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Saturday, August 9, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Band of Seattle tinkerers shows works at art center

Seattle Times staff reporter

'Doing Strange Things'


The show runs through Sept. 3 at the Center on Contemporary Art on Capitol Hill, 1420 11th Ave.

Gallery hours: 2-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

Admission is free, donations suggested.

For information on visit dorkbot.org/dorkbotsea/

Kate Seekings calls the monthly meeting to order: "Attention dorks!"

The cramped room falls silent as presenter Casey Muratori asks, "On average, how much fun would you say you have with your own shadow?"

"Oohs" and "ahs" ensued as he shared "Whack-a-Mole" and other video games in which players use their shadows — not a mouse or joystick — to hold moles in their holes and catch butterflies.

Welcome to the world of dorkbot.

Dorkbot-sea, the Seattle chapter that formed this summer, meets monthly to showcase odd things its members make with electric current. Members also present audio creations.

Some of their inspirations are on display at the Center on Contemporary Art, where on Wednesday they celebrated opening night of their show, "People Doing Strange Things With Electricity."

The electricity flowed as freely as the music and drinks.

In the narrow parking lot outside, disc jockeys drummed up a crowd of 50 or more. Inside, visitors "body listened" by laying on the cow-print platform called Udderthump and caressed pages of a barking, saxophone-playing book.

Others gave donations to a cymbal-playing mechanical monkey called "Panhandler's Dream."

"There is a world full of these people in their basements," said artist Laura MacCary. "It's nice to get together."

At their monthly meeting, electric-music pioneer Reek Havok shared "Space Thrust," an electronic rave track from out of this world — it came from high-frequency radio waves a scientist picked up from a galaxy 180 million light years away.

The Seattle chapter is a spinoff of the original East Coast dorkbot-nyc, which spawned sister groups all over the world. Most local clubs meet the first Wednesday evening of every month and feature three presenters.

Among the din of drills and jazz earlier this week, Seekings helped artists set up and explained the founding of the Seattle group. "Dorkbot was a natural extension of both my sets of interests, both the technical and the creative."

Seekings, whose small, England-based computer-graphics company was acquired by Microsoft in 1995, left her work at the software giant a few months ago. She heard about dorkbot from a friend in San Francisco and decided to help spearhead a group here.

Forming a dorkbot in Seattle, a solid academic, artistic and tech-based city, seemed like a great fit, she said.

In addition to being a forum for presenting work and having fun, dorkbot helps members collaborate with each other and explore different disciplines.

A good example, Seekings said, is the piece that weaver MacCary and her father, Mac, created.

Just this week, they put the finishing touches on "Dialectric: The Space Between Us," in Laura's kitchen.

Known as a theremin, the instrument hums and sings as players wave their hands near the two hand-woven wire and thread coils on top. The coils attach to a box housing the circuit, assembled by her father, a retired Army radio repairman and field geologist.

Mac MacCary, a self-proclaimed tinkerer, enjoys welding sculptures and building "infernal machines," as Laura MacCary affectionately dubs them, in his Spokane basement. Once, she could feel her skin tingle as she stood near a model of a lightning-generating machine he concocted.

But partygoers Wednesday night had to hold their ears close to the theremin to hear it play. The sounds of a coin-operated thrashing shark and a hammer-swinging piece called "Industry" drowned out the instrument.

Perhaps the most noisy, if not the most popular, piece was "That's Not a Toy," a collaborative work by David Rubin, primarily a sculptor, and Mandy Greer, a fabric artist.

Rubin, who was responsible for the rickety, clankity mechanics of the piece, said they wanted to make something "as dirty and fun and animated as possible."

Dolls, replete with social and political messages, move up and down on rods. A switch allows visitors to turn the piece on and off.

"I like it," said Steven Stone, a Boeing designer and analyst. "It's loud and it engages you."

Stone, a photographer by night, said the dorkbot-sea show allows visitors to exercise both parts of their brains.

"This is about the merging of those worlds."

Alison Bickerstaff: 206-464-8349 or abickerstaff@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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