Mari Velonaki

Mari Velonaki’s Circle D: Fragile Balances and Circle E: Fragile Balances. Photo: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009

Mari Velonaki’s Circle D: Fragile Balances and Circle E: Fragile Balances. Photo: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009.

Fairy tales and technology

Artist Mari Velonaki’s fictional characters Fish and Bird are star crossed lovers. Unable to get together due to ‘technological difficulties’ they are doomed to sit beside each iother, trapped in their metaphorical cages, only able to talk to each other when someone picks them up.

In 2006, Velonaki co founded the Centre for Social Robotics at the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics. Her work in Super Human illustrates how art and robotics can interact – in ways far beyond the cliché of the metal cyborg searching for a fragment of its humanity.

In Circle D: Fragile Balances and Circle E: Fragile Balances, two luminous cube-like objects display personal messages between the virtual characters Fish and Bird. The viewers are invited to pick up the beautifully crafted objects – Velonaki collaborates with a wood worker – and hold them gently.

Responding to movement, the cubes reveal intimate messages. If moved abruptly, the cubes produce a scratching response and scrambled words.

Velonaki collated the vocabulary of the robot’s texts by sifting through love letters which were donated to her by participants over three years. With a background in installation art and media and technology, Velonaki is intrigued by what happens when the actual written word is filtered through the technology of coded robotic response.

“Fish and Bird are like avatars that only exist in a 3D object,” Velonaki said.

“Their story of technological incompatibility is a contemporary fairytale. They have a very spare language. Although they are trapped in their own boxes, they have learnt to co-exist.”

People emailed their romantic emails or sent in their love letters in answer to Velonaki’s requests. She had no trouble getting a large response as the fish-bird fairy tale resonated with many – unrequited love after all is a common and very powerful circumstance.

“So many people were inspired by Fish and Bird’s dilemma. Even with technology and emails, the plight of people being unable to be together still resonates,” Velonaki said.

“People even wrote make-believe love letters to Fish and Bird, as well as giving me their own letters. I had one beautiful poem which started: ‘I’ll swim in your sky.’”

Part of the piece is an elegant, revolving brass and wood stand and letter slot, where viewers are invited to write their own words and letters during the exhibition. Velonaki then adds these contributions to the Fish and Bird vocabulary for use in subsequent exhibitions.

“Because this is about love, I also received some surprising letters from people at the end of every exhibition!” Velonaki said.

“Some of it was very erotic, and some of it was quite violent. It was odd, as there have been times when the work was exhibited in galleries with security guards standing by, but still I received these comments.

“It’s always interesting to see how people respond to the work. People can always relate to a love story and to a fairy tale. In fact, I find the way people insert themselves into the work and the technology the most interesting thing of all as an artist.”

For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716