Robocop, Dr Who, Star Trek, they're all here. Peter McCaughan gets his geek on at the Oriel Gallery in Antrim
'You’re dead… we killed you!' stutters one gentleman in mock horror, quoting the famous line from Robocop as he approaches a life-size replica of the OCP cyborg (pictured below), before bursting out laughing. His wife pulls a face of feigned disapproval, while their young child stares in wonder at the robotic behemoth.
Indeed, this is just one of many similar reactions to the Robot Exhibition in Antrim’s newly opened Oriel Gallery. Following the completion of the ambitious Antrim Castle Gardens restoration project (costing a cool £5.8 million), the exhibition is spread over two floors in the Clotworthy Building Complex and proudly displays a vast selection of cyborgs, androids and assorted automatons.
These include genuine pieces used in movies and television (such as the ABC Warrior from the 1995 Judge Dredd film), back-up production props (the towering Robocop suit) and assorted fan-made replicas and rare licensed reproductions (including heads of Star Wars’ C3PO and Terminator’s T800).
Some of these are of more interest than others – a robotic claw used in the 1998 remake of Lost In Space with Matt LeBlanc arguably has less appeal than a Dr Who Cybercontroller head. However, the design standard is consistently high for all displays.
There are also many other pieces with back-stories of varying obscurity, the strangest of which is a partly-wooden R2-D2 that was apparently found propping up a glass table in a Japanese cocktail bar. Also displayed in the gallery is an early prop model of a Chestburster from Alien.
Whilst this is not robotic in nature (shoehorned in with the tenuous link that there was an android in the film), this full size sculpture from the stalk ‘n’ slash masterpiece is still a great addition to a jam-packed exposition.
Undoubtedly, Robot Exhibition will appeal to movie buffs of a certain age, being largely comprised of 1970s and 80s sci-fi memorabilia. However, it is more family friendly and intergenerational than one might think – the overly wordy blurb that accompanies many exhibitions is replaced with easily digestible facts about the pieces and the films from which these exhibit are derived.
Children look on with delight at the huge selection of modern and vintage toys displayed, but struggle to obey the signs asking patrons not to touch the exhibitions. Frankly, this reviewer finds it difficult too, wanting nothing more than to shake Robby the Robot’s hand or pretend to be blown away by the aforementioned Detroit cyborg.
Indeed, this feeling is key to the success of the Oriel Gallery’s premiere, which awakens a very real sense of fun and excitement. It is entirely easy to imagine some of the creations becoming sentient, for example, stomping out the door and through the courtyard of the rather impressive grounds to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world beyond.
Some may conceivably dispute the artistic value of such an exhibition. But one should remember that, while some movie fans admire those auteur directors and method actors who take their work oh so seriously, others idolise the SFX houses that help them to bring their visions to life on screen.
Furthermore, this exhibition is a fantastic window into the evolution of Japanese and US design over the past 30 years, as well as the retro-futurist visions of the atomic age – a brave and exciting opening for a great gallery space.
Robot Exhibition runs until January 12. The next exhibition will feature works from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's private collection. Images courtesy of Ronan O'Donnell.