Multispecies Salon 3: SWARM in New Orleans November 13-23

Dr. Eben Kirksey, 831.600.5937,
Myrtle Von Damitz lll, 504.908.4741,

October 25, 2010


Multispecies Salon 3: SWARM

Exhibitions to Open in New Orleans November 13, 2010

Art exhibitions centered on the relationship between humans and other creatures, The Multispecies Salon 3: Swarm, will open in the St. Claude Arts District of New Orleans on November 13, 2010 from 6 pm to 10 pm and will run through December 5th.

Spawned by the annual conference of the 2010 American Anthropological Association (AAA), this year convening in New Orleans, the Multispecies Salon will explore relations between humans and other creatures.  Art shows will be installed at three sites in the St. Claude district: The Ironworks, (612 Piety St.), The Front (4100 St. Claude Ave., on November 13th only), and Kawliga Studios (3331 St. Claude Ave.).

Coming together in a collaborative venture from the East Coast, the West Coast and New Orleans, six members of a curatorial swarm—Myrtle Von Damitz III, Marnia Johnston, Amy Jenkins, Nina Nichols, Karen Kern, and Eben Kirksey—have brought together a multitude of creative agents.  Over seventy artists—hailing from New Orleans, the far reaches of the United States, Europe, and Australia—will animate the shows.  A full list of these participants—including internationally acclaimed artists like Kathy High, Adam Zaretsky, and Cornelia Hesse-Honeger—is available online.

The swarm is a network with no center to dictate order.  Swarming is the tactic, rather than the theme, of the Multispecies Salon.  Three interrelated themes—orbiting around human relationships with plants, microbes, and animals—will come together in the Multispecies Salon: “Hope in Blasted Landscapes”, “Edible Companions”, and “Life in the Age of Biotechnology.” Hope in Blasted Landscapes will showcase forms of life that persist in post-industrial sites, in the aftermath of disaster.  Blurring the boundaries between food and art, we will invite gallery visitors to eat Edible Companions—critters whose bios, biographical and political lives, might provoke a bit of indigestion.  Life in the Age of Biotechnology will feature new organisms and machines that have been created by humans or are dependent upon on humans for their very survival.

An opening reception will take place at all three gallery sites on Saturday, November 13, from 6 pm to 10 pm, in conjunction with the Prospect 1.5 biennial and the St. Claude Art Walk.  The Swarm Orbs, spherical robots that embody the tactics of our show, will be on the move outside The Front Gallery among goats from Pretty Doe Dairy, creatures involved in an urban bioremediation project.  Samples from a buffet of edible insects, prepared by Zack Lemann of the Audubon Insectarium, will also be available to visitors.

Multispecies Salon events will continue the following week in association with the American Anthropological Association (AAA) conference as well as the New Orleans Fringe Festival, both from November 17-21.  Internationally renowned anthropologists will give lectures about human relations with other species, free and open to the public, at Kawliga Studios (6:30-7:30 pm, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, November 15-19).

Anthropologists will become embedded art critics at the Multispecies Salon—working alongside the curators to help stage and document the events with a live blog.  Happenings in art worlds will accompany discussions at the AAA conference about the emergence of a new approach to anthropology: multispecies ethnography.  Literally ethno-graphy means “people writing” and conventionally anthropologists have limited their research to human realms.  “Creatures previously appearing on the margins of anthropology — as part of the landscape, as food for humans, as symbols — have been pressed into the foreground in recent ethnographies,” write Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich in the November special issue of Cultural Anthropology, the flagship journal of the discipline.

The Fringe Festival parade will stop for music and refreshments at the Multispecies Salon—arriving at the Ironworks site at 2:45 pm on Saturday, November 20.  A garden party, featuring live music by New Orleans musicians Walt McClements and Alex McMurray follows at the Ironworks that afternoon.  The evening of Saturday, November 20 (6pm-9pm) we will present a free concert by the J.O. Evans ensemble. Cuisine from Louisiana’s swamplands—raccoon, gator, and frog legs—will be on offer from Holly Tamale as concessions throughout the day.

Please visit for a full description and schedule of the Multispecies Salon shows and related activities.

Primary contact:

Dr. Eben Kirksey, 831.600.5937,
Myrtle Von Damitz lll, 504.908.4741,

Attached pictures:
The Paranioa Bugs—a swarm of small clay figurines by Marnia Johnston, a sculptural embodiment of biotechnology that has gone wild—will populate the Kawliga Studios (3331 St. Claude Ave).

The Swarm Orbs—an interactive group of kinetic sculptures that cost $50,000 to build—will make their debut in New Orleans at the Front Gallery (4100 St. Claude Ave.) on November 13th.  They will then visit the New Orleans Marriot for the American Anthropological Association conference.

Thneeds Re-seed is a sculptural remediation by Deanna Pindell—a series of small felted habitats, for Bryum argenteum (Silvery Bryum) moss that will be on display at The Ironworks, (612 Piety St.).  As the “first responder” in healing deforested areas, these art objects will help mosses establish basic support systems for the diverse species necessary for the restoration of devastated woodlands.  The original Thneeds were a commodity in Dr Seuss’s famous children’s book, The Lorax.

