Title: Roomba Rumba
Alternate title: High Hopes (Deux)
Media: Roombas, rubber tree plants, indoor/outdoor carpet tiles, sound.
Special Thanks: Lorraine Rudin, Caroline Picard.
Photos: Soohyun Kim.
Video: Daviel Shy (camera).
Two dancing Roombas bearing rubber trees vacuum on a sickly artificial green field. With an instrumental version of "High Hopes," a children's song made famous by Frank Sinatra, playing in the background, the robotic vacuums's algorithmic movements appear intentionally choreographed. They pirouette tirelessly across the bright green indoor/outdoor carpet tiles, mimicking the fortitude of the "little old ant" in the song. While mapping the gallery's perimeter, they start to flirt and snuggle with onlookers.
Referencing the minimalist floor sculptures of Carl Andre as well as the gendered activity of vacuuming, this project exposes continuities between human labor and the feminization and domestication of machinic productivities.
The cheerful song and the notion that plants and machines are dancing and behaving socially seem playful. But the Roomba's performance carries a darker message. The song "High Hopes" teaches children to overcome adversity through irrational aspiration and by working as hard as they possibly can. Today these traits make for prime neoliberal subjects. The ant has long been a symbol of the worker. Here the ant is recast as an even more perfect workera machine. Our sense that the cute, leafy Roombas are anthropomorphic betrays that we humans see ourselves in these machines.
This pas de deux aims to upset distinctions between natural and artificial, biological and machinic, behind-the-scenes service work and performative display, and to prompt solidarities across these categories.