JamesClar3DDisplayCubeLast night at Dorkbot NY, the informal monthly gathering subtitled "People Doing Strange Things with Electricity," three people gave presentations. Left is my accidental .GIF (I thought I was making an MPEG movie) of James Clar's 3D Display Cube, a device that uses a hideous amount of computing power to render charmingly lowtech 3-D moving sculptures on 1000 LED lights in a 2 foot cube. Think 3D Jim Campbell. Mary Flanagan projected complex abstract patterns generated from the phonemes and word choices of a several month run of emails between her collaborator Andrew Gerngross and his ex-girlfriend. It was unclear whether the, um, relationship between the data and the display was purely aesthetic, or if there were other connections or conclusions to be drawn. Fang-Yu (Frank) Lin gave a crisp power point talk on "channeling the internet though a robotic typewriter." His artwork was exactly as described: a clunky hybrid of an old manual keyboard and a teletype machine, which acts a kind of spirit medium, bringing you messages from "the internet," a quasi-mystical entity. You type in a question or statement, and hidden hardware and software search for words (in chatboards, blogs, news stories) that might logically or literally follow from what you wrote. Of course, the result--lines of text or ASCII pictures spit out of the teletype--are usually tangential (at best) to your request. Lin uses a hybrid search engine to pull up content, but casts a narrow net, apparently grabbing the first thing remotely connected to your search. The piece was almost aggressively dumb, and retro, and pseudoscientific, a kind of satirical antidote to the globalist, futurist slogans routinely bandied about by tech companies and new media visionaries (cf. Maciej Wisniewski's netomat). I immediately thought of Scott Bukatman's essay "Gibson's Typewriter," which considers the global information sea change through the metaphor of William Gibson banging out Neuromancer on a manual typewriter. Lin's presentation echoed one of Bukatman's themes--that mechanical writing was an earlier and no less earth-shaking "information revolution." The fixation on the typewriter is also in sync with current trends such as whipping out giant old cell phones purchased on Ebay to impress potential dates.

- tom moody 10-07-2004 12:09 pm

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