Art Hack Day

Michael Ang

November 28th, 2014

Art Hack Day is an event for hackers whose medium is art and artists whose medium is tech. A typical Art Hack Day event brings together 60 artist-hackers and hacker-artists to collaborate on new works in a hackathon-style sprint of 48 hours leading up to a public exhibition and party. The artworks often demonstrate the expressive power of new technology, radical collaboration in art or a critical look at how technology affects society. The technology used is typically open, and sharing source code online is encouraged.

Reel-to-reel player for Mixtape

Hacking an old reel-to-reel player for Mixtape. Photo by Vinciane Verguethen.

As a participant (and now an organizer) of Art Hack Day I’ve had the opportunity to participate in three of the events. The spirit of intense creation in a collaborative atmosphere drew me to the Art Hack Day. As an artist working with technology it’s often possible to get bogged down in the technical details of realizing a project. The 48-hour hackathon format of Art Hack Day gives a concrete deadline to spur the process of creation and is short enough to encourage experimentation. When the exhibition of a new work is only 48 hours away, you’ve got to be focused and solve problems quickly. Going through this experience with 60 other people brings an incredible energy.

Each Art Hack Day is based around a theme. Some examples include "Lethal Software", "afterglow", and "Disnovate". The Lethal Software art hack took place in San Francisco at Gray Area. The theme was inspired by the development of weaponized drones, pop-culture references like Robocop and The Terminator, and software that fights other software (e.g. spam vs spam filters). Artist-hackers were invited to create projects engaging with the theme that could be experienced by the public in-person and online. Two videogame remix projects included KillKillKill!!! where your character would suffer remorse after killing the enemy and YODO Mario (You Only Die Once) where the game gets progressively glitched out each time Mario dies, and the second player gets to move the holes in the ground in an attempt to kill Mario. DroneML presented a dance performance using drones and Cake or Death? (the project I worked on) repurposed a commercial drone into a CupCake Drone that delivered delicious pastries instead of deadly missiles.

KillKillKill

A video game character shows remorse in KillKillKill!!!

The afterglow Art Hack Day in Berlin as part of the transmediale festival posed a question relating to the ever increasing amount of e-waste and overabundance of collected data: "Can we make peace with our excessive data flows and their inevitable obsolescence? Can we find nourishment in waste, overflow and excess?" Many of the projects reused discarded technology as source material. PRISM: The Beacon Frame