pm.

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