The Brag

Dorks Unite! (This Is Not Art | Electrofringe)

In Arts, Blog, This Is Not Art 2009 on September 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm

[Pssst! This week you can find our This Is Not Art Special Festival Edition from p.33 of the Brag]

Dorkbot Sydney
Be there AND be square.
By Lucy Fokkema.

Pia van Gelder is swinging her neat blond bob crazily from side to side, making robot noises and sprouting phrases like “hacked Wii remote”, “built-in accelerometer” and “audio software interface”. The synth-nerd beside me at tonight’s Dorkbot meeting breathes a dreamy lovesick sigh.

Van Gelder is Sydney’s very own Dorkbot “Overlord”. Meaning, she’s the local curator of a grass-roots collective of “people doing strange things with electricity”. Embracing artists, software developers, engineers, musicians, electricians and tech-nerds in general, Dorkbot is a forum for the exchange of ideas and expertise on all things electric.

Dorkbot was born in 2000 when Douglas Repetto, a computer music specialist at Columbia University, decided his fellow New Yorkers needed a place to get together and chat about their adventures in electricity. Since then, close to a hundred Dorkbots have sprouted everywhere from Helsinki to Hong Kong.

“Dorkbot” is obscure slang for a nerdy engineering and IT type. “People don’t really get it when you say it at first,” sighs van Gelder. She then breaks into a convincing impression of an old man with an ear trumpet: “what did you say Dawg-boat? Dog-bow? WHAT?”

Van Gelder, a former COFA student, first unearthed Dorkbot when she was writing her thesis on electronic arts. “[I thought] we should totally have a Sydney one so I can go to it!” she remembers. After searching in vain for the Sydney branch she took action. Setting up shop in the now defunct Lanfranchis Memorial Discotheque, she deployed an e-invite barrage, attracting 60 people to the inaugural meeting.

Three years later, at new venue Serial Space, the average headcount is 50 Dorkbotters who start off each meeting with “beer + Kraftwerk + mingling”. This is followed by two or three presentations and an open show and tell of all inventions. “We aim to open the circle as widely as possible,” says van Gelder, who welcomes everything from video synthesisers to jet engines at Dorkbot-Syd.

It was at an especially auspicious gathering that artist Wade Marynowsky met engineer Aras Vaichas. Together they constructed the haunting, exquisitely dressed robots that made up Marynowsky’s work The Hosts: A Masquerade of Improvising Automatons, which showed at Performance Space last month.

It’s a good example of what Dorkbot’s all about: bringing people from different fields together to contribute to each others’ work. ‘”There’s question time at the end of every presentation,” says van Gelder. “Though usually it’s not at the end, it’s in the middle, when people start breaking out with suggestions and questions,” she adds with a laugh.

Dorkbot’s interactive ethos doesn’t stop there: they have even staged weekend workshops as part of Newcastle’s Electrofringe festival. Last year participants made their own “Nibbler” and “WavRuta” robots, designed to make noise and “f*&% up audio”.

Dorkbot will exhibit at Electrofringe again this year, with Dorks Alive! at Newcastle’s John Paynter Gallery. Presented by Dorkbot Canberra, the exhibition tantalisingly promises to include: “artworks that produce and destroy themselves, recycled organisms, teenage memories ignited by science, interactive deception, drawing without beginning or end and The Bible… as you have never seen it.”

Van Gelder will also present The Year in Dorkbot at Electrofringe. Some of the highlights include a home built jet engine and the famous DubTable, a surface on which you can crush, mix and twist sounds. Also on show is Pia’s Voice Mask, a wearable instrument for vocal performance that also looks like the head of a huge fish.

“Dorkbot is a great place to meet likeminded folk and talk shop, get introduced to new skills or just get mind-boggled,” says van Gelder. But don’t worry, a blank face and befuddled expression won’t get you barred – “you don’t have to know anything about electronics to enjoy Dorkbot, just come along!”

Where/when: Serial Space (302 Cleveland St, Surry Hills) on the last Tuesday of every month.
Dorks Alive!: John Paynter Gallery > The Lock-Up, 90 Hunter Street (Newcastle), from October 1-5.

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