Headless ‘jiving’ humanoids, four-legged Meccano-type machines hopping over fences like at the finals of Crufts; we’re watching archive footage of prototype robots being tested in action. It’s the only moment of relative light relief, of dance, in fact, during Arkadi Zaides’ lecture-demonstration performance TALOS.
TALOS is also the name of an EU-funded research project: a mobile robot surveillance system intended to prevent illegal border infringement in Europe. The discovery of this chilling, real-life science fiction is what impelled the politically engaged Israeli choreographer to out the scheme on stage.
The influence that borders have on the movement of ‘organic elements’, or the choreography of refugees fleeing war zones, if you will, is what Zaides describes, with the cold detachment of an automaton, in a keynote demonstration that uses computer graphics to represent human movement with dinky blue or black dots that scuttle about the screen.
Although not a dance performance, there is a verging-on-cynical concession to choreography that reflects the bleakness of the subject material. It’s detectable in Zaides’ own mechanical circling of the stage and the acceleration of his voice as he enumerates the various human-like reactions the ‘devices’ would be developed to possess: response to aggressive gestures, ability to negotiate obstruction, heat sensing and so on.
We cut back again to the screen, but this time the computer graphics are spliced together with aerial images of an Israeli checkpoint. One side of the border: black and blue dots. On the other: disorientated, distressed human beings.
Not so incidentally, TALOS is also the name of a bronze giant from Greek mythology whose role was to guard and protect Europe’s borders. ‘Many European projects take their names from Greek mythology,’ explains Zaides. ‘It adds an epic quality and fits a certain social narrative.’
The TALOS system has not yet been implemented, because, ominously, its creators are seeking further funding…