Severin Taranko lives in Dresden, Germany, and is an active participant at Burning Man, the European Leadership Summit, AfrikaBurn and other Regionals. Each year he creates and gifts wristbands at Burning Man, which are incredibly detailed and well researched; he’s elevated the wristband to the level of art, or at the very least, high craft!
Severin sent Larry Harvey his framed 2017 wristband, which now hangs at the Burning Man office; you can view the wristband and its story here.
This year Severin attended the Fifth Annual Maker Reception in Black Rock City and presented his marvellous 2018 I, Robot wristband, which was highlighted on a sign he wore on his back. Below is the story of Severin’s I, Robot wristband.
Burning Man 2018
“Inspired by this year’s theme and Isaac Asimov’s science fiction stories, I imagined a revolutionary group of robots uniting in the great expanse of the Black Rock Desert to celebrate the miracle of existence. Creativity and potentiality fill the air, and inspiration can be found in various art installations. This isn’t just a simple gathering of sort but a powerful manifestation of dreams, visions and possibilities where robots can imagine and experiment with how they wish their society to be. Welcome to ‘Robot Man’, a temporary city of exploration and beauty.”
“The human species is mesmerized by technology and artificial intelligence; I envision a similar culture amongst robots, where they, as an artificially created life form, are fascinated by biological life. The ability to understand one’s own self leads to a fascination with difference; it’s only natural that robots would be intrigued by the other higher life forms as we are.
The DNA molecule is the foundation of all living things — a unique code in which countless variations exist, and act as the blueprint for all living organisms. This art installation represents this foundational code of life and is meant to honor the uniqueness of the DNA molecule with a sophisticated, wooden structure of two intertwining staircases with steps that light up as one climbs them.
If you take a closer look, you will notice that there are different ‘species’ of robots gathered around this installation. There is an airborne robot, a biped and a quadruped. Diversity is an integral part of an ecosystem and artificial ecosystems are no exception.”
“I love Laura Kimpton’s ‘Big Letter Words’ installations at Burning Man. As a tribute to her art, the robots have continued the tradition of putting affirming words out on playa.
Unlike humans, robots utilize a language that they are more familiar with. ‘Concat’ is a term in the programming language SQL and it is used to merge two tables (data blocks) together. This can be interpreted as a message to connect and unite.
In front of the installation you can see a group of robots engaged in a group hug with a small robot hastily running toward them from around the corner to participate. There is also a couple that teases each other at the letter ‘O’.
If you look closely, the letters are cut out with the shape of a bird. It is the same bird Laura has used in her art installations. When I learned what it meant for Laura and the significance of it in her life, I felt compelled to include this detail, even though it’s not really noticeable in the final artwork.”
“I imagine that robots, like humans, have to incorporate yoga in their daily lives to maintain their physicality and cease their positronic brain storm. This is inspired by a surreal scene I witnessed in 2014, in which the Boombox art car held a yoga class near the temple.
The yoga pose that the robots are in is my girlfriend Hana’s favorite yoga pose. It is called Dandayamana Dhanurasana, and it is intended to enhance patience, determination, focus and balance.”
THE HAT BURN
“Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, passed away this year. He would wear a Stetson hat, which became a symbolic icon for Larry. Larry was known as ‘the man with the hat’. This image comes to mind when I think of his passing.
One thing I really admire about Larry is that he didn’t make Burning Man about him. He created something so meaningful and yet managed to leave his ego out completely. Only the greatest souls are able to do so.
Usually, I would place the Burning Man effigy in the center of my wristbands, but this year I set up a Temple for Larry, shaped like a giant Stetson hat. It is a memorial to honor his life and a space for remembrance and mourning of his passing. Therefore the usual light-colored ribbon of the hat was replaced with a black one.
While the Temple is consumed by the flames, it bears a message to the Burning Man community. Hidden inside the Stetson Temple is a Burning Man effigy that is revealed by the flames. It is a symbol of Larry’s legacy: whereas his body is turning into ashes, Burning Man culture is here to stay. We will carry on what you started, Larry. RIP.”
THE KISSING COUPLE
“The playa is a catalyst for love and romantic connections — some temporary, while others endure the test of time. This kissing couple symbolizes my girlfriend Hana and me. We fell in love at Afrikaburn this year, and I wanted to incorporate an alternate robot version of us in a parallel universe. And very much like in our relationship, I am firmly held in her grip.”
TRACKS OF TIME
“Another element that I usually incorporate in my wristband designs is the year of the event. For this year’s date I drew inspiration from the captivating art installation ‘Aqueous’ by Jen Lewin.
Last year friends and I danced on it to the sounds of the Mayan Warrior and Robot Heart. It was one of my favorite moments of this Burn. When I close my eyes I still see us hugging, illuminated from below, immersed in the moment. I imagine the robots would have a good time at this art piece too, especially a quadruped.”
“In the movie ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, one of my favorite movies, there is a scene where the supercomputer ‘Deep Thought’ gives the ‘Answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’. It just took him a mere 7.5 million years to arrive at the answer. Who wouldn’t be excited to hear it…
And guess what. It’s ‘42’!
I always thought this scene was hilarious. But the answer Deep Thought is giving is much more than just a silly joke. It reveals a philosophical insight actually. In ASCII code, a character alphabet used for early programming languages, the 42nd character is an asterisk. In software development the asterisk is a wildcard character, a placeholder that can stand for anything. For example, if you search for “*.jpg” on your computer the search returns any jpg images it can find on your hard drive.
So with a twinkle in the eye — the answer to the ultimate question of life is: Anything you want it to be! There is no single answer to the question what life means to somebody. Everybody has to find the right answer for themselves.
For this scene I imagined an art installation where Deep Thought sits enthroned on a pedestal, crunching its calculations. The pedestal offers his creators a comfortable place to sit while they wait patiently for the answer. Ironically, the pedestal is shaped like a giant asterisk, so, without being aware of it, the robots sit on the answer already. We see this all the time — only in hindsight we realize that the answer we were looking for was right before our eyes all the time.”
THE EYE IN THE SKY
“The panorama of this wristband with all of its details could only be captured by something flying high in the sky, most likely a drone or an airborne robot. I am sure other robots would have noticed it and waved for the camera. Like these two fellows.”
TO MEND A BROKEN HEART
“Whenever I witness a marriage at Burning Man, it touches me deeply. It is such a powerful statement of the significance Burning Man holds for people. People choose Burning Man to get married because it reflects who they are and where they feel at home more than any other place. Therefore, the last scene of this wristband was dedicated to love and union.
Do robots want to get married? I don’t know, but at Robot Man they certainly do. And like us humans, they look for a meaningful place to exchange their vows. The installation with the two hands mending a broken heart is inspired by conversations with my friend An, who supported me during the creation phase of this wristband. I like the idea of two hands gently bringing together something intricate but broken. I imagine that people would be able to stand between the heart’s halves, and when they listen closely, they hear whispered lover’s oaths.
In front of the installation a group of robots has gathered to witness the marriage of their friends. The couple holds a smaller and still intact version of the heart while they say the vows to each other. I envision the smaller heart would record the voices and replay them in the installation behind in a collective whisper of love affirmations.”
If you want to know more about my project, meet me on playa, or get updates on the new wristband edition for 2019, email Severin Taranko at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Top photo by Christine “Ladybee” Kirsten)