Dan Walker makes robot monkeys out of used laundry detergent bottles, then hangs them up in hard to reach places all over Miami.
He once drew a crowd of 600 for a remote controlled robot monkey soccer match in Brooklyn, and was even written up by the New Yorker magazine.
But four years ago, he headed south and has been monkeying around in the 305 ever since. Look up at the sky in Wynwood and you're likely to see one of his creatures watching over you.
We caught up with Walker, who is the Commissioner of the Robot Monkey Sports Network to find out what inspires his art.
What is the Robot Monkey Sports Network?
It's a collective. I have a lot of people that help out with this. The RMSN sort of encompasses everyone that makes it happen.
How'd this all come about?
It originally started as a project with real RC robots, and then we sort of branched out into the street stuff afterwards because working with robots, it's hard to put out in public all the time.
The Robo monkey started as a radio controlled soccer game with a bunch of robot monkeys. I built a scale model stadium with special FX, fans in the stands, everything. I did it in NYC and then in Vienna, Austria, in 2011.
Oh shit, Austria?
Yeah at the MuseumsQuartier Wein. It's a big museum in Vienna. I did a residency there. I brought the monkeys and the toy parts and set up in the middle of the plaza and everyday visitors could play with everything. I also taught a workshop about found-object sculpture.
Found object sculpture?
Yeah, they're all found object sculptures. That's important to me. People throw away a lot of stuff.
So what are you doing here now?
Well, I've been working with Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art in Wynwood, and he's been sort of giving me some guidance on taking this project to a fine art level.
So no more robot monkeys on the street?
Street art I do because I enjoy it and it makes people happy. But it's not easy to sell. So I've been making more intricate and detailed work with more care and effort for the fine art gallery market.
How do you choose where to put them up?
The thing with that is, I put five up, and the next day three are gone. So I've been making them more difficult to get to, but it doesn't always work.
What's the longest running they've gone?
There's been some that lasted for months.
What's the strategy?
I just try to get 'em up high. At first I wanted them low enough to see, but someone always pees in the pool. The problem with street art is once it's out there anyone can do anything to it, so I try to make them hard to get to.
Where can people see your work?
If you look up in Wynwood you'll see several. And they're starting to pop up all over town.
What's the difference between your radio controlled monkeys and these?
With the RC, I wanted to make an interactive game where the skill level is equal for everyone. Monkeys don't always behave properly. You're hoping that monkey does what you want; you're more like a ref and less like a player.
Is there a message with this project?
A lot of people think that street art happens in neighborhoods nobody cares about. But I take a lot of thought into where I put my pieces. It's like, nobody may be around, but somebody is watching out for you, and looking out for the neighborhood.
The robot monkeys are watching?
Yeah. They're just watching over things.
What are they made out of?
The street pieces are almost a hundred percent laundry detergent bottles, toy parts, and cafecito cups.
How'd you get started?
My mother was an art teacher and she introduced me to a lot of artists who do [found object art]. And she was very tolerant of me taking apart my toys as a kid.
Who are some of those artists?
Artists like Tom Sachs, Picasso, Louise Nevelson. And there are a lot of great people working today making amazing things out of nothing.
Where do you find your materials?
Laundromats are a good start. For the toys, I really like it when a family outgrows their figures and donates them to me. It sucks when they just throw it away. Plastic is forever. I'm more than happy to take donations.
You ever go dumpster diving for parts?
I definitely have.
How can someone contact you with a donation?
They can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Any final message?
I'm just waiting for the day when the world considers Miami a real place for street art all the time, not just one week a year. I think it's coming, but we gotta work together to make it happen.
Send your story tips to Cultist at email@example.com.