By Kieran K. Meadows
Industrial shop machines clutter the inside of a gutted former church on Pioneer Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The roof rises about 60 feet and a steep wooden staircase leads to a loft-like second floor. Orange extension cords snake along catwalk-like structures and thick ropes hang from wooden rafters. Inside a room on the second floor, methodical instructions cover worktable surfaces reminiscent of a plant assembly line.
A small tour of three artists wound its way around the studio space, intrigued by the organized chaos—a cross between a shop artists’ funhouse and endless storage space.
“There are about 1,000 parts in Raining Tree,” boasted Chico MacMurtrie, the artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works, as he pointed to a large silvery tree-like structure slumped in storage. At one point the tree was a robotic installation that responded to the presence of viewers by moving and dripping water rhythmically from its branches.
“I need hands all the time,” MacMurtrie said to the group—a sculptor, a painter, and a seamstress. “I can’t always pay, but I can feed you.”
MacMurtrie, 47, calls himself a robotic sculptor. He founded Amorphic Robot Works in 1991 as a collaboration of artists, engineers and programmers to help him realize his mechanical kinetic sculptures. Much of MacMurtrie’s work consists of many small parts that must fit perfectly and move together for the sculpture to function. In many ways, his work serves as a metaphor for the way he runs his studio: like another one of his machines, but with artists and co-workers as the integral parts.
“The people here are like the components,” MacMurtrie said.