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Chico MacMurtrie

Tyler Williams
Artist Presentation

Chico MacMurtrie was born in New Mexico in 1961. He studied at the University of Arizona and went on to earn a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of California at Los Angeles. He is the director of the Amorphic Robot Works, which is a group of artists, technicians and programmers that work with machines sculptures that interact with their environments.

I enjoy the work of Chico MacMurtrie because of his unique ability to bring organic life to robots and machines. The machines that he builds have many organic characteristics and they often take on a life of their own. The viewer doesn't look at his creations as though they are machines but instead the viewer believes that he/she is interacting with another life form.

In his creation "Growing Raining Tree", MacMurtrie has created an amorphic tree that reacts to its surrounding environment. MacMurtrie uses the idea of interactivity because as viewers come near the tree, the limbs begin to stretch towards the viewer. The tree also responds to amount of sunlight that is in the room and occasionally it will rain out of its limbs based on the weather. The viewer is left to ponder artificial nature, the relationship between humans and nature and the way nature responds to its environment.

In his creation "Skeletal Reflections", has created a mimicking robotic skeleton. The robot mimics the gestures of the viewer based on a database of poses from throughout art history. Thus MacMurtrie again utilizes viewer interaction such that the viewers are in control of the robots movements, however the fact that the machine can only choose poses from art history the viewer must also think about the relationship between art and the machines as well as the viewer and machine.

The larger body of work from MacMurtrie fallows similar themes of interactivity and the transformation of machine into organic life. "Inflatable Architechture" is one of his newest installations and it uses many of the ideas from "Growing Raining Tree". The structures seem to grow as they are filled with air and becoming life like. This is another concept that is illustrated in "Totemobile" in which he transforms a car into a flowerlike totem pole.

I think that work of Chico MacMurtie is reminiscent of the work of Jim Henson because of his ability to bring objects to life. Although Chico MacMurtrie does this with advanced machinery and Jim Henson primarily uses puppetry, they both share an unbelievable knowledge of the movement of creatures and plants and they both use this knowledge to create immersive environments.

The work of Chico MacMurtie has inspired me to try to hide the technology that is powering the artwork not by covering it but by making the movements of the creature so life like that the viewer is not interested in how the creation works but is instead focused on their interaction with this creation. I also like the way that in some of his works he has created a totally immersive environment. That is also something that I want to take away with me and utilize in my own projects.