Boston Dynamics Spot, AR app, sound
Hamburger Bahnhof, Germany
J.M. Ledgard, Light Art Space, Hamburger Banhof, 12th Berlin Biennale, Museum fur Naturkunde, Johannes Vogel. Team: Jaroslav Stehlík / dream.digital, Anna Minaříková, Jakub Petr, Petr Pufler, Jonáš Rosůlek Photo: Dario J. Lagana
BOAR is a site-specific robotic performance by artist Federico Díaz and novelist and technologist J. M. Ledgard, taking place at Hamburger Bahnhof as part of the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. Commissioned by LAS.
Experts estimate that some 5000 wild boars live in Berlin. These feral animals thrive in the city’s outside districts and the outlying Brandenburg region. Since the 1990s, Berlin’s wild boar population has surged, with the animals now exploring new urban territories. This growth is attributed to a decline in traditional hunting clubs as well as more hospitable living conditions created by global warming, plentiful food waste and monoculture crops. Even Berliners who have not personally encountered a boar are familiar with their notorious behaviours, such as stealing human picnics and digging in gardens and parks, often churning up the turf and soil.
This human-animal relationship is where BOAR, an LAS-commissioned project, picks up. Díaz and Ledgard explore the role that artificial intelligence (AI) can play in reconciling human beings and the natural world. Responding to a dearth of research on the relationship between AI and non-human ecosystems, Díaz and Ledgard began investigating how future forms of machine intelligence may seek to know and imitate other biological life forms.
Following this interest, Studio Federico Díaz adapted the robot “Spot“ developed by Boston Dynamics to imitate wild boar. While these animals hunt grubs and insects by detecting subterranean vibrations, the robotic boar mimics this behaviour within a limited patch of greenery. Through AI, it locates simulated data sources emerging from its territory. These sources are visible to viewers as data clouds that can be seen through an augmented reality app, operable on various devices: smartphone, tablets and a nearby screen that conveys the AI boar’s perspective. This performance takes place in what Díaz refers to as the super territory – a conceptualized space wherein the biological and the technological merge. Incorporating aspects of the wild boar’s natural habitat, such as grass and soil, Díaz’s and Ledgard’s work provides a multi-sensory engagement with questions about the evolution of AI and interspecies relationships.
Díaz and Ledgard‘s project suggests that AI might generate positive possibilities for coexistence. For example, AI can help us to navigate the natural world’s otherwise overwhelming complexity. BOAR’s timing is crucial. While the climate crisis presents an imminent threat to life on earth, machines are attaining conscious agency.
Ledgard has developed futuristic AI and robotics projects and has lectured widely; at ETH Zürich, Imperial College, MIT, and the Institute of Advanced Studies. His novels often focus on non-human species and contrast the steadiness of nature with the flux of human life. His approach to research and art foregrounds collaboration, and he has previously worked with Ólafur Elíasson and Tomás Saraceno, amongst others.