Ars Electronica 2007
Festival-Website 2007
Back to:
Festival 1979-2007



'Peter William Holden Peter William Holden

AutoGene began to take form one rainy summer's day when I was a child. While watching a television program about early twentieth century flying machines, I was struck by an image of an early attempt to create a helicopter. The machine consisted of a large umbrella protruding out above the midsection of an automobile. Flight was to be achieved by the rapid opening and closing of the umbrella. Although fabulous to watch, the contraption just bounced chaotically on the ground.This intrepid invention altered my perspective on machinery and gave me an insight into the beautiful world of the dysfunctional machine.

Many years later I found myself playing with an umbrella admiring its simplicity and its ability to transform. I realized I could utilize these characteristics to produce mechanical pixels.With the limited resources available to me, I began to think how I could generate dramatic imagery with just a bunch of umbrellas. This resulted in the concept of automating and choreographing them to music.

Now all I had to do was recruit my dance troupe. I began to tour department stores auditioning umbrellas before the eyes of baffled sales assistants. At the same time, back in my studio I began to modify and test umbrellas and slowly AutoGene began to take form.

What emerged from this process is a simple robot comprising of eight umbrellas hybridized with compressed air cylinders. These umbrellas are mounted in a circular formation on a wall and daisy chained together via a cocktail of air hoses, valves and electrical cables. A computer residing within a Jules Verne inspired port hole at the center of the installation choreographs the installation to Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ In The Rain”.With its rapid expanding and contracting umbrellas AutoGene forms a sequence of patterns that evolve into a performance: transforming the mundane umbrellas into magical animated objects.

“Singin’ in the Rain”—Written by Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown; Performed by Gene Kelly;
1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer