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A Re-enactment  of The Battle of the Pyramids

Adrianne Wortzel


"French Egypt and American Iraq can be considered bookends on the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. . . . There are many eerily familiar resonances between the two misadventures, not least among them that both began with supreme arrogance and ended as fiascoes."
Excerpted from the article:  "Bush: In the Footsteps of Napoleon"
By Juan Cole [i]
A Re-enactment of The Battle of the Pyramids is a performance installation of reconfigured robotic toys performing seemingly military maneuvers in rigid choreographed formations. This art project explores and uses sensor and wireless communication to create clusters of entities moving in exact synchronization in response to a call to arms.  The toys will consist of a quantity of 30+ Elmo TMXs stripped of their red furry coats performing military maneuvers emulating the rigid and postured fighting strategies of the French Army under Napoleon in the 19th century. These strategies were extremely idiosyncratic in Egypt where they were persistently performed without consideration of adaptation to either the desert environment or the fighting strategies of the enemy. The French fought in their heavy and cumbersome uniforms in tremendous heat, in a regimen of traditional postures meant for Western armies, while the Mamelukes descended on them on horseback with scimitars and knives, along with rifles, undaunted, as it was the destruction of the French fleet in the Alexandrian harbor. The work is not meant to comment on the efficacy or lack of efficacy of this strategy,  rather than It is meant as a testimony to the tragic consequences of imperialism and the dangers, follies and sadness of a rationale for blind obedience that makes victims out of warriors.

The fighting strategy for French infantry consisted of forming squares in rows where each row of soldiers assumed a different posture while aiming their weapon: one row belly down, one row kneeling, and one row standing.

A Napoleonic infantry square depicted in the painting
"The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras" by Elizabeth Thompson
(found at Wikipedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infantry_square)

There is a long tradition of re-enactment of military strategy both with live “actors” and with models.  And a thriving array of board and computer gaming [ii] and simulation, including those produced by the military for the public. [iii]
Image at Lone Star Historical Minatures
The Robot Toy:
The skeletal structure of the Elmo TMX toy's dual motor mechanics allow it to do some amazing things. Although it doesn’t walk per se, it falls downs, kicks its legs while moving across the floor on its back (when put vertical in this phase it can walk backwards, but not reliably). But the most amazing thing it does, which may be the envy of A.I. Labs everywhere is, that as a two-legged creature, it falls down, rolls over, and rises to a standing upright position from a prone position.
Although all the Elmo TMX toys have been programmed with the same 3 sequences of actions, they are not constructed to act in synch, and in fact, as you can see demonstrated in movies on Youtube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JqvmGON0AM], when several of them are turned on simultaneously under the same conditions, they go out of synch almost immediately.  This is part of their charm.. In human terms, it is often our unpredictability and flawed natures that are depicted as our saving grace -- we are 'only human", but in war where lives depend upon highly synchronized robotic behavior and unquestioned obedience, it is imperative to avoid the "human element" altogether-- Making these toys work in perfect synch, with groups of them performing synchronized actions in turns and their limited and jerky movements appear as highly disciplined "military movements" could be particularly unsettling and funny at the same time.

[i] Online Asia Times, August 25, 2007 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IH25Ak05.html Juan Cole is the author of Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East, Palgrave Macmillan (May 27, 2008) and a professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History in the History Department at the University of Michigan.
[ii] A listing of hundreds of board, web and computer war games can be found at http://grognard.com/titlea.html#a4037 (includes a list of Napoleanic War games, both computer and board).

[iii] The official Army game at http://www.americasarmy.com/ - “to provide civilians with insights on Soldiering from the barracks to the battlefields, it sent its talented development team to experience Army training just as a new recruit would. The developers crawled through obstacle courses, fired weapons, observed paratrooper instruction, and participated in a variety of training exercises with elite combat units, all so that you could virtually experience Soldiering in the most realistic way possible.