dorkbotlondon56, Slimehouse, London.

Hurrah, it’s dorkbotlondon56, gosh I feel like a bit of an old timer having been coming along since gathering no 2 😉

For those who are unfamiliar, dorkbot is all about ‘people doing strange things with electricity. It was started by Douglas Repetto, in New York, back in 2000 at Columbia University. London was the second chapter, started by Saul Albert & Alex McLean and has now spread all around the world.

Anyways, info blurb over, this month’s dorkbot was at Limehouse Town Hall and first up was Joel Gethin Lewis, who talked about a couple of his recent installations. He’s an interaction designer and belongs to a collective called United Visual Artists.

Volume, which is presently installed outside the Southbank Centre, London, till 27th July, is a georgeous sound and light installation. People move around a collection of columns to trigger sound and graphical light effects. It’s a most engaging work and has the public captivated with its beauty.

It uses closed source, off the shelf tracking software which tracks peoples positions as they move around the space.

Joel then went on to talk about Contact, a site-specific installation in a Tokyo shopping centre, commissioned to celebrate 150 years of Japan/UK creative collaboration.

It’s an amazing responsive floor, which allows people to use their kinetic energy to interact with the visuals. It uses Box2D physics simulation system with a motion vector system and open framework C ++ to show optical flow in real time.

Anyways, it looks fantastic, I recommend having a look at some of the wonderful images of people enjoying it on the United Visual Artists site. I just
wish I could go to Japan to have a play!


Next up is Harold Cohen, a painter born in 1928 and taught at the Slade School of Art. He moved to San Diego and became interested in computers. He went on to develop Aaron a programme that makes rule based art and one of the longest running software development projects as he started working on it in the 70s at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Labs.

He’s interested in programme autonomy and compares his Aaron programme to an artist’s assistant.

Aaron simulates the cognitive process used in making art – in this case choosing colours, hues and brightness. He built a homemade drawing machine; he called a turtle, that he later developed to paint. In the 80s he made it able to incorporate coloured paints and also the software to work with hue, light and saturation, based on RGB.

Eventually, Harold’s rules programme got so complex and his painting machines such a nightmare to maintain that he decided he wanted a much more direct way into his artworks. He felt that his painting machines were giving out the wrong message, especially as people started becoming interested in the actual machines as much as his artwork, for example people liked that they could wash out its cups and brushes – so he gave them away to a museum and brought a wide format printer.

One morning Harold woke up with an idea for an extraordinary algorithm that made images just as good as his previous work, but in a much simpler way – incorporating fibonacci numbers with brightness, hue and saturation.

He is still working on his programme and often sets it to work overnight which creates thousands of images, which he finds it very difficult to pick out the best ones for print as it produces such good images. He keeps them all and when he goes through them often wonders why he didn’t chose many of them to print.

He has no plans to use representational colours in the futures as he says that humans respond to tone & brightness before colour, and feels that the shades of colour are of relative unimportance.


Sarah Angliss, a regular at dorkbot, told us about her ‘Swinging London’ installation – the brief was to create something that celebrates London to be shown in a shed on the Southbank, London. She put together an installation in one of seven sheds that starred puppets on strings inspired by a rundown 60s puppet show in Teignmouth, Devon. The puppets were old Pelham Puppets gleaned from eBay and modified with Velcro attached faces of people or icons that in the past had some historical/cultural relevance to London, such as Ken Livingstone, Twiggy and Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds – they were very amusing and I wish I’d actually seen this in real life, but hey the next best thing is this video on youtube

The second installation she showed us was called ‘Machines not angels’ which incorporated hand bells distributed in a space, that played in a wireless distributed carillon. They played an algorithmic musical composition.

She used XP to link up objects and got the bells talking to each other in a ‘call and response’ way – she used the sound of the real bells mixed with recorded bell sounds. She was interested in showing the physical presence of the bells against the recorded bell sounds.

Sadly she’d brought the wrong piece of software to play these to us, but luckily had her saw with her, so played us a few notes on that – wonderful!

Another great dorkbot and lovely to see friends old and new 😀