Robot Art Powers, Unite!
At dorkbot, people are doing strange things with electricity
On a Sunday in late May, a handful of geeky artists and artistic geeks found their way to a dilapidated factory just north of Downtown. They settled into a spacious room for three very loosely connected presentations.
For the first, Christian Ristow, an artist residing in Taos, gave a slideshow and talk about his pet project: a 25-foot-tall hydraulically actuated metal hand. It scoops up and crushes cars at the bidding of its operator, who controls it with an apparatus reminiscent of the old Nintendo Power Glove. Next up was a systems administrator for a local ISP, who goes by the name Killbox and sports a bolo tie pimped out in flashing LED lights. He discussed the role technology plays in his hobby of exploring abandoned buildings scattered throughout Albuquerque’s metropolitan area. [Killbox was featured in the Alibi’s June 4-10 feature on urban exploration, “Guerrilla Tourism.”] Finally, UNM Computer Science Professor Joe Kniss showcased several “image hacking” techniques, including a way to easily add infrared functionality to a low-priced digital camera using only a sheet of undeveloped film.
So goes another meeting of dorkbot ABQ, part of an international network of similarly eclectic events that have spread from city to city, meme-like, since a Columbia University Computer Music Center student founded the original dorkbot in 2000. Much like the projects being presented, the unifying traits between these groups can seem elusive to an outsider. But, according to dorkbot ABQ organizers Wendi Flybutter and Rebecca Snyder, this diversity is an essential aspect of what dorkbot is all about.
“Each community defines what dorkbot is,” says Flybutter. “Basically, it’s where creativity and technology come together on some level. Each community decides what that means.”
People are very much at the heart of dorkbot. In an age where the Internet has come to foster myriad virtual meeting places for the technologically minded to share ideas, dorkbot comes full circle and offers a way for the creative and tech savvy to meet face-to-face. “There is a lot going on here [in Albuquerque],” says Flybutter. “But [a lot of] people are working in a void. I want them to start to meet each other and define that community.” Dorkbot holds discussion and the exchange of ideas to be just as important as the presentations themselves, with audience members encouraged to provide feedback on the projects and, if they are so inclined, bring their own projects to discuss as well.
To encourage this informal and open atmosphere, dorkbot has adopted the slogan “People doing strange things with electricity” as its de facto mission statement. “All communities have a different take on [the slogan],” says Flybutter. “It’s vague, but it’s a good one because it’s almost all-encompassing. ... Pretty much everything that all of us do involves electricity on some level.”
Although many dorkbot projects seem artistic in nature, Flybutter and Snyder shy away from referring to dorkbot as an “art event.”
“ ‘Art’ is a very broad term,” explains Snyder. “With some of the projects, an outsider might label them as ‘art,’ whereas the creator of the project may or may not see it that way if they approach it from a scientific perspective. ... I see dorkbot as being about the application of creativity, but the term ‘art’ doesn’t necessarily get applied.” Rather, Flybutter and Snyder say dorkbot serves as a place where people from the artistic and technological communities can meet and share ideas.
Albuquerque’s dorkbot is still in its infancy, having only met twice since the first meeting in March of this year. As such, both organizers admit that dorkbot ABQ has yet to define itself. “In some ways it’s hard to get a dorkbot going,” says Flybutter. “People may be reluctant to show off what they have. They think, Does it fit, is it good enough, is it done yet? ... But dorkbot is for projects at all stages. Bring your stuff!”
Snyder agrees that dorkbot ABQ is ready to grow. “We’re definitely interested in hearing from people who want to present something,” says Snyder. “It doesn’t have to be finished or ‘ready for prime time.’ There’s a lot of people doing interesting things around Albuquerque, and we’d like to provide them the opportunity to share.”
dorkbot ABQ will hold its next meeting/presentation on Sunday, June 28, at 6 p.m. at Factory on 5 th Art Space (1715 Fifth Street NW). It will feature a presentation by Zoot Azure on socially interactive robots. Admission is free. For more information and to propose presentations for future dorkbot ABQ meetings, visit dorkbot ABQ’s website at dorkbot.org/dorkbotabq or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.