but he's not a mad scientist, he's a sculptor and associate professor of digital arts at the University of Oregon. He used to get his dive on, digging through dumpsters and trash cans to find the pieces of polystyrene foam (that's styrofoam to you, rookie) that he uses to construct his cleverly named "Styrobots"... such as this 24 foot behemoth he built for a show at the San Jose Museum of Art in the bay area or the 16 footer that watched over the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual conference in Portland. You probably already know this kinda thing makes me equal parts giggly and a little bit apprehensive. I mean, years of science fiction films warning of an artificial-intelligence-powered apocalypse have got me all shaky when people start building giant robots... and the love Salter's getting on the west coast matches up well with the giant robot renaissance in the far east.
“What I’ve found is that in the world there are two kinds of robot philosophies,” said Professor Salter, who has been creating Styrobots for eight years. “The Western one is where we see them as menacing, rocket-throwing mean robots. I submit to the Eastern one. This is my big, friendly giant robot.” I guess I'm infected with that Western philosophy, suspicious of every intelligent life form (including my own), because I'm always expecting robots to go all Skynet at a moment's notice, destroying us lowly humans once and for all... but Salter says I should calm down and enjoy the warm fuzzies his robots have given art lovers in London, Brussels, New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
“There’s a kind of a pleasure of it, that you recognize a small piece, you recognize its banality and its commonality, and then all of a sudden it completely transforms itself,” Salter smiled. “Occasionally, it’s this kind of magic that happens when you look at something you know, and it becomes something completely different.”
As for me, these sculptures actually don't evoke ominous feelings for me, despite my penchant for seeing the potential for destruction everywhere I look. The first feeling I get is relief, that all that styrofoam isn't in a landfill somewhere, and since he designs them to eventually be permanent art installations, they aren't going to be scrapped anytime soon. Salter cobbled together his first Styrobot, which was about 6ft tall, from pieces he rescued from the trash himself. These days he puts out press releases, and he gets pieces from labs and office buildings that have just unpacked equipment and would have just thrown the packing materials away. So in some small way, Professor Salter's giant robots are helping to save the world, after all...