The Ada sculpture is a reference to how Ada Lovelace wrote a series of notes to Charles Babbage about his idea for an “analytical engine.”
The Ada – analog interactive installation is a transparent helium balloon about three feet in diameter with 300 charcoal sticks stuck on the balloon, each about 10 inches apart, using a technique that Smigla-Bobinski developed especially for this artwork. What people do when they come into contact with the floating, membrane-looking spiked globe as it floats around the gallery space is where it gets interesting.
In the video above, some people approach the orb gingerly; other times they grab the charcoal sticks like handles and try to bend it to their will. Some people bounce it around like a beach ball at a baseball game. About halfway through, an old man tries to actually draw something, only to have it wrestled away by the laws of physics. Every time it hits the wall, the charcoal scratches its mark along the walls, turning the alien-looking, transparent membrane into an automatic art-making machine. In this, the sculpture references her namesake, Ada Lovelace, who, in the 19th century, wrote a series of notes related to a paper on her friend Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine,” i.e., computer, which they hoped would also make works of art as well.
Smigla-Bobisnki hints that she’s fine with not necessarily even knowing the extent of what she’s created: “What here is exactly the work of art?” she wrote in an email to me. Ada? Or the drawing on the wall? … Or both?” What she begins, the audience completes, and the result is an interesting look at the balance of power in what is essentially a rigged collaboration. “Once you set her into motion, she just works away,” Smigla-Bobinski continues. “The blacker she gets from the charcoal and the more she is handled by visitors, the more she seems to be some kind of alive. Even I, who built her, sometimes gets the illusion of her being a living thing.”