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Art AI Festival Workshops: Useless by Design

Students from Brockington College and The Lancaster Academy participated in workshops to create ‘useless machines’ at the 2019 Art AI Festival.

Their creative work was inspired by the video art installation on display at the Haymarket Theatre: Nadine Lessio‘s “Working with Useless Machines”.  In the video, Lessio engages in a series of experiments that illustrate technologies that simply fail to do what they are intended for.  Alexa is grumpy, argumentative and at times lonely, the fortune teller absurd (fig 1).  Useless machines, by their very definition, have function but no purpose!

Fig 1

Haymarket Theatre | May 16-31

Students responded to this by creating and programming robots that did the opposite of what they were told: some ran away from light, some became musical instruments, others repeatedly attempted to destroy themselves.

This short video diary tells you a bit about the workshops, which were generously supported by Haymarket Theatre CEO, Jed Spittle.  We were also delighted that Micro:bit‘s Emma Smart was able to pop along to one of our workshops.  Micro:bit has also donated some of the equipment to us for the workshops, which meant children had an opportunity to test some of the latest kit in building their useless machines, facilitated by the SideFest STEM team, led by Jason Boomer and Emily Kirby.

And this video summarises another day’s proceedings and the hilarious results!

You can see both the video and the artwork on display at Haymarket Theatre, where it is being generously hosted by the venue until 31 May as part of the Art AI Festival 2019.

The event was coordinated by De Montfort University’s DMULocal team, and workshops were managed and facilitated by the amazing SideFest team, a Leicester-based social enterprise that works to promote STEAM education for all.


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Robot Maze

In this free family workshop we’ll be building miniature mazes that can be explored by scurrying, wriggly robots called Hex Bugs to discover the basics of robot behaviour.

These micro insects can use their self-righting mechanisms to move between obstacles, and even flip over! You can design and make your maze, adding bridges and tunnels, and then watch your bug spring into action.

This is a free, drop-in workshop so no booking is required.

Best for children aged 3 – 9 years.  Children must be accompanied by an adult.


Abigail Morris runs regular children’s events at Phoenix, and is a student support officer for University of Leicester.

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