Dezeen Magazine

Peter William Holden’s Frankensteinian robots perform dance routines to music

Synthetic human body parts mounted on robots dance to dramatic music in Dance Machines, an installation by British artist Peter William Holden in London (+ slideshow).

Peter William Holden presented three Dance Machines named Arabesque, Vicious Cycle and SoleNoid β as part of Merge Festival, a series of arts events currently taking place around London's Southbank area. The sinister-looking machines act out dance routines on spotlit-platforms in a darkened room off Borough Road.

Dance Machines by Peter William Holden
Vicious Cycle

The Leipzig-based artist designed the mechanised sculptures, made up of prosthetic limbs and body parts mounted on steel frames, to perform repetitive movements to well-known classical music by Sergei Prokofiev and Johann Strauss.

"I have attempted to create work which falls somewhere between conventional notions of pictorial art and a kind of performance," Holden told Dezeen.

Dance Machines by Peter William Holden
Vicious Cycle

The kinetic sculptures are activated via computer controlled pneumatic air pumps that use bursts of compressed air to make the components move. The sudden change in air pressure creates a noise for each movement.

The steel skeletons of the frames are left exposed, so visitors can see the cabling that attaches the parts to the air pumps.

In a piece influenced by Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, named Arabesque, human-scale arms and legs skewered on metal rods react to music by Strauss.

A circle of prosthetic legs flex at the knee, kicking in time to the music, while four pairs of arms severed at the elbow, flop back and forth in the centre of the platform.

Dance Machines by Peter William Holden

"The limbs, translucent and livid, bare their internal robotic mechanisms to the gaze of the viewer. The wiring is an aesthetic expression, deliberately integrated into the installation to bring chaotic lines of abstract form to contrast with the organised symmetry of the body parts," said Holden, who trained as an engineer before becoming an artist.

As the compressed air pushes the parts into motion the air valves "exhale loudly" and the metal frames clack.

Dance Machines by Peter William Holden

"This combined with the rattle of relays and the tandem clattering of pistons produces a hyper-modern accompaniment to the music of Strauss," he said.

On another circular base, eight black and white tap-shoes perform a rhythmic dance in SoleNoid β. The heel-toe movements of the shoes and the sound of tap-dancing are synced using a computer.

The performance is activated by a member of the public pressing a button on a control panel that has sixteen different switches, allowing viewers to change the series of dance moves performed by the robots.

The final work, named Vicious Circle, is inspired by the artist's interest in the Industrial Revolution.

"It is a brutalist robotic structure and it is a representation of some of the fears I have with technology," said Holden.

Dance Machines by Peter William Holden
SoleNoid β

Rubberised hands attached to metal-framed structures rise and fall in time to Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights.

"The motion of the machine reminds me of the relentless movement of progress as the machine moves to its predetermined program, ignorant of its environment and unwilling to stop if anything gets in its way," he said.

"Though paradoxically it is possible to see beauty within its movements, reminding me that technology is a double edged sword and we, humanity, have the possibility to decide which direction it will take."

Merge Festival takes place in venues across the capital until 19 October 2014. Dance Machines can be viewed at 88 Borough High Street, SE1.

Photography is by Matthias Möller