Creator: Kay Slater
Exhibition: Posthuman Romantics 2021
Published: December 2020
Format: Video (captioned English, English Voice/Distorted, Stock Loops)
Access: YouTube (embedded below), Facebook Watch Party
Content Warning: One Poem is about Loss/Haunting (The Raven).
“I started out with a goal to make something that encouraged others in our collective (and for our open call audience) – so something friendly (and everyone loves a diorama), but also to explore otherness as a non-human character.
I also wanted something that would cause people with ‘good hearing’ to have to struggle more without captions than with them. [Laughs] I recognize it’s starting to become a repeating theme in my video work.”Kay Slater
Description of the Work
The session involved a poetry reading by a robot named MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 (pronounced Moonraker). Filmed in a small diorama, the following scene played out:
” [Orbiting the star Ferifax] Upon being auctioned, Asteroid 2230 JP18 was sent a MNRKR1381-3 unit to install repeaters and to begin transmitting core-scans. After 212 rotations, MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 had determined that repeaters were not transmitting and initiated a final shut down to conserve power before pick-up. However, during a final system check and power cycle, it found a folder of non-essential documents and sound files not related to its primary programming. Having already completed its task on the asteroid, it decided against shut down protocol and purged its primary directive. It now regularly reads and performs works from this library, transmitting broadly to any who choose to tune in.”
In researching a “moonraker”, Kay learned that it is both the top most sail on a 4+ sail ship, used for speed, but also an extremely local insult in England (more specifically for the people of Wiltshire) from where the tale of Moon Cheese was popularized. Supposedly the rum bootleggers were so drunk one night that upon seeing the moon reflected in the lake, they fought each other for a chance to rake in the celestial wheel of cheese. Ultimately, the name was chosen for this robot series as planet pioneers designed to install repeater beacons to speed up communications for the first settlers on planets, with a secondary function to scan and comb the planet (with rake-like surface scanners) for any desirable, sub-terrainean assets.
The performance was originally live-streamed on Facebook via a watch party. Thanks to collective members @louisechow and @chrisslater for contributing their voice acting talents.
The video uses light and distortion filters for sound expression. Video is meant to be played with the sound on, but it should be challenging to understand – the captions provide both a chance to better comprehend what is being said, and the opportunity to turn off the sound if that’s preferred.
Within Post-Human Romantics:
Kay created a character named MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 (pronounced Moonraker) and built a small diorama for the stage. In building the character and set, Kay considered how pastoral themes (not required but ever-present in Romanticism) would translate for beings not from Earth or without exposure to a planet that supported Carbon-Based life.
Especially birds. Without a food-chain that involved bugs, or medium+ carnivores, would birds even exist on other planets? Humans can swim and so we have some small understanding of the lives of ocean creatures, but not having the power to fly and hover with only the power of our bodies, birds experience the world in a weird and wonderful way unknown to us. How would you contemplate the wonder, and otherness of birds if gravity was either not a factor or was artificial? It’s not surprising that they are often the characters or focus in pastoral poetry.
The artist states: I liked the idea of a robot finding a junk folder with a bunch of random data (maybe in a user/personnel folder?) with a bunch of text about birds. While the robot might have been created to understand the concept of a bird (or perhaps, more likely, to have the data that humans were fascinated by them), it would be so out of place, and be useless data, on a desolate, sandy asteroid. If Romanticism celebrated the rejection of influence, I wanted my robot, who had decided to choose existence over shutting down and awaiting a pick-up that might never come, to contemplate and be inspired by something that would be completely outside of its programming or “need”.
In Conversation with the Curator:
[Kay] Human, English, Romantic, Poetry, was a performance piece in the weeks leading up to exhibition. Jon had wanted to host some workshops and events that would get people thinking about the concepts and to encourage folks to join us. One of our collective’s goals is to be really open and encouraging to anyone who wants to try and produce work for our events. I was already working on my concepts for The Cosmologist’s Portfolio, and so my character was being fleshed out when we set our schedule for the event. I decided to take one of our lead-up dates to host a poetry reading, as if it was being streamed from the asteroid where my posthuman romantic character, MNRKR1381-3 Series 3, is currently stranded.
Filmed in a small diorama, the following scene played out:
” [Orbiting the star Ferifax] Upon being auctioned, Asteroid 2230 JP18 was sent a MNRKR1381-3 unit to install repeaters and to begin transmitting core-scans. After 212 rotations, MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 had determined that repeaters were not transmitting and initiated a final shut down to conserve power before pick-up. However, during a final system check and power cycle, it found a folder of non-essential documents and sound files not related to its primary programming. Having already completed its task on the asteroid, it decided against shut down protocol and purged it’s primary directive. It now regularly reads and performs works from this library, transmitting broadly to any who choose to tune in. ”
[Jon] MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 has meditated on the poetry of others long enough. What is the subject matter of their first original poem?
[Kay] I like to think that MNRKR1381-3 Series 3 tried its hand at poetry eventually. In Human, English, Romantic, Poetry MNRKR used the filter “birds” for generating the playlist simply because birds would have been a foreign curiosity to a space faring automaton. It might have had access to wider Earth libraries, but even so, birds were still probably not something that it had ever seen or experienced in the flesh and feathers. I remain unconvinced that MNRKR1381-3 was made on Earth, and that it just happened to have a few folders of ancient Earth poetry in a larger database or that it was copied over with the personal log of it’s maker. So I think the first poem MNRKR1381-3 will write will be inspired by its new surroundings; an ode to the dust, rock, or maybe even the rising star itself..