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Play with friendly robots and miniature dolls in this interactive exhibition

Caroline Gates

Welcome to the 29th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! July’s culture selector is Caroline Gates: program director at FBi Radio. Every Wednesday of July, Caro will be telling us what she loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to her.

I’m being watched. My movement is being tracked by a robot that looks like a server rack minimally decorated with LEDs, electronics and a laptop. It’s not alone - there are seven others to keep it company – but somehow the mood they induce is more playful than ominous.

This little dance is happening in a darkened room at Gymea’s Hazelhurst Regional Gallery – 40 minutes from Sydney CBD down the Princes Highway. For years now some of Sydney’s best contemporary art has been bubbling up from the edges thanks to local governments investing in galleries such as Hazelhurst, Casula Powerhouse, Blacktown Arts Centre and Campbelltown Arts Centre. Each space is an invaluable community hub as well as a honeypot for day-trippers from other postcodes, like me.

Dream Machines is a new exhibition that explores harmonies between science, technology, engineering, maths and art. Curator Carrie Kibber has gathered works by James Dodd, Wade Marynowsky, Cameron Robbins, Tricky Walsh, David Lawrey and Jaki Middleton. Their inventions invite you to participate and play as well as look and think.

Wade Marynowsky 'Robot Operetta' at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery
Photograph: Silversalt

The cheeky server racks are Marynowsky’s Robot Operetta. Other works include a solar-powered drawing instrument that dances wildly across paper scrolls to create ink sketches tracing each day’s weather patterns; a mutant bicycle-powered tool that paints by remote control; and a ‘terahertz transceiver’ or theoretical communication device built from intricately carved balsa wood, copper wiring and salt crystals.

Tricky Walsh 'THz (Terahertz transceiver)'
Photograph: Silversalt

David Lawrey and Jaki Middleton’s work ‘This Isn’t Happening’ is made up of three hand-made dioramas: intricate dollhouses featuring automatons powered by vintage gramophone motors. Each is a single woman in a domestic context - struggling to fall asleep, to clean a floor, to find something that’s been lost. You crank the motor that forces them to repeat these actions, just as we endlessly repeat our own daily interactions with technology. Wasn’t technological advancement meant to rescue us from the monotony of the everyday rather than reinforce new patterns? The artists say the automatons act as stand-ins for our common anxieties and feelings of disconnection. The work does provoke this sense of unease but it also prompts friendly interaction with others around me as we take turns cranking the motor. 

Dream Machines is more than mechanics. The exhibition displays the power of art to help us explore our complex relationships with machines and technology, while also having a bit of fun behind the wheel.

Dream Machines runs until September 10 at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery. Free guided tours run Wed, Sat and Sun at noon.

While you’re here, check our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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