“Chrysalis” by Chico MacMurtrie at Pioneer Works (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Last Saturday, a giant robot unfolded its jointed inflatable arms in Red Hook to creep out into a lattice of temporary architecture. Created by artist Chico MacMurtrie with Amorphic Robot WorksChrysalis at Pioneer Works is the latest in the artist’s series of robotic art that responds to the humans around it, and invites them to interact with its alien form.

Chrysalis, which MacMurtie created in a collaboration with Bill Bowen, hovers between sculptural environment and inflatable architecture, with robotics to make it something somewhat autonomous. The Red Hook-based Amorphic Robot Works, run by MacMurtie, previously installed the Robotic Church with humanoid metal beings clanging and strumming away in the former Norwegian Seamen’s Church down the street from Pioneer Works. With Chrysalis, their latest piece with a name referencing an insect growth period, there’s more of a sense of awe in an unpredictable being.

Forest of Totems

“Forest of Totempoles”

On entering the gallery, you first walked by the Forest of Totempoles, a darkly-lit installation where inflatable “totem poles” bounded up from a root-like artery in response to movement. As they snarled closer and closer to the ceiling in a disconcerting, primordial way, they revealed unsettling human forms like a torso surrounded by organic shapes or a human head with dangling arms looming up from the amorphous blobs.

Robotic Church

Aerial view of “Chrysalis”

Inside the main space, Chrysalis was much more elegant. Its tendrils fluttered down from wooden boxes (which might have been more effective encased in something a little more unnatural), and at first were immobile. Supposedly how it works is when someone approaches, it slowly opens a “portal.” It’s not a work for the impatient, as each of the 100 fabric tubes take their ominous time in stretching out to a 40-foot-wide architecture. Yet this didn’t stop the many kids at the opening from totally freaking out when they saw it and sprinting towards its opening arms as if they were an embrace of a gigantic playground friend. While the adults in the crowd were hesitant to walk beneath the “portal,” unsure maybe when the inflation would suddenly unwind at an unexpected bruising angle, there were plenty of frolicking kids and bicycles and scooters intrepidly sailing under the tubes.


“Chrysalis” unfolds

Over in a side gallery was a video of the Totemobileanother work by MacMurtie, where a gorgeous 1965 Citroën DS transforms into a 60-foot-tall column of industrial beauty. It’s a shame it was just a video because the interlocking, smooth movement that turned the car into a towering totem had a mesmerizing quality absent from Chrysalis, where the glacial pace of the portal didn’t have the same wonder in the unexpected. However, both have an innovative transformative quality, and an intriguing look at what the combination of massive Red Hook spaces like Pioneer Works with creatives like longtime robot builder MacMurtie can generate on a Saturday afternoon.

Robotic Church

Biking through the portal

Robotic Church

View of expanded “Chrysalis”


Chico MacMurtie presenting “Chrysalis”

Chrysalis + The Forest of Totempoles are on view by appointment at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn) through November 24. A closing reception and performance will be held on November 24 from 4 – 7 pm.  

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...