Beauty and the geeks

I, Dorkbot
By GEORGIANA COHEN  |  February 14, 2008

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E-TRASH ART: Dorkbot artists find beauty in the remains of electronic gadgets and common household objects.

The idea? A shooting gallery where the goal is to hit the ducks — and avoid bagging Dick Cheney’s hunting partner. The problem? How to make the targets move.

This is a job for the Dorkbots. Dorkbot Boston is the local branch of a global organization that bills itself as “people doing strange things with electricity,” uniting geeks interested in melding engineering with art. Think MythBusters meets the ICA.

The week of Presidents’ Day, the group will feature a politically themed exhibition at Somerville’s Willoughby and Baltic Gallery, owned by so-called Dorkbot overlord and shooting-gallery creator Meredith Garniss.

Garniss received an art degree from Northeastern in 1989 but got derailed into developing desktop-publishing technology for several years before returning to her painting roots. That’s when she began making robotic puppets — and connecting her creative with her analytical side.

After a slow start since its launch a couple of years ago, Dorkbot Boston now boasts 65 members. Their first exhibit, this past Halloween, featured a blood-spurting Furby, and Garniss’s large-scale version of the board game Operation, renamed “Autopsy.”

Dorkbot, as Garniss puts it, brings together people who “just want to learn things from each other” — and are maybe just a little bit twisted. For Ed Poznysz, a 36-year-old chemical engineer from Somerville who has worked as a technical director in community theatre, Dorkbot fits his innate need to tinker.

“I was one of those kids who would play with a toy for 10 minutes before I said, ‘Mom, where’s the Phillips head?’ ” says Poznysz. He created the aforementioned death Furby, whose parts were culled from an inkjet printer, a VCR, and an aquarium. “I’d rather have something that’s really cool and broken than something new.”

Originally, there were fears Dorkbot would overlap with Collision Collective, an MIT group formed in 2002 that similarly bridges art and technology. But as Garniss puts it, “If Collision Collective is fine art, we’re folk art. Not everybody is schooled in the engineering part of it or the art part of it, but we have fun doing it, and that’s really our thing.”

At a recent meeting, members bandied about ideas for getting the shooting gallery targets to cycle through. Compressed air? Tilt sensors? A solution is elusive, for now. Garniss has one thing figured out, though — she’s already bought both a cork gun and a rubber-band gun for the shooting part of the game. The group debates the merits of each — Garniss has priorities, after all.

“I want it to be really satisfying to shoot something,” she says. Cheney would surely agree.

The Willoughby and Baltic Gallery is at 195G Elm Street, Somerville. The new Dorkbot show will run February 19 through 23, from 4 to 7 pm. An opening reception will be held February 19 at 7 pm. Call 617.501.0197 for more information, or go to willoughbybaltic.squarespace.com or dorkbot.org.

  Topics: This Just In , Politics, U.S. Politics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  More more >
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