Anonymous Autonomous is an interactive installation that transforms empty office chairs into driverless cars. Like autonomous vehicles, the chairs have motors, computer vision systems, lidar sensors, and onboard computers. They robotically navigate a floor drawing of road markings and avoid collisions. Viewers can engage the chairs’ algorithms by crossing their paths and by laying strips of paper that serve as lane markings on the floor. The paper lanes reroute the chairs, creating a participatory abstract floor drawing that evolves over the course of the exhibition.

Autonomous vehicles are part of a wave of transformative technologies that utilize automation, deskilling, and algorithmic decision-making. These processes are at odds with classically American values like freedom and individualism, which inspired car culture and the rise of the creative class. Both cars and ergonomic office chairs suggest personal mobility, but now we must be networked together to drive or do office work, making these activities less autonomous and more anonymous than we may imagine. In Anonymous Autonomous the anxiety of anonymity within a vast network spreads from the office cubicle to another kind of autonomous “black box”—the driver’s seat.

Anonymous Autonomous was developed through the RMU Media Arts Visiting Artist and Scholar Program and the Pioneer Works Tech Residency. This project was made possible, in part, by support from the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch College, City University of New York, and The MacDowell Colony.

Photos by Sean Carroll