Robotic Chair

1985 – 2006

Robotic Chair [Chaise robotique], enjoyed a long gestation period. According to Dan MacDougall, a close friend of Dean’s from his Vancouver days, the artist was already talking about using a “teacher’s” chair in his art in the early ‘70s. A model was built in 1985 but bringing the concept to the state of completion – as seen in this footage from Peter Lynch’s film – entailed considerable research and a close collaboration with systems control expert, Raffaello D’Andrea and artist/designer Matt Donovan.

The chair is engineered to automatically collapse into six distinct parts. The chair seat, which houses the robotic chassis, four chair legs, and the chair back are all guided by an overhead video camera and external laptop. Once collapsed, the chair chassis then locates the individual parts and endeavours to reassemble the entire chair. Once the parts are reattached the chair stands

In an ideal world the chair itself would determine when it wanted to fall apart and when it wanted to reassemble itself. In this imagined scenario, it is conceivable that the chair would perform without an audience and would appear to possess and employ choice as to when it wishes to fall and reassemble.

 In essence it Robotic Chair is a self-portrait. Dean’s art has been significantly informed by his having been subject to petit mal seizures from the age of nine. This experience has given him an enhanced awareness of the presence of risk, control, collapse, and re-composure in the course of everyday life. Robotic Chair not only personifies this act of falling apart and putting oneself together again but introduces playfulness and surprise into the experience of art.

Robotic Chair, is a work that elicits strong and suspenseful emotions from viewers. As they witness the chair mysteriously going through the process of re-composition viewers not only experience the full array of associated tensions but as one witness to this act remarked, it makes us “believe in magic again”.

Chair without Front Legs, 2010

Chromogenic print
52.4 x 41.9cm
from Objects Waiting

Max Dean, Raffaello D’Andrea, Matt Donovan, Robotic Chair, 2006, fibreglass and carbon fibre chair with wood veneer, custom mechanical chassis, motors, battery pack, wireless radio, custom electronic components, laptop computer with custom software, video camera, plywood base with custom Kevlar sprung floor and fluorescent lights, 84 x 49 x 44 cm;

Film footage excerpted from Robotic Chair by Peter Lynch 2006
Dialogue excerpted from STILL MAX, a film by Katherine Knight 2021