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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    On the Tucson Track

    Jacob Rader
    Jacob Rader / Arizona Daily Wildcat

    “”What they don’t know is we robots are here to view the humans. We are exchanging humans tonight,”” said Jared McKinley, an attendee of Tucson’s sixth annual Robot Exchange.

    Dressed in sequined underwear, old-school headphones and a track jacket, McKinley is not out of place at the Club Congress event, held Sept. 11. The Robot Exchange — an annual gathering where participants can view robot artwork, listen to local music and come dressed as anything mechanical — has come a long way since its humble backyard beginnings.

    Event organizers Kristina Whitsell and Janessa Bates realized that after their first year of hosting the exchange. What started out as a coming-home party for Bates turned into a highly anticipated annual event.

    “”It was immediately bigger than we expected it to be,”” Bates said as she sat on the couches of Hotel Congress’ lobby next to robot paintings. According to Whitsell, the original idea was to “”bring a robot and take someone else’s home.”” The plan never worked, but the name stuck. The art viewing grew to be so big that when it came time to choose a venue for this year’s Robot Exchange, there was only one place in mind.

    “”We decided to have it at Congress, and they were really excited,”” said Bates. “”It’s nice because (in previous years) we were chasing people around, keeping people from smoking inside and keeping people from fighting,”” she said.

    Not only does having the Robot Exchange party at Club Congress relieve the girls of security detail, it also allows for more attractions than just the art viewing.

    Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout, a local, cult-status band known for its unpredictable stage antics, fit perfectly among the bands lined up to support the hardworking duo.

    Dmitri Alcaraz, also known as lead singer Mr. Free, has played the Robot Exchange before. “”It’s sort of a form of therapy so I get really excited; I spend a lot of time being cooped up so it gives me time to do something else,”” Alcaraz says of performing at the event.

    Like some of the others lined up to take the stage, Mr. Free dressed in his robot best.

    “”We picked up all these costumes for free,”” Alcaraz said of his red, white and blue space suit as he applied white face makeup in front of the men’s bathroom mirror. “”But it’s also for 9/11, I hope you didn’t forget! You’re never supposed to forget,”” he said.

    The NASA gear and tinfoil garments some participants chose to wear were exactly what Whitsell and Bates had hoped to achieve. “”The whole point is to get people to see things and do things that they have never really done before,”” Bates said. “”You give people an excuse to dress up and people like to dress up (and) get excited about things.”” 

    The atmosphere itself was a little like Disneyland. The robots substituted for the characters, and people were intrigued by their seemingly out-of-place appearance.

    McKinley states that he was there to discover why human hearts last so long. True to the theme, McKinley is not a human but a robot for the evening. He adds that, “”they (the humans) thought they were exchanging robots, but the robots are exchanging humans.””

    How can McKinley get away with his seemingly human-like robot appearance? “”They don’t know that you are a robot,”” McKinley said. “”It works for you, JFK was a robot — that’s why he was so perfect.””

    Whitsell and Bates said they get a lot of eclectic people. “”This year it is more about the art and getting new people to show up,”” Bates said of having the event at Hotel Congress. “”The art is getting a lot of attention that it deserves.””

    The event has become such a Tucson staple that the two are already planning for next year. “”We might even have some national acts,”” Whitsell said.

    That excitement is what keeps the Robot Exchange organizers and participants going. The lively event itself is a break from human tendencies. It gives people a chance to dress up, view art and listen to music apart from their own daily routine. “”They come in their humorous state,”” McKinley said of the human participants, “”We don’t like the humans who are like robots, we already know that.””

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