(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
A Brooklyn artist has turned a vintage Citroën DS into a bizarre, transforming robot.
A car can be a lot more than just a machine for getting around. Sleek and elegant, they can also be powerful symbols of luxury, speed and power. It's small wonder that some lavish on their vehicles an almost worshipful adoration.
The 1965 Citroën DS is a classic beauty: all burnished curves and long, aerodynamic forms, like a shark for the road, with its own idolising fans.
It's this car that Brooklyn artist Chico MacMurtrie chose to turn into a work of art called Totemobile — a car that transforms into a totem pole to bring us to a point of primitive awe and wonder.
Starting from the Citroën's familiar and relatively unassuming chassis, the car slowly unfolds itself into a tower that stretches itself 18 metres high, festooned with inflatable sculptures and light.
McMurtrie, who has had over 20 years of experience in robotics, powered the Totemobile with electric linear actuators, controlled by an Allen-Bradley control system designed for factory automation. This keeps track of the machine's movements with over 100 sensors, and nearly 50 interdependent machines enable the robot to move.
It's also equipped with emergency stops and laser shields that halts the robot's movement should a curious onlooker stray closer than is safe.
As the familiar structure visually decomposes into its constituent geometric parts, each part becomes a more organic version of the original, and eventually lends its decomposing body to support the life of the new organism it harbours. This automobile's point of natural transcendence lies in its inflatable air bags: in protecting and distancing its unforgiving synthetic body from us, the inflatable provides a point of direct contact with biological frailty.
The form of the totem pole is narrative in nature. As the sculpture rises, multiple narratives unfold. In the collision, negotiation and compromises reached between the organic and the inorganic aspects of itself, narratives suggesting entropy, domination, transformation, mortality and the nature of strength are exposed.
McMurtrie conceived the idea after he had been saving parts of his old Nissan truck to turn into a dog-monkey sculpture. Then, when Citroën approached him asking for a display for its showroom, he decided to think laterally. "The Citroën DS was the first lowrider, and being that I'm half Mexican, I wanted to make the car do something that was metaphorically different than what a lowrider does. It grows up instead of lowering," he told The New York Times.
The result is strangely organic: a car that blossoms like a flower, taking the familiar and mechanical and turning it back to nature. Optimus Prime it ain't — but alien and majestic it certainly is.