Calling All Robots!

Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are as follows:

1. A robot may not harm or allow harm to a human being.

2. A robot must obey any human's orders unless doing so conflicts with the first law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as doing so doesn't conflict with the first or second law.

Kristina Whitsell, director in chief of robot-party-throwing for Tucson's Sixth Annual Robot Exchange, adds her own "zeroth law" to take precedence: All robots must serve the primary purpose of fun.

Whitsell threw the first Robot Exchange as a homecoming party for friend Janessa Bates in someone's backyard. Bates and Whitsell invited everyone they knew to create a robot—any kind of robot, made out of any media, and the more creative, the better—to exchange at the party. The event was a huge success, with more people (many of them dressed in outrageous attire) showing up than expected. However, the exchange part didn't really happen. (We think it might have something to do with the close bond that develops between a robot and its creator.) Whitsell and Bates eventually abandoned the exchange scheme, but they kept the name, since the event involved the exchange of ideas and fun.

The Robot Exchange has since developed a cult following, with some people looking forward to it all year long . According to Whitsell, every single exchange has been "full of crazy people in crazy costumes, surrounded by crazy robot sculptures, and dancing to crazy music.

"Tucson's full of artists," she declared. "Sometimes, all you need is a project to focus on."

Every year, the exchange has a theme. The Second Annual Robot Exchange was Santeria-themed, complete with a huge Santa Robotica shrine—to which everyone brought electronic offerings—and Santa Robotica devotional candles as party favors.

Last year's theme was Destroy All Humans. (No actual humans were harmed.)

Theme or no theme, the robot specimens have been as wide-ranging and unique as you can probably imagine: little hand-sewn robots, scrap-metal robots, robot toys, robot stickers, robot paintings and robot sculptures. A piece Whitsell and Bates especially adored at the fourth-annual exchange was a standing robot whose head was a TV monitor hooked up to a video booth; when people put their heads in the booth, their faces appeared on the robot's TV-screen head. Another of Whitsell's favorite robots was made out of a gold-painted trash basket filled with bones, which had a moving shiatsu-massager head and spinning steak knives for teeth.

Of course, people themselves can be robots. Whitsell once dressed up to look like a robot arm was bursting out of her chest, with lots of wires and fake blood.

This year's theme is simple: music. Robots that play music would be appropriate, but anything having to do with music goes. Fittingly, the 2009 Robot Exchange will have one of the best musical lineups ever, with an outdoor stage featuring Mean Beans, Flagrante Delicto, Switchblade Parade, Shaun Harris and Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout, plus an indoor stage featuring DJ Illete, E-rupt, Dewtron, Hometown Herm and Matt McCoy.

The last couple of robot exchanges were held at the Sculpture Resource Center, a venue Whitsell says was wonderful, but last year's party filled the venue to dangerous overcapacity. And that was a little stressful for Whitsell, who acted as security guard. That's one reason she's ecstatic this year's bash will be held at Hotel Congress—besides the fact that she just loves Hotel Congress.

"It's been a blast throwing these parties," Whitsell declared. "It's also a ton of work, which people never realize, of course. It's quite a bit like a job, and we never get paid. We do the exchange free every year, always, so there's no real money to be had."

But Whitsell doesn't want your money—she just wants you at the party, with or without a robot (but preferably with). The deadline for formal robot submissions has passed, but if your robot doesn't need to be hung or specially arranged, you can add it to the display on the night of the exchange.

"There are only three reasons not to come to this event," Whitsell said. "No. 1: You hate music. No. 2: You hate art. No. 3: You hate fun. Rock, hip-hop, avant-garde, indie-dance, burlesque robots and electro—and on two stages! Should be pretty intense."

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