Design / Innovation
Can a Building Have a Heart?
Artist Robert Walton worked with a team of data scientists, builders, architects and lighting designers to create an artwork that reveals a building’s heart. The artwork will be integrated into the building and connect directly to its nervous system of sensors and its respiratory system of heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The Heart will begin beating soon and will continue for at least 42 years, or longer, for the life of the building. This artwork acknowledges Melbourne Connect as a breathing, sensing synthetic being striving to support the life of its community. Though not alive, it is by the admission of its creators, ‘smart’, amongst the ‘smartest yet made’. Buildings such as these are on the cusp of becoming new kinds of superorganisms. Let’s make them benevolent beings. Like the non-human life that teams through our bodies, we are part of the zoology that exceeds the sum of its parts to create semi-autonomous built environments. As the heart will be at the beginning stages of installation, the artist will present a talk reflecting on the meaning of the work, and the collaborative design process behind its execution.
Robert Walton is a conceptual, media and performance artist and a director whose work includes theatre, choreography, installation, writing and interactive art. Described by The Times as “an original and talented thinker and theatre maker”, he has directed the creation of over 30 shows. Robert trained in theatre at Dartington College of Arts (England) and as a technologist in The University of Glasgow’s Master of Science in Information Technology (Software and Systems) programme. His PhD from the University of Melbourne explored the creative use of mobile computing in performance events.
Before moving to Australia Robert co-founded two experimental art organisations in Scotland: Reader Performance Group and Fish & Game. These companies enabled Robert to create a wide range of experimental theatre, installation, and interactive site-responsive performance works with long-term collaborator Ivor MacAskill that toured Scotland, UK, Europe and to Australia. Alma Mater, their final work together, was credited as “the world’s first piece of iPad theatre” (The Independent, UK). Robert moved to Australia in 2011 to join the Theatre Department at the Victorian College of Arts, University of Melbourne. In the last decade his work has increasingly explored the use of emerging technology through a series of innovative collaborations and partnerships. In association with Arts House, Robert initiated In Your Hands, a three-year project with four teams of artists and app developers creating new hybrid artworks exploring the potential of theatre on mobile devices in public space. With funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and City of Melbourne Robert co-created Vanitas, an artwork for smartphones and cemeteries, which was nominated for The Webby Award for best Art and Experimental Mobile App in 2018 and Best Production and Innovation in Site-responsive Performance at the 2019 Green Room Awards. In 2018 Robert was the inaugural Australia Council Artist in Residence at Blast Theory (UK) where he developed the concept for the hybrid participatory artworkChild of Now. In 2019 he was commissioned by the City of Chicago to create Exhuming Johnny for the Goat Island Archive and the Year of Chicago Theatre. In 2019 his concept for The Heartwon the competition to create a permanent digital artwork for Melbourne Connect.
In addition to his art practice Robert has undertaken a range of roles for the sector. From 2004-2009 Robert was the Lead Programmer for New Work Network (UK), creating the world’s first social networking site for artists. He co-curated the season of Australian dance and performance works for Culture 2014, The XXth Commonwealth Games Glasgow. In Higher Education he has held the leadership roles of Associate Head of Performance and Programme Leader BA Contemporary Performance Practice at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Head of Theatre and Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. He wrote the BFA Theatre Practice and BFA Theatre Practice (Honours) degrees and the Acting Breadth Track, a suite of subjects that enables students from across the University to experience conservatoire-style studio-based theatre training. Since 2019 Robert has been Resident Artist at the School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne working on projects that combine performance, computing and data for Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Connect. http://robertwalton.net/project/the-heart/
Zaher is a research data specialist, currently working at the Chancellery of The University of Melbourne. He is a part of the Melbourne Data Analytics Platform (MDAP), an interdisciplinary team working to uplift digital research capabilities at the university. Over the last decade Zaher has worked across research and industry in the fields of visual computing, mixed reality, image processing and machine learning. In 2010 he graduated as the highest-ranking student in computer science at The University of Aleppo, and subsequently completed a master’s degree from The University of Melbourne. He has received four awards for outstanding scholarship and three postgraduate travel awards.