Is there such a thing as too much luck? Boris Petrovsky’s installation The Army of Luck that recently premiered at Art Karlsruhe 2012 leaves you with no less than 520 waving Maneki Neko (=lucky) cats to find out. Mounted on a massive 8m wide and 3m high altar and operating like a 520 pixel cat-matrix, Petrovsky’s hauntingly happy army parades a variety of arm gestures (political, military or casual) and – like a giant golden mirror – echoes up to 40 character confessions dropped into a wish box.
“Ever since my girlfriend brought back a tiny Maneki Neko (jap., literally for Beckoning Cat, Lucky Cat or Money Cat) from Thailand I was fascinated with their role as a popular mass product, fetish object and lucky charm,” the media artist from Constance, Germany, tells CAN. “It strikes me as a powerful metaphor for The Global Pursuit of Happiness (as the piece is also titled) in times of cognitive capitalism and an absolute, self-propelling cycle of mass production. Also, I wanted to expand my work with various matrix systems (mostly lights, letters and objects) into kinetics.”
Compared to his previous installations (one of which won the artist an honorary mention in the ‘interactive arts’ category at Prix Ars Electronica 2010) Petrovsky’s The Army of Luck takes the matrix idea very literal: each Maneki Neko cat represents a “pixel” that can be turned on or off individually by raising or lowering its arm, effectively turning the installation into a communication device. “The servomotor inside each unit has its own DMX channel, which allows for very precise control over the position and pace of the 520 arms,” says Georg Nagel, the programmer behind Petrovsky’s matrix works in an email. The DMX channel gets control signals via an OLA interface using custom Python code based on PyGObject (GObject introspection). “That way we are able to change the angle of each arm gradually between 0 to 180 degrees, creating a mechanical low-res dot matrix sufficient enough for simple patterns and scrolling text.” Your concept of happiness is our lucky command. Write it on the keyboard, visitors are invited.
In order to translate text input into actual cat pixels each message entered by the audience is broken up into its individual letters and matched with a character library. “The letter patterns are then queued up (including the configurable space in between them) and displayed via rattling arm movements,” says Georg.
If not given any input Petrovich’s Army of Luck will perform one of 25 different pre-installed behaviours. A surprising variety of one-armed gestures – military salutes, Mexican waves, knock-on-woods or ecstatic “hyperkinesis” – is accompanied by randomly selected sound samples taken from political speeches, military parades or the sport events from as far back as a century ago. It’s exactly these eerie historical references, when this lifeless army of golden cats salute in unison to the sounds of politically charged propaganda and mass hysteria when Petrovsky’s Global Pursuit of Happiness becomes most effective. Not only does it challenge our definition of happiness, it makes us slightly uncomfortable – righfully so.