Robots 30-34 by Toby Atticus Fraley
Robots 30-34 by Toby Atticus Fraley
courtesy of Scottsdale Public Arts

The “Robots in Flight” at Scottsdale Civic Center Will Stop at Nothing to Make You Smile

When's the last time you had fun? Seriously, when?

I'm not talking about the kind of self-conscious "fun" adults have at work parties. Or ironic "fun" grownups have at their book clubs. And certainly not the "fun" we have checking off everything on our "to do" list.

I'm talking about little kid fun. Real fun, when you're not trying to do anything else but have fun.


Robots in Flight

"Robots in Flight"is on display at the Scottsdale Civic Center Bell Tower, 7373 East Scottsdale Mall (adjacent to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts), through April 24. Call 480-874-4645 or visit

That's what Toby Atticus Fraley's "Robots in Flight" is all about. It's just fun.

At the Scottsdale Civic Center, as you enter the breezeway that houses restaurants The Orange Table and Jewel in the Crown (next door to The Blue Moose restaurant and across the mall from Scottsdale Center for the Arts), make sure to look up when you pass under the orange and navy blue tower and catch Fraley's robots coming in for a landing. One is parachuting in, another has helicopter blades attached to its head, two are hitching a ride on rockets, and the last one has his very own set of wings. It's as though time stopped in a chaotic scene of a robot invasion.

It's cute, charming, and chuckle-worthy. Like I said, fun. And it's the fun factor that ultimately won me over.

Fraley works with recycled vintage household items. After taking a closer look at the robots (walking up the stairs gives you a great vantage point), it's clear that Robot 33, for instance, has feet made of old shoe lasts (those strange wooden feet that your grandpa slides into his dress shoes). His spindly legs are thermoses and his tubby torso is made of a picnic jug. If Robot 33 were functional, he would buzz around like a helicopter with the help of metallic fan blades extending from his back. His U-shaped hands (made of magnets) grip bicycle handlebars that control his flight direction. His head is a glass dome that houses a large light bulb.

The other robots sport similar construction, but each has its own personality. Robot 34 confidently glides through the air on wings made of vintage sugar sacks. Robot 31 hangs on for dear life with his one-handed grip on a rocket, while Robot 32 straddles his rocket like a cowboy — arm raised in a "yee-haw!" way.

This is the second installment of Scottsdale Public Arts' project called "Bell'e Art." Led by SPA's senior project manager, Jana Weldon, it runs until June 2010 and cycles through five artists. With spatial opportunity in the ramada-like bell tower that connects the heart of the civic center to one of its more popular breezeways, SPA put out a call to artists nationwide for installation pitches. A panel of judges, including the landlord and representatives from the restaurants, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Scottsdale Public Art's community membership, made the choices.

If you frequent the area, you may have caught Beatrice Coron's work that ran from September 8 through December 3 last year, displaying four scrolls of hand-cut silhouetted vignettes of historic Scottsdale memories. Future artists on the docket include Melissa McGurgan and Marco Rosichelli, who will create a scented bubble fountain; Christopher Fenell, who is building a small cyclone of old barn wood; and Todd Ingalls and Mary Neubauer, who will install an interactive sound and light installation.

It sounds as if the selections run the gamut of possibilities for the space.

For now, we've got Fraley's robots. On a personal level, I dig them. My big complaint is that the suspension wires and electrical cords are super-visible during the day, and it's distracting. But, at night, when the robots' light-bulb heads are glowing, illuminating the orange ceiling, the space comes alive. After dusk is really the best time to see them.

They're cute, they're fun, and they've got a lot of personality. I think anyone walking under them would probably chuckle and wonder what they were all about.

Which is the nagging question here. Just what are they all about? Fraley says he's interested in creating pieces that are reminiscent of early NASA projects, Space Age styling, and air shows that were popular when he was a kid. Fraley certainly covers this ground well — they have an early sci-fi feel to them, but, conceptually, they won't take you for a ride.

At first, this really bothered me. I usually seek art that has a little more grit — art that says something crazy or profound or messed-up or confusing. Something to sink my teeth into.

But I just can't criticize these charming robots. I like them. And I think other people will, too. In fact, two robots have supposedly made it into the private collections of Grammy Award-winning musicians (unfortunately, Fraley wouldn't name names).

See? People like it. Because it's fun . . . and shouldn't it be okay for art to be fun once in a while?


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