Interview of Paul Granjon

furmanAndMe2004.jpg I can’t remember how i first heard about the work of Paul Granjon. I found him immediately nice: his French accent was even worse than mine (well, in his videos at least, i met him and have to admit that mine is by far the worst), he lives among all kinds of robots and has left sunny Marseille 10 years ago for beautiful Wales. And then of course there’s his witty and hilarious work.

His offbeat stage performances, robots and installations, include a robotic tail (to accessorize with flattering robotic ears), a radio-controlled robot mask, robotic birds that chirp and swing on their artificial bonzai tree, a fluffy Tamagotchi, a semi-humanoid fur-covered robot that doesn’t do much than kick (although with such strenght that rumour has it that it had knocked him quite badly to the floor during a performance) and the infamous Cybernetic Parrot Sausage. But is all this machinery only a matter of jesting and laughing?

You seem to ridicule your own robots when everyone else either worship or fear robots. Don’t you feel at least any affection for your creatures?

No affection for any of my robots so far. The only object I feel a little attached to is my electric zitare. Maybe in the future I might feel something for a more intelligent machine.

But aren’t you tempted by cute, companion robots like AIBO or Wakamaru?

I think about it sometimes, and my temptation to own one of these is driven by experimentation and hacking motives. I am presently shopping around for a decent humanoid platform. I have a very cute cat friend.

Did aibo change your perspective on robotics?

I do not have any Aibo, but when the first Aibos appeared on the market, I was developing a robot dog called Toutou and it made me feel very much part of the zeitgeist.

00toutou.jpgrobotStage.jpgToutou and robotHead performance

Why do you find low-tech so fascinating?

Obsolete tech, namely the Acorn BBC microcomputer, was a major stage in the development of my programming and electronics techniques, I am grateful to this 8bits machine forever, although I am not using so much low-tech now, mostly for reasons of reliability and maintenance. I am just back from Québec City, Canada, where I developed a project called Activités positives that included a low tech group experiment called Le grand bazar technologique.

You showed The Robotarium, an installation of robots at the last edition of the Venice Biennale. The Biennale doesn’t usually feature electronics. Did you feel that your robots belonged to this venerable show of fine arts as much as to a festival of electronic arts?

The robots I showed in Venice have not yet been invited to a festival of electronic arts, but are now in their third gallery show, so I guess they fit all right in a visual art context.

Do you feel at ease with both fine artists and electronic artists? In your experience are they two different “species” that hardly ever meet or are do they belong to the same big “fraternity” of artists?

I am not sure there is such a thing as a big fraternity of artists. It is more who you get along with on a personal level, and the medium of the fellow artist is not specially significant for getting along…

sexedMaleAndFemale.jpgrobotarium01.jpgThe Robotatium

Beyond the fun of your work lurk darker themes (at least that’s what every article about you states ;-) Do you think the audience perceives them quickly and easily?

I regularly get comments by visitors who get this darker dimension, while others just see the fun bit. I guess the work is here for anybody to get from it what they want.

How much is your work influenced by the developments in science and technology?

Quite a lot, but not necessarily in a direct way. The only direct influence I can think can be seen in the Fluffy Tamagotchi and it was a toy, not pure science and technology. I am keeping informed of progress in robotics, electronics, biotechnologies and the like, through various blogs, and I read the New Scientist. Some of the data filters through my practice.

On a more practical level, developments in science and technology produce a vast quantity of smaller cheaper easier to use more powerful gizmos which significantly expand the scope of possibilities of the electronic artist.

bBirdMotion.jpgfluffy.jpgRobotic birds and Fluffy Tamagotchi

Did a Nesta Fellowship change the life and work of a robot maker?

The fellowship allows me to live like a full time artist for three years, with extra cash to buy kit and travel. It has accelerated some processes more than changed my life and work.

I love the idea of Z Food Across the World. Can you tell me how it went exactly? And which food (other than the now famous Cybernetic Parrot Sausage) you investigated? Aren’t you tempted to go on a second Z Food tour?

Z Food Across the World
was a series of performances based on fast, cheap, convenience food found in various cities and countries. I arrived in the place a few days before the show and visited local supermarkets, fast food joints, food stores, and selected one or more items of interest. From these I developed a short video, a live experiment and a song, which were presented in a performance. Z Food Across the World visited 6 countries and 8 cities. Apart from the famous CPS, I investigated sambal Oelek and automatiek vending machines in Arnhem, brandade de morue in Nîmes, bagel and cheeseburger in New York, synthetic doughnut in Cardiff, fish fingers in Marseille.

The work I made for the Activités positives in Québec City had some similarities with Z Food Across the World, as I was tapping in existing local resources to make a largely improvised piece of work.

discoDanse.jpgA recent disco-danse performance in Québec.

Oh! And why on earth did you stop making fetish soap guns when there’s a market for them? Can’t find any marabout in Wales?

I might restart production if there is demand, but I must confess I have lost contact with Buana Abdul, the original marabout who magnetised the guns. I might be able to find a Welsh druid to do the job…

Merci beaucoup!

De rien.

Paul Granjon is in Berlin, from April 7 till April 9, 21.30 for a series of performances that combine sexed robots, primitive fire and romantic love.
The Heart and the Chip, at the Sophiensæle, Sophienstraße 18.