Arts Beat

Hearts of Dorkness

Dorkbot DC member Paras Kaul says the group has
Dorkbot DC member Paras Kaul says the group has "a good, creative mix of people with a high level of technological understanding." Her headband is not a fashion statement; it played a role Kaul's digital presentation. (Linda Davidson - Linda Davidson)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

A few minutes ago she was Paras Kaul, an electronic artist. But right now she's "Brain Wave Chick," the alter ego she slips into while working on her art. She wears a blue headband with three electrodes that monitor brain waves. And she uses these brain waves to play a video game -- or, as she calls it, an "interactive brain wave visual analyzer system."

The game she plays, Crop Circle, projects onto a screen behind her. One of her players, a blue marble, bounces all over the screen and makes the noise "wee-bop!" The goal of the game is undefined.

Then again, everything is experimental for Dorkbot DC, a new club in town for "people doing strange things with electricity," or so the motto goes.

Kaul and about 20 others gathered for the fifth meeting earlier this month at Provisions Library, a resource center for activism and the arts.

"I think this is legitimately incredible," says 26-year-old Web developer Chris Jones about the Dorkbot meeting.

Dorkbot is a global organization that started in New York in 2000 and has grown to include more than 50 chapters all over the world. The Washington chapter started in June; newer chapters are popping up in South Africa, South Korea and Greece.

The Washington group attracts an eclectic bunch -- Web developers, academics, students and artists.

"Some of us identify as artists first, some as engineers," says Alberto Gaitán, a composer who helped start the Washington chapter. "We don't stay in the box. We're not afraid to experiment."

Douglas Repetto, founder of the original Dorkbot in New York, started the club to meet other people with an interest in electronic art. He wanted to create "an adult show-and-tell." His employer, the Computer Music Center at Columbia University, hosts the Web site and pays Repetto while he runs the club.

He chose the name Dorkbot to help keep the mood casual.

There are no résumé requirements to present work at Dorkbot, Repetto says. He loves it when someone well known presents on the same night as a student who has just learned computer programming.

"There are plenty of forums for serious presentations," he says. "If you're doing something at Dorkbot, you can't take yourself too seriously."

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