This art installation is a cute, friendly, 35 feet tall silver robot named BEBOT, which invites Burners to climb into its interior. It is an immensely strong climbing frame made of tubular steel, with squat fat legs that provide a ladder to the inside of the round body and from there up into the head where Burners can sit inside the openings for the eyes, ears and mouth on horizontal circular planes. One arm reaches across the body to the heart signifying that BEBOT has feelings and one arm is raised waving in greeting, inviting Burners to approach. The heart is made of beaten copper with a heartbeat traced across it. Just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, having a heart matters to BEBOT. The sound of a heartbeat will be heard throbbing inside 24 hours a day. Curved antennae emerge from the head, finished with copper spheres at the top. A forked devil's tail curls out unexpectedly from the back of the body, suggesting that all may not be as innocent as it seems.
BEBOT invites Burners to ‘BE my Eyes’, ‘BE my Ears’, ‘BE my Voice’, ‘BE my Beating Heart’. An endearing comic book robot built on a huge scale but undeniably cute, this installation is intended primarily for play but conceptually it explores aspects of robotics and Artificial Intelligence that should concern us. ‘Cuteness’ is already the dominant aesthetic of digital culture and features heavily in the design of robots for use in the home. Cuteness triggers in us a desire to approach and engage with the cute object. The Japanese have found in studies of human and robot bonding that this factor contributes to the notion of vulnerability and appeals to our need to nurture. Combined with voice recognition and computer vision, and programmed empathetic responses, this calculated cuteness can lead to a fantasy of reciprocation and reduce our perception of risk. Emotional engineering of home robots, which have unprecedented access to personal data, lowers the barriers we think we have built to protect our privacy.
BEBOT is a participatory art installation. The activities of Burners inside it bring it to life - they become the robot’s eyes, its ears, its voice, its soul, its spirit, its collective heartbeat. BEBOT’s body is open and welcoming. As a climbing frame it cannot be resisted and it encourages the immediacy and abandon of pure play. ‘Play is the highest form of research’ said Albert Einstein. Victor Shamas believes that ‘Play is a sacred act. When we are playing, the essence of all creation flows freely through us.’
The various internal levels of the artwork provide viewing platforms from which to survey the playa. Burners can face outwards or sit in intimate circles facing inwards. A place to meet and talk, to gather and party and perform, BEBOT encourages shared experience and self-expression. The ‘Sting in the Tail’, BEBOT’s little devil tail, is intended to prompt curiosity and questions in participants about whether all is as harmless as it appears.
BEBOT is the work of artists Andrea Greenlees, Andy Tibbetts, and Josh Haywood, supported by a small international crew from the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania and New Caledonia! Andrea’s previous Burning Man artworks include the Cirque de Reflexions in 2015, Trasparenza in 2016 and It’s a Chicken and Egg Situation in 2017. Master steelworker Andy Tibbetts was Lead Fabricator on the Chicken, Co-Artist on The Space Whale in 2016, Lead Artist and Creator of the Embrace Hearts in 2014 and Lead Artist and Creator of the Clock Ship Tere, which is one of the premiere art cars at Burning Man. Josh Haywood created the Hayam Sun Temple for Burning Man in 2014, The Arbour in 2015 and The Lantern – first built in Black Rock City in 2016 and being rebuilt on the playa in 2018. Josh created all the 3D models, construction drawings and digital visualizations for the Chicken and for BEBOT.
BEBOT needs your help to come into being. This is a very substantial installation made of steel so the cost of materials and specialist fabrication are high. Structural engineers have been employed to make sure the artwork has the strength and stability required to ensure the safety of participants. Sandblasting and powdercoating will give BEBOT a long life beyond Burning Man in a future location in the United States, where it will continue to give pleasure to people for many years to come. The lighting system alone costs $7,000, and a sound system must be installed for the heart. The transport costs run into many thousands, involving a number of trucks and a number of trips to the desert and back.
With your contribution to its construction, whether you are present on the playa or not, you too can BE a very important part of BEBOT!