Marco Donnarumma (IT/DE), Ana Rajčević (DE) 7 Configurations: The AI prostheses

Installation, 2014―2019
In collaboration with Neurorobotics Research Laboratory, Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin

7 Configurations is a cycle of performances and installations on the conflicts surrounding the human body in the era of artificial intelligence (AI). Through combined research on movement, dramaturgy, sound and technological engineering, each of the works in the cycle combines human bodies, robotic hardware, machine learning software and microorganisms into a particular ‘configuration’.

The machines of the 7 Configurations embody uncanny combinations of the machinic with the organic. They are useless prostheses, paradoxical objects designed for the body, but not to enhance it, rather to subtract functions from it: a skin-cutting robot with a steel metal knife, a facial prosthesis which blocks the wearer’s gaze with a mechanical arm, and two robotic spines that function as additional limbs without a body.

Created in collaboration with designer Ana Rajčević and engineer Christian Schmidts, the prostheses are first hand sculpted, then modelled in 3D software, 3D-printed, assembled and refined again by hand. Some of them are enveloped by bacterial biofilm cultured by Margherita Pevere. All robots are offsprings of an initial template, which is anatomically modified according to the needs of each artwork.

The prostheses have been created to act as performers with their own agency, that is, to interact with their human partners without being controlled externally. The machines are embedded with biomimetic neural networks, information processing algorithms inspired by biological nervous systems. Developed by Donnarumma in collaboration with the Neurorobotics Research Laboratory (DE), these neural networks endow the machines with artificial cognitive and sensorimotor skills.

Sensory data captured in real time by servo motors enable each prostheses to perceive its own body in space, as well as the bodies of the other performers, and improvise movements in response to external stimuli, such as touch, pressure, pull and torsion. As it moves, a prostheses learns about its partners and environment, constantly modifying its behaviour across time.

Amygdala, 2017―2018, robotic sculpture from stand-alone installation. Media: Artificial skin, artist’s hair, epoxy, beeswax, FPGA computer board, custom AI software (adaptive neural networks, reinforcement learning algorithms), servo motors, 3D-printed body, aluminium chassis, steel metal knife.

Rei, 2018, facial robotic prosthesis used in the performance Eingeweide. Media: Bacterial cellulose, FPGA computer board, custom AI software (adaptive neural networks, reinforcement learning algorithms), servo motors, 3D-printed body, aluminium chassis.

C, 2018, robotic spinal prosthesis used in the performance Alia: Zǔ tài. Media: FPGA computer board, custom AI software (adaptive neural networks, reinforcement learning algorithms), servo motors, 3D-printed body, aluminium chassis.

Marco Donnarumma (IT/DE)

Marco Donnarumma is an artist, performer and scholar weaving together contemporary performance, new media art and computer music since the early 2000s. He manipulates bodies, creates choreographies, engineers technology and composes sounds, combining disciplines and media into an oneiric, sensual, uncompromising aesthetics. He is internationally acknowledged for solo performances, stage productions and installations where the body becomes a morphing language to speak critically of ritual, power and technology.

In 2019, he co-founded the artists group Fronte Vacuo with Margherita Pevere and Andrea Familari. Their first series of performances, Humane Methods, exposes the violence of today’s algorithmic societies and brings to the stage human performers, non-human organisms and AI-driven dramaturgy. Donnarumma’s own cycle of performances and installations, 7 Configurations, dissects the conflicts between AI and body politics through the relationships of four human performers and six AI prostheses. The works are currently touring in Europe and Asia.

Touring regularly for the past fifteen years across theaters, concert halls, festivals and museums worldwide, his repertoire received numerous acknowledgments, most recently: Digital Award at Romaeuropa Festival 2018 for Eingeweide; two awards at the Bains Numériques Biennial 2018, as well as the Award of Distinction (2nd prize) in Sound Art at Prix Ars Electronica 2017 for Corpus Nil; Artist of the Science Year 2018 by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education for Amygdala.


Ana Rajčević (DE)

Ana Rajčević (DE) is an artist working at the intersection of sculpture, fine arts and performance, focusing on different ways of altering the body through complex pieces of adornment called “prosthetic body - sculptures”. Her artistic practice confronts the question of how the ever-shifting material forms and substances in which human subjects are embodied configure understandings of “humanity” itself. With a multi-disciplinary inquiry that combines experimental art and design with research in biomedicine, history, materials science, and psychology, Rajcevic creates unique ‘wearable sculptures’ using most notably natural and synthetic polymers: wax, resin, silicon and rubber, as well as other novel materials and techniques. Exhibiting internationally in such museums and galleries as the Louvre (FR), Smithsonian Design Museum (US), Boijmans Museum (NL), Venice Biennale (IT), her work has been published in The Independent, The Guardian, Wired, CNN, and Dazed & Confused, among others.

She has received multiple awards for her work, and since 2015 she has been elected member of the RSA - Royal Society of Arts in London. Rajcevic regularly works and collaborates within the performing arts field, and her performance collaborations were shown in venues such as Sadler's Wells (UK), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (DE), and Münchner Kammerspiele (DE). She earned a Master of Arts from the University of the Arts, London, in 2012, and has since been regularly invited as conference speaker and lecturer.