Saturday, December 17, 2005

dorkbot turns five!

This month, New York City's monthly watering hole for techies, artists, and hackers, dorkbot-nyc, had its fifth anniversary meeting. Founded by artist and Columbia University Computer Music Center professor douglas irving repetto, its motto, "People doing strange things with electricity", gives the impression of what to (un)expect. Its dorky arena includes almost anything within the wide bounds of electronics, including both hardware and software, with a square emphasis on low-budget, do-it-yourself, personal projects. The results are geeky, goofy, technical, off-beat, and as wacky as the presenters' personal interests; the three presentations of a typical session will have almost nothing in common.

The first meeting I attended, when dorkbot had been around for less that two full years, was in April 2002, featuring a video by Kyle Lapidus and Tali Hinkis, who together with their children, the musical prodigy Rama (who's already composed a theme song for dorkbot) and Lisa Dlisah, have been among dorkbot's most stalwart regulars. I heard about dorbkot on Michael Stutz's now-defunct linart mailing list, where doug would regularly announce meetings with subject-line titles that inevitably worked dorkbot's name into spoofs like "oh when the dorks, go botting in". As the title suggests, the list dealt with the intersection of Linux and art, and was one of the predecessors of the the free culture scene, before the explosive growth of Creative Commons in early 2003. I've almost never missed a meeting since then (there are some pictures of me to be found in the photo gallery archives of past meetings).

Some of my favorite projects over the years: Cory Arcangel's mischievous digital antics; vagamundo, aiming to educate about the difficulties faced by Latin American immigrants by recreating them in video game format -- where the video game is housed in a vendor cart similar to the one used by them; Caspar Stracke's experiments with the wonderfolly obscure CED movie-on-a-record home video format; Tom Moody's MSPaintbrush art; Scott Draves's electronic art including his open source, Philip K. Dick-inspired electric sheep generative screensaver; and doug's own walking table. One project I wish I hadn't missed is Steve Baldwin's Ghost Sites, concurrent with the tenth anniversary of the world wide web; his website is a truly fascinating compendium of the forgotten corners of web history.

While the meetings have spread mainly through word-of-mouth (as is in keeping with the spirit of them anyway), it's attracted some media coverage, including a June 2004 article in the New Yorker and a fantastic article in the first issue of a publication that perfectly meshes with dorkbot's aim and audience: MAKE magazine.

There are dorkbots that have sprung up in different cities across the globe (which I honestly don't know much about), but the nyc one is the original. The global distibution can be seen in the map for dorkbotters that I recently created (using Google Maps via Frappr) which already contains over thirty people.

1 comment:

douglas said...

Hi Joel! Thanks for writing this, it's a nice overview of dorkbot's vibe & history. Good luck with the blog!