If your house is haunted, chances are you didn’t welcome those ghosts into your home. The same cannot be said for a special kind of robot art exhibit now on display at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY.
Artist Fernando Orellana has constructed a playground for the dead, beckoning the “ghosts” of the recently deceased to come and interact with objects they were once familiar with in their former lives.
At first, when Orellana wanted to design an art exhibit designed to detect “ghosts,” he wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“If I were a ghost and I wanted to interact with the world, what facilities are there for me to do that?” Orellana asked himself.
Orellana spends a lot of time designing and building robots, so he knew that he wanted to do something with machines, but with a paranormal twist.
One day, the idea struck him to use objects to which a person felt a personal connection for during their lifetime. After that, it was a matter of finding those objects, Orellana told Business Insider. Basically, he thought, if ghosts exist, then they might be willing to interact with objects they once knew.
To do this, he attended estate sales searching for particular items to which the recently deceased might have held sentimental value.
His purchases led to an eclectic variety of objects including bells, a mineral collection, recipe cards, candlestick holders, hammers, a peanut butter-making machine, and even a player piano.
Each display in Orellana’s exhibit, called “Shadows” that is currently on view at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, is made for a specific ghost. For example, one sale he attended included an extensive bell collection.
“I bought a couple of bells and made an interface — a little robotic interface — to ring the bell,” Orellana said.
But if ghosts exist, how can they interact with a robot?
This is where Orellana’s technical skills come in.
How you sense a ghost
Each display has a robotic interface for its ghostly visitor. But the robots only work if they sense a supernatural being nearby. Below is an example of one of the displays called “His Butter” in action:
Orellana grabbed from pop culture to calibrate his technology for the dead. We know from cable television shows like “Ghost Hunters” that believers think we can sense “ghosts” using multiple instruments including: electromagnetic field readers, temperature gauges, and infrared light sensors. Orellana, therefore, built machines sensitive to these three measurements.
If the machine (shown in the image below) senses a change in any two of these measurements, then it will signal the robot to ring the bell, hammer the nail, play the piano, churn peanuts into peanut butter, or perform whatever task Orellana has designed it for.
While these exhibits are built for a specific ghost, there’s no telling what other supernatural beings might stop by to have some fun.
So, how often do the robots perform their tasks due to paranormal interference? The unsurprising answer is: never.
“They just sit there and wait,” Orellana said. To his knowledge, Orellana has never seen his robots interact with the dead, which was no surprise to him. The exhibit is about more than just seeing the robots in action, he said.
A leap of faith
At some of the stations, Orellana provides an iPad that allows viewers to watch the robots perform their tasks since the ghosts seem to be shying away from playtime. Below is the station called “His Minerals” which lights handmade incense next to an extensive mineral collection that one person left behind.
“The screens serve as a leap of faith,” Orellana said. “If you don’t click, you’re taking a leap of faith in believing this is designed for the dead and will operate at some point. But if you click on the screen, then it means you’re a disbeliever and you need to see the object work. You need that gratification.”
There is one station on display that does operate on a regular basis. Orellana designed the player piano to play the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” every 90 minutes.
“As soon as the song ends, it’s over like our lives,” Orellana said. “In many ways in cultures, music is connected to paying homage to the dead, remembering them, and that particular tune “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, is connected also to their ancestors and is a sort of homage … what this work was about.”
Editor’s note: Yes, we know ghosts don’t exist.
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