Every six months or so, the Dorkbot group (self described as “people doing strange things with electricity”) that usually meets every other Monday at Backspace gathered around for a lecture series.
Also, do you know that their first lecture, 0x01, was the fifth tech event I attended in Portland? But this is besides the point. Let’s move on to the review.
The evening brought three presenters:
- Data and the physical world, presented by Andrew S. Parnell, a digital artist whose work deals with physical manifestation of digital codes.
- Altering a space via physical and web-based interfaces, presented by Michael Bunsen, Caley Feeney and Taryn Tomasello (not present), an art collective whose mission is to use the computer to get people off the computer.
- Sculptures and installations from 2005–09 by Dan Gilsdorf, a Portland-based sculptor and installation artist who uses video, sound and mechanics extensively.
Data and the physical world
Data, in general, is meaningless. Graphs are a valiant attempt to give data meaning, but often, they don’t really work well. What really becomes essential is bringing data back into the real world.
Currently, I focus on human-generated output. This includes email, position/movement and social media.
- Semaphorebot, for example, translates junk email into flag code.
- Tangólumen, translates the position of people in a space into varying concentration of light.
- Tweetolumen watches Twitter for the world “light,” then based its luminosity on that.
- Cardiolumen takes a characteristic of the viewer’s heart beat.
While these objects exist and interact with the physical world, you not notice they they actually leave no physical artifacts. Today, we live in a digital world, so data becomes energy. I simply translate this energy into different forms, like light.
Michael Bunsen and Caley Feeney (Taryn Tomasello is the other artist that was not present)
A couple of months ago, me, Kayley and a friend got art installation, music, and did electronics and software along with it.
initially, I knew that I have an interestst in the concept of spaces: all kinds of spaces, and want to explore it playfully and make it interactive. We had at first great ideas about revolving projection and live, interactive video streams. Due to time constraints, we ended up doing different things. So what we ended up doing was (we thought we wanted to have this event in a space that’s something like a dome, because it gets to get you thinking about your physical environment. We included two projections: one remote and locally controlled. In addition to this, we covered the dome in a soft of transparent plastic, because what we were wrking is sixteen feet in diameter and eight feet high.
I’m not a computer science guy, but we were able to throw something together with development tools like Arduino, and web development tools like Rails and Arduino. So in a few nights, we were able to throw together something that works. It wasn’t ideal code or anything.
At the same time, it’s not really about achieving a specific goal, but rather, to experiment with the process of creating it. In addition to having this physical event where you can dialog with this physical space with both the web and local control.
The first route was building a knob box with Arduino as a method to control the exhibition locally. You can use this knob box (with three knobs on it) to manipulate the RGB value of light projected. Really simple. PureData then takes this output and translate it properly. This kit is so light, we had to tape a rock in it so that it has some substance [laughs]
What’s the reward for the web user, then? Well, we also installed a webcam inside this structure, so users can actually see what their manipulation entails. I think that it’s cool to give users the ability to control another space.
When we finally get started from concept to construction, it took a few week—most of it was actually spent constructing and covering the domes. The actual controlling application took about a week.
Sculptures and installations from 2005–09
I’m going to go through a selection of artworks on the last five years or so.
Let’s start out with a project called “The Consensus,” done at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg between 2006–07. The form that it takes is a roomful filled with hats that nodding (or shakes left and right) in succession. Most of the previous projects I did was physical. A lot of it was mechanical (it moved.) But I’m pretty new in the electronic side of the project.
This is a piece called “Small Price,” done between 2004–05. It’s a robotic hand scratching the blackboard in half-circle motion.
There’s another piece called “The Behemoth”, which simulates the oil well drilling activity. I have several ways: one is to make a fairly small materials, using shadow and projection, create the perception of making an object more landscape or epic.
The other way is to make linear, repetitive motion that changes the object itself. This piece is called Centurium, 2005.
Another piece in the same exhibition projects the appearance of endless electric poles.
Another piece is called “Rails,” which depicts a model train moving around and around a small circle that was projecting on the wall with a security camera, creating a much larger projection of endless train moving. Coincidentally, with this piece, the one thing that has happened whenever I put it up is that it is always gets destroyed by the viewers. The problem with security camera is that you can see yourself in the projection, so pepole started destroying it.
The next piece is a lightbulb rotating in its axis where half of its side has been painted black. The interesting space formed by gallery walls, which was built very far away from this exhibit, was explored by the light refraction.
The next one is “Look, See.” It’s very simple in construction: two television faced against each other with two cameras on top of them, taking the output from the television facing it as input, thus creating a feedback-powered loop.
The next piece is called “Witness Witness”, it is a monitor that rotates clockwise, with a camera that attaches to the back of it, filming the wall, that rotates counter-clockwise.
The last project is a seven-storey stack of 16 televisions that project different parts of a tree slowly burning, from the bottom to the top.
Where can I see more?
Besides going to dorkbotpdx.org, The Dorkbot Lecture Series happens roughly every six months, but if you’re just curious, stop by their every-other-Monday meeting at Backspace (conveniently located Downtown at NW 5th and Couch St.) Their next meeting is Monday, June 22, 2009 at 7 pm.
For schedule information, subscribe to the DorkbotPDX-announce mailing list.