August 13, 1999

Robotic Insurrection in Philadelphia Streets

by I.A.A.

On August 10 and 11 the Institute for Applied Autonomy (I.A.A.) successfully conducted a series of performances as part of it's latest research initiative, Rogue's Gallery, at several locations in the city of Philadelphia. This project utilizes GraffitiWriter, a teleoperated robot developed by the I.A.A. which is capable of spraypainting text messages on the ground at speeds of 10 - 15 mph.

Rogue's Gallery transforms public space into critical sites for free speech and public discourse, while simultaneously transforming ordinary citizens into petty criminals. Under the guise of "performance art", I.A.A. operatives make GraffitiWriter available to members of the general public, who use the robot to spraypaint personal messages on the ground. I.A.A. agents act only as facilitators - both the message content and the actual operation of GraffitiWriter is left in the hands of "civilians."

The I.A.A. performed Rogue's Gallery at locations throughout Philadelphia, including Rittenhouse Square, Clark Park, Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and at various sites in Center City. Message writers included construction workers, a homeless man, and a girl scout troop, in addition to various representatives of the general public. No one was arrested.

"By making GraffitiWriter publicly available, - said I.A.A. associate Kay Saracera, - we accomplish several goals. On the one hand, we are encouraging people to be expressive, to share their thoughts with their communities. Secondly, we are exploring the possibilities of using new technologies to create public spectacles which can alter people's conception of the world around them. If we were to go into a park and hand people cans of spraypaint, no one would write anything because we've been conditioned to believe that graffiti is destructive - not to mention illegal. However, by using a robot, it suddenly seems acceptable behavior to paint all over the ground. In a sense, we are using the robot to create, at least temporarily, a space for free action and expression in the middle of the city, and in broad daylight."

"We're also making a statement about freedom of expression, and public space,- said I.A.A. hothead John Henry - Public space is rapidly disappearing in this country, replaced instead by shopping malls, theme parks, and gated communities - only' clubs with their own laws and enforcement, where any form of public dissent or political protest is strictly forbidden. Rather than contest this space, the left has jumped ship, naively placing its hopes on the internet as a kind of utopian dreamscape, in which anyone can say anything they want. But the freedom to speak is meaningless without the possibility of being heard. In other words, freedom of expression requires that we have the opportunity to get in each other's faces once in awhile - it can't come with an off switch. Free speech is fundamentally a real-world phenomenon, and unless we demand the right to say what we want, where we want, public discourse will become little more than public masturbation".

"Besides,- added I.A.A. member Luther Blisset [sic.], - lawbreaking is cool!"

"It's completely absurd... it makes perfect sense," commented an unidentified onlooker.

The Institute for Applied Autonomy is an independent arts and technology research organization, committed to the study of individual and collective self-determination and to the development of technologies which further these goals. Additional performances of Rogue's Gallery are planned for the upcoming months at several undisclosed locations.

For additional information, or to request images for reproduction, email the Institute for Applied Autonomy at