Automatons are self operating machines or robots. One of the most famous automatons is The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, an automaton created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. It was a betwitching simulcra of real life – a duck that waddled, quacked, ate food, appeared to digest it and then left droppings.
Genevieve Bell spoke about it in her recent keynote ‘Magical Thinking’ at EPIC 2013. She argued that this kind of Western automata attempted to represent a form of technological reality to inspire viewers with wonder and delight. By all accounts it did, attracting millions of spectators and garnering much discussion.
I am interested in automata for several reasons. My previous work in DIY technology and grassroots maker cultures has links with this kind of resourceful ingenuity. I have made a number of Enquiry Machines which are hand-made socio-technical instruments of investigation into methods and issues. I have also been thinking about and having interesting discussions with people about ways to exhibit/perform the research given the project is about mobility (physical and socio-political) and inventive forms of representation.