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Skirls and twirls aloud from Aylsham’s tartan robot

PUBLISHED: 09:47 29 October 2010

Artist Stephanie Douet with her tartan robot, called Carapace Burlesque, in her Aylsham studio.

Artist Stephanie Douet with her tartan robot, called Carapace Burlesque, in her Aylsham studio.

Archant Norfolk 2010

She’s a towering figure in tartan who makes bagpipe noises while giving us a “twirl” in her stunning fashions – but the Scottish “lassie” is actually a robot made far south of the border in deepest Norfolk.

"McGrotty" close up

Carapace Burlesque is a piece of living sculpture fashioned by Aylsham artist Stephanie Douet, and who has been amusing and amazing visitors at events across the UK as she chases them around.

Her plaid dress and flesh are made from recycled kilts from charity shops. Her animatronic arms and movement were built by local radio controlled model experts Mark Wrighton and Fred Carpenter.

Her “voice” of bagpipe skirls was mixed by Stephanie’s son Tudor Lukies, a 23-year-old music producer. And she is brought alive by a car battery power source hidden under her skirts.

The robot, tagged McGrotty for short, is worked by Stephanie using the kind of hand controller normally associated with model cars and planes rather than a giant carnival-style figure who has mingled with crowds at events from live art and music to London Fashion week.

“I stand there with a massive grin on my face because it is so much fun watching a robot whirling around amid a blur of faces,” she explained as she put McGrotty through her paces in her studio.

The idea came through her interest in carnivals – including the one in Barcelona where her brother lives and where festival time combines fun with an undercurrent of “diabolical darkness”.

So McGrotty has sunken eye sockets, a protruding tongue and the multiple breasts of an ancient goddess, as well as wings.

Helped by a small Arts Council grant towards the mechanicals, Stephanie enlisted her expert helpers having gathered the old kilts from local charity shops – with half a mind to target the tartan character at the Edinburgh Festival.

So so far she has only appeared in England - including a London Fashion week performance at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, and a live art and music event at the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill in East Sussex.

This weekend the robot will join Halloween party-goers at the Cambridge Junction venue, said Stephanie, who used to run the Queen of Hungary Gallery in Norwich’s St Benedict’s Street,

Her art career began with basic painting and drawing then developed into sculpture – ranging from a 3m tall mirrored steel radar at Seething airfield, to items inspired by furniture - some of which she encourages audiences to try to destroy.

“I was at an event in the Sainsbury centre once and a member of the public was whirling around one of the sculptures – which I though was an interesting conflict. I liked the idea of people seriously studying the art and shapes, then being childish.

“I like to have some fun because art can get very intense and introspective. My work is very robust, but if it disintegrates it is no disaster.”

Stephanie’s other projects include working with the Victoria and Albert Museum on a contemporary Chinese art touring event linked to the National Trust, and doing surrealism workshops for youngsters at Norwich.

She is planning follow ups to the robot creation, such as adding some children, or using the technology to make a giant Venus fly trap.

In the meantime, though McGrotty has not yet made it to Scotland, she felt she would make an ideal attraction and extra guest at Burns Night events if any groups were interested.

More information at www.stephaniedouet.com

To see the robot in action visit www.EP24.co.uk

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