News Column

Night watch: Robots roam Tate Britain

August 13, 2014

Maev Kennedy

In the small hours of the next five nights, things that absolutely will not go bump in the night will be roaming the galleries of Tate Britain.

After Dark will use four robots - which move at surprising speed despite looking like the love children of a close encounter between a coat rack and a standard lamp - to let the public experience the eerie thrill of visiting the sleeping art. It has won the first IK Prize for a project that widens access to art through digital technology.

Created by design studio The Workers, After Dark was rescued from oblivion by Jane Burton, creative director of Tate Media. With the longlist already complete, she decided to go through the dozens of discarded ideas. The midnight robots immediately caught her imagination. The judging panel, including the Guardian's Jemima Kiss, shared her enthusiasm.

Burton expects virtual visitors to be gripped by the idea of sharing such an unusual experience. "After all, who hasn't dreamed of wandering through a museum, alone, at night?"

When the project goes live, at 10pm tonight, the robots will be controlled by members of the public logging in from anywhere in the world. They can go anywhere in the main galleries, but have been fitted with sophisticated sensors to avoid both robot wars and bumping into priceless works of art - and like the Daleks, they don't do stairs.

Although only a few people will be able to operate them - with the design team on hand backstage to intervene or cut short a session in case of disaster or dullness - anyone will be able watch their progress via live stream.

David di Duca, one of the three-member Workers team, said the idea came from design work they were already doing at Tate Modern and the Sainsbury Centre collection at UEA in Norwich. They were struck by the magic of having the galleries to themselves at night, and how powerful and different the experience was from their busy daytime life.

The Workers won a pounds 10,000 prize and a pounds 60,000 development budget - and both the gallery and the design team are already wondering what the robots could do next.

After Dark broadcasts from Tate Britain from 13 to 17 August 2014

Photograph: Alexey Moskvin/PA

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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