Lab members and 2019-2020 Artist-in-Residence Kate Ladenheim are collaborating on an ongoing project integrating dance with robotics, currently titled Babyface.

Babyface responds to feminized tropes around innocence, servitude, cuteness and spectacle. Centering a "cyborg" performer who was designed to be perfect, the work uncovers tension between humans and machines through original sound, choreography, and interaction with a pair of large-scale, robotic, breath-activated angel wings.

Babyface is a choreography, a study in robotics engineering, and an interactive platform for its audience-participants.

The work invites audience members to activate a pair of large scale robotic wings with their breath and motion. The wings augment each audience members’ body, simultaneously serving as a magical, otherworldly spectacle and a physical metaphor for the outsize expectations placed on feminine bodies via technological design and social pressure.

The wings simultaneously create an effect of grandeur and awe, and a rigid, limiting characterization that becomes burdensome over the course of the performance. The performer is a revered spectacle because of this affect, but also cannot be different than her container; this tension between aspiration and limitation fuels this work.

Kate and Lab members are responding to an unfortunate circularity with deep historical roots. Technologies (from corsets to social media) pressure women to look and perform beautifully, effortlessly and non-threateningly, feeding a culture that expects less of women who conform while simultaneously punishing those who do not. This translates into newly created technologies (i.e. Instagram algorithms that prioritize and highlight promoters that perpetuate these stereotypes, the voice of Siri or Alexa, and Sophia the Robot) that inherit those same patriarchal prejudices.

This collaboration uses technology creation and embodied practice in tandem to exploit these prejudices and reveal the emotional impact of this harmful circularity.

The Robotics, Automation, and Dance (RAD) Lab
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