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The orbs breath life into us as we breath life into them!

This coming weekend we’ll be making a new push to bring the orbs to the next level with communication, choreography, and autonomy!

New Stickers for Techkriti!

The folks at Stickergiant are great fans of SWARM! John printed up a set of really nice 4″ reflective stickers. The students at Techkriti at IIT Kanpur India really dug them! I asked for a couple students to show off their new techno-schwag:

SWARM stickers at Techkriti

SWARM at SubZERO San Jose June 5th 2009

We’ll be rolling our orbots into the hearts of San Jose-ians (hmm, “San Franciscan” rolls off the tongue… there’s got to be a better phrase ;-) ) on June 5th. The orbs will be rolling around downtown at the prestigious SubZERO event! ZER01!


SWARM at Google IO Conference, Maker Faire, Robogames

Building the rolling, singing robotic singularity takes a lot of work, I tell ya! After they’ve taken over, things will be so much easier, I’m sure.

In the mean time, you can see SWARM at several events in the coming weeks.

We’ll be at the After Hours party at the Google IO Developer Conference this Wednesday, May 27th.

This upcoming weekend we’ll be at Maker Faire in San Mateo May 30 & 31st.

and then Robogames in San Francisco, June 12-14! 

Orbots for the future!
Lee for SWARM

SWARM is Open Source

Want to make your own robots? We invite you to stand on our shoulders!

After taking in feedback from our entire group, I am pleased to write that the SWARM Project is now completely open source.

We had previously put restrictions on commercial re-use of our project.

The exact terms of the license can be found here:


We’ve been lax about posting to the SWARM blog… SWARM gets out way more than you know!

Last week the orbs were found dancing and flirting with the laptops at the Jaunty Jackalope Ubuntu Linux Release party! (Each orb runs ARM embedded Debian, pretty nerdy, huh?)

This Thursday 4-30-09 a cadre of orbs will be migrating to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco for a “Nightlife” event! We’ll be there along with the Robots from RoboGames! (bartending bots are so cool)

Be there or be … round.

The orbs will be rolling out to Makers Faire in San Mateo. Don’t go to see us, go to see Maker Faire with your family! It’s really a tremendous event. 

You know what, you -should- go to Maker Faire to see orbs!

And I didn’t even mention SWARM at Subzero in San Jose June 1….  or more orbage at Robogames in San Francisco June 12-14! Oh wait, I just did. :-)

Here’s a bit more about the Jaunty Jackalope release party!

Read more »

Autonomy: well that just kinda worked

Trebor writes:

tonight mike and i spent some quality time with orb 2.  it went well.   

in the attached image, the input targets are black dots, the generated smooth path is in red, and the measured orb path is in green.  more images can be found here:

no simulation here, this is the real thing. :)


SWARM on its way to Burning Man

An email from Michael posted to the SWARM mailing list earlier today


the truck will be on the road in a few minutes!  Congratulations on all your hard work; we have six working orbs, four fully outfitted for autonomy, two autonomous sequences which can be activated directly by joystick, and a good start at the mother node integration which we can build on at the playa!

You rock, swarm rocks, and open your minds to where we can go from here….

Orbs Following a Path

From Mike Prados

tonight, Niladri and I started the dispatcher program, detached the ethernet cable, and removed our stuff to a respectable distance from orb 1 on the soccer field.  It then spent a minute figuring out the initial bias on its sensors, and started rolling.  It turned left and followed the line of the mid-field circle, and corrected a bit.  It never strayed more than 2-3m from the line, we never turned the joystick on, and after four complete circles, we got tired of walking along with it and turned it off.
(image in SVN)

I’m sure we could have left it going until the batteries wore down.

We are standing at the edge of great things.  Most of them will happen eventually, but we have a special opportunity to make some of them happen in a little over a week.  How far we get between now and then is up to all of us.  Of course, the more we can nail down the platform, the more time we will have to develop the art.

There is a lot to do.  Please help to make it happen!

Followup from Niladri

It was pretty awesome to see the orb do circles. I thought it was the absinthe. On a field with no markings and with a slightly bigger circle I bet it will be hard to tell the 2-3 m deviation.  Although an orb autonomously following a circle on a field is a fine demonstration of our technical skills it’s not that interesting in terms of art.   The unique window and ~40k spectators  that BM offers will probably won’t come by soon. And these people will remember us by what we put out there on the playa and not what we do later in the shop. So ye autonomy people please please make the whole thing happen. Feel free to pass on non-autonomy work to the rest of us. As Jon remarked yesterday there has been a lot of stack popping lately and it’s wonderful. Yay we are now artists again.


A shoutout from Michael

One of the most important factors in going from the random paths we had a couple weeks ago to our current semblance of path following is changing to the U-blox LEA-5H GPS modules.  These outperform anything else we’ve seen at the sub $300 price point, but they are not available from the manufacturer with an integrated antenna.  Fortunately, the folks at PPZUAV have created an awesome PCB for the modules with an integrated antenna, which provides on board voltage regulation and comm out via RS-232, TTL serial, and usb.  They’ve been extremely helpful, and I’d recommend them happily!

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