Contemplating time and trust

Encounters with ancient standing stones and swarm robotics in performance artwork ‘Sacrifice’


Can robots be as trustworthy as stone? Could encounters with swarm robotics prompt profound insight, transcendental thought, empathy, and enlightenment similar to encounters with ancient standing stones? Could we borrow the trust placed in stone and apply it to robots? How might secular contemplative encounters with hybrid robot-stones prompt new modes of knowing? These questions of ancient and emerging technologies of perception propel our interdisciplinary group’s research project at the intersection of performance art, robotics, artificial intelligence, and archaeology.

University of Melbourne contributors:

  • Dr Robert Walton, Senior Lecturer In Theatre (Acting), Victorian College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
  • Dr Airlie Chapman, Senior Lecturer In Mechatronics, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology
  • Dr Aleks Michalewicz, Research Data Specialist, Melbourne Data Analytics Platform
  • Ms Elena Vella, School of Computing and Information Systems, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology
  • Mr Daniel Williams, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology
  • Mr Goran Đurić, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
  • Mr Thomas Keep, PhD Candidate, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts

External collaborators:

Dr Robert Walton

Project co-lead | Dr Robert Walton

Dr Robert Walton is a multi-award-winning artist and director whose work includes theatre, choreography, installation, writing and interactive art. He is the Resident Artist in The School of Computing and Information Systems, and Senior Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts at The University of Melbourne. His practice-led research focuses on the creation of performance artworks that reimagine the expressive potential of ancient and emerging technologies.

Dr Airlie Chapman

Project co-lead | Dr Airlie Chapman

Dr Airlie Chapman is a Mechatronics senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She is the director of the University of Melbourne Flight.

Her research is in autonomous systems with applications ranging from robotics to aerospace. She has a special interest in multi-agent robotics, or many robots working together to achieve a task.

Her robotic and drone work has shown broad appeal with interviews appearing in the Age, Domain, the Herald Sun, Vogue Australia, and on ABC News Breakfast. She is a twice recipient of an Amelia Earhart Fellowship and is a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow.

Mr Daniel Williams

Team member | Mr Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams is a PhD candidate with the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne. A graduate of Imperial College London and University College London, his projects to date have focused on applications of control engineering and machine learning. His current research interests encompass multi-agent robotic control and modeling trust dynamics in human-machine interaction.

Team member | Dr Aleks Michalewicz

Aleksandra Michalewicz is an interdisciplinary researcher whose work focuses on research data stewardship, digital/computational HASS research, data sovereignty, sensitive data, digital ethics and digital archaeology. She is employed as a Research Data Specialist at the Melbourne Data Analytics Platform where she collaborates with scholars across the University on data intensive research. Aleks holds an MA in Classics and a PhD in Archaeology, and is currently working on a co-edited volume about digital applications in archaeology. Since 2015 she has been an Honorary Fellow at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and in 2021 she became a Seed Funding Researcher with the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Ethics.

Mr Goran Đurić

Team member | Mr Goran Đurić

Goran Đurić is a Bosnian-born Australian dramaturg and theatre-maker, currently completing PhD in Theatre at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music. Before settling in Australia, he studied and worked as a dramaturg in the Czech Republic.

In Australia, he has developed work with, and for, communities of migrants from the former Yugoslavia and their descendants grappling with the intergenerational trauma of war, displacement, and loss.

His research lies at the intersection of art and activism and examines the role of performance in shaping social movements.