Max Dean and Raffaello D’Andrea, The Table, 1984-2001

Installation

Aluminum table, motors, wheels, motion control system, radio modem, vision system, computer, camera and lights, 382 x 145 x 94 cm

National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) Collection, 41148
Max Dean and Raffaello D'Andrea, The Table, 1984-2001, interactive installation, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photography © National Gallery of Canada.

Part of the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), The Table is a collaborative work by Canadian artist Max Dean, born in Leeds (England) in 1949, and American artist Raffaello D’Andrea, born in Pordenone (Italy) in 1967. Developed between 1984 and 2001, the interactive installation includes the following equipment: aluminum table, motors, wheels, motion control system, radio modem, vision system, computer, camera and lights.

 

An aluminum table, which is able to move autonomously, is installed in a stunningly lit room, with white walls and a bright, matte red floor. A camera, suspended from the ceiling and connected to a computer in the control room, continually captures an overview of the floor, the presence of visitors and their movement along with the movement of the table. A motion control system, concealed under the table, receives information from the computer’s control software transmitted by a radio modem which sends a signal to an antenna located under the table. Each tubular leg encloses a system of omnidirectional wheels and a motor. The movement of the wheels is activated by the motors, and the table tries to establish contact with a chosen visitor. The table interacts with him/her by turning on its axis, by rolling towards the person or by moving backwards if the visitor approaches it. The chosen spectator becomes a performer, an object of attention of the table and also of other visitors. It is up to the chosen spectator to decide whether the table is to react or not. When the interaction becomes weak or nonexistent, the table selects a new person with whom to interact.

 

The Table is an autonomous robot with an automatic mechanized system able to react to unexpected movement or obstacles and to carry out one or more tasks by executing a program in a given environment. As is the case with most “prototypical” robotic works, or single editions, the basic physical components can be pre-manufactured then modified or custom built to meet specific needs. In the case of The Table, the control system and its algorithms were entirely conceived by Max Dean and Raffallo D’Andrea. All the components, including the wheels and motors, were also custom manufactured, giving the installation a unique character. The singular characteristic of this work lies in the robotic nature of the table and it’s capacity to operate in an environment specifically designed for it. For example, the shade of red painted on the floor is directly linked to the effective functioning of the camera and the control software. Also, the space lights used in the room produce a light that prevents the creation of shadows, which the software could mistakenly interpret as a physical presence.

 

Due to the complexity of its components, operation, and interactivity between the table and the visitor (interactive behaviour), this work required a thorough documentation. The NGC thus proceeded to install the work with Max Dean and his assistant engineers, to specify the table’s ideal functioning and outline in detail the work’s components, drafting an installation manual enriched with visual documentation. During the installation, questions relevant to the long-term conservation of the work were addressed and different conservation options were considered and documented, specifically concerning the wheels, the computer’s operating system, and the components most susceptible to deterioration. In addition, the work underwent important physical modifications in 2008. The wheels were improved and the batteries replaced in order to lighten the weight of the table, which surpassed the wheels’ support capacity.

 

Descriptive table of The Table by Max Dean and Raffaello D'Andréa