Skip to main content

Up on the screen, filing cabinets open and close in a rhythmic throb that sounds like a garbage truck.

A dozen audience members sit below the stage, silenced on the edge of their plastic chairs, while a bespectacled couple in the back row snicker at the sight of what looks like office furniture having a fit.

Once the clip ends, Istvan Kantor takes the stage to explain how the drawers are programmed to pulse on their own. "They're hooked up to aluminum rods, pneumatic cylinders," said the Governor-General's Award-winning artist to a crowd in the basement of InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre in Toronto last week. "It works with air pressure; the whole system is controlled through software called MAX."

Story continues below advertisement

On a day-to-day basis, most of us simply flick on our laptops, cellphones or iPods and use them as they're intended, but a growing number of multimedia artists such as Mr. Kantor tear those gizmos apart to make a new breed of Franken-technology - and present them onstage at a monthly tech show-and-tell called Dorkbot.With 76 chapters worldwide and 24 more in the works, the Dorkbot movement is on the rise, launching in cities from Goteborg and Singapore to Istanbul and Barrie.

Though each chapter is vastly different from the next - some have question-and-answer sessions, others lean toward workshops - they all stick to Dorkbot's tagline: "People doing strange things with electricity."

Part classroom, part science fair, it's hardly your run-of-the-mill lecture.

"It's less formalized and casual and fuzzier," said Douglas Repetto, who founded Dorkbot in New York seven years ago as a way to meet like-minded folks.

"I thought, hey, why not put out an open call to people who want to share what they're doing in a no-pressure, casual, friendly context."

Casual, indeed. After Mr. Kantor's presentation, Liav Koren, the host of Dorkbot Toronto, took to the stage, while still eating his dinner of couscous from a Tupperware container, to introduce the next presenter.

"It's all very ad hoc, but that's a part of what makes it all fun," said Mr. Repetto, who is an artist and director of research at Columbia University's Computer Music Center. "When you're in school, it's normal to share things that you're doing. When you leave those options disappear."

Story continues below advertisement

But unlike school, nobody here is sweating over grades - and it's all pro bono. Every organizer or gizmo geek who takes part in Dorkbot does so voluntarily.

Presenters are plucked by the host (unless a random call is sent out) and meetings are typically promoted through e-lists. The gatherings are free and usually held in tech-savvy art galleries after hours, with anywhere from a handful to a hundred attendees showing up.

At the most recent New York Dorkbot, one artist showed a video system that senses earthquakes in California, and another demonstrated how a Game Boy can be turned into a musical instrument.

The Montreal chapter makes an effort to recycle defunct electronic parts, appliances and hardware, transforming them into new creations. One pair of artists reprogrammed an industrial printer into an "abstract painter" or machine that spouts blotches of spray paint in random patterns all on its own, Another artist turned a Nintendo Power Glove into a battery-powered musical synthesizer - you can slip it on and strike different notes with each fingertip.

Dorkbot Regina, on the other hand, is more of a workshop. Ryan Hill, the 27-year-old artist who carved out the chapter this summer, dubs it a "multimedia jam."

"I just wanted people gathering with electronics and strange art supplies for an open-ended workshop," he said, noting there is nothing else like it in his hometown. "I've looked for it for quite a while."

Story continues below advertisement

On the last Saturday of every month, a group will gather in the Soil Digital lab in Neutral Ground, an artist-run centre and gallery in Regina, splay out newspapers on the tables and pull out keyboards, laptops and soldering guns to make new creations.

At the gathering in July, someone brought a toy car to the table. They hollowed out its body and turned it into an audio mixer.

"It's studio time to help each other out," Mr. Hill said. "A more formal classroom environment would intimidate people."

Mr. Kantor sees Dorkbot as a way of logging off and living life - with technology. "It's not just staring at your computer screen," he said. "It's exploring cheap technology. There's lots of playfulness."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter