A popularity contest in the robotic petting zoo - ESRC Impact Acceleration Award

Merel Bekking, a designer and artist, started her artist-in-residency in the Social Brain in Action lab this week. This residency is funded by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award to Emily Cross and Ruud Hortensius. The goal of this programme is to develop projects that enrich the local community and communicate research through a collaboration between Bangor researchers and external artists. During her residency Merel will work together with Emily and Ruud and other members of the SoBA lab and the Social Robots project to create a robotic petting zoo. This petting zoo will be on display in Pontio this autumn.

Title of the project: A popularity contest in the robotic petting zoo.

About the project

In this interactive public art performance by designer Merel Bekking, a small group of vacuuming robots, all with unique characters, compete in a popularity contest in a robotic petting zoo housed in Pontio. The characters of the robots are developed in collaboration with a local community theatre group. Visitors of the zoo can interact and feed the robots, with a display showing the intermediate raking of the robots in the popularity contest. By feeding the robots, following their lives and personalities, and rooting for them to win the contest, visitors can interact with petting zoo robots and shape who wins the popularity contest, and thus reveal more about the social relationships humans might forge with artificial agents. 

About the artist

Merel Bekking is a contemporary product designer from The Netherlands. In 2012, she graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts (NL). Bekking likes to work on bigger design thinking projects involving cross-sector collaborations. These big research projects are more focused on questions rather than solutions or products. She has worked together with plastic producers, South African artists, traditional Sotho wavers, taxidermists and neuroscientists. Her work has been funded by the Creative Industries Fund NL, Creative Action Llandudno and the K. F. Hein Fonds, and is developed on her own initiative and in commission. Bekking has exhibited and presented at the Milan Design Week, Dutch Design Week, DIY Berlin, the World Architecture Festival in Singapore, and more. Between 2015 and 2016 Bekking was working and living in Cape Town (South Africa), and in the beginning of 2017 she relocated to Bangor, North Wales. Since her arrival in the UK she has exhibited her work at Castell02 and Galeri Caernarfon. Recently, she finished an Artist in Residence with Culture Action Llandudno researching the 4000-year-old copper mine on the Great Orme and created contemporary designer objects based on her findings. Merel is very excited to collaborate with the SoBA lab on the Social Robots project and to work with researchers within Bangor’s School of Psychology to develop her robotic petting zoo.

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About the IAA

The Bangor University Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) Creative Practitioner-in-Residence programme is a Knowledge Exchange programme designed to enrich the local and regional community through a partnership between a Bangor University host researcher and an external creative practitioner. The IAA Creative Practitioner-in-Residence programme will provide funding to enable Bangor University researchers from any discipline to bring one (per-residency) external creative practitioner (e.g., musician, artist, journalist, designer, filmmaker, etc.) inward for a short-term residency at Bangor University. The Resident’s work should be linked to the research of the academic.

Publication date: 10 October 2017