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Conrad Shawcross RA on ‘The ADA Project’

Published 10 October 2014

The Royal Academician discusses his robot installation inspired by Ada Lovelace.

  • For the next three weeks, a cavernous gallery space in a Soho carpark will host the latest stage of an ongoing project by Conrad Shawcross RAThe ADA Project.

    Shawcross describes it as “an ongoing series of musical commissions”, each of which is created in response to a modified welding robot that the artist and his team have programmed to perform a choreographed dance.

    “We’ve dwarfed some of its limbs, we’ve extended some of its limbs, we’ve hacked into its software, we’ve mounted it on this very large splayed tripod. The main thing we’ve done is hack into it to be able to control its movement perfectly and to control its speed profiles,” Shawcross explains.

    Usually a choreographer creates a dance in response to a piece of music, but The ADA Project inverts this.

    “It’s a new way of commissioning music. The artist has to refer the whole time to the movement of the robot,” Shawcross explains.

    The whole thing was originally inspired by the story of Ada Lovelace, the pioneering 19th-century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. Her collaborations with inventor and polymath Charles Babbage - whose ‘Difference Engines’ and ‘Analytical Engines’ were designed to carry out calculations and other functions - are regarded as the first forays into computer programming.

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    Conrad Shawcross RA discusses his robot installation 'The ADA Project'.

  • The project was originally conceived for Palais de Tokyo in Paris with curator Ken Farmer. It has also been shown at a music festival in Australia, and now Shawcross is collaborating with hybrid music/art enterprise The Vinyl Factory to bring The ADA Project to London audiences for a three-week run.

    In this iteration of the project, the musicians chosen to respond to the work are Holly Herndon, Mira Calix, Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clervaux and Tamara & Mylo. The four recordings will be released as a limited edition vinyl 12" and regular edition by The Vinyl Factory.

    The ADA Project will include talks by experts on Babbage and the field of proto-computing.

    “It’s in the spirit of a Victorian salon. There’ll be conversion and exchange with scientists and artists, and [the robot] will act as a springboard for ideas and debate,” Shawcross says.

    In the video above, recorded as the final touches were being made ahead of tonight’s opening reception, Conrad Shawcross discusses his fascination with Ada Lovelace and why the art and science of robotics continue to be central to his work.

    The ADA Project is at The Vinyl Factory Space at Brewer Street Car Park, from 11 -­ 31 October 2014. Admission is free. See www.thevinylfactory.com for information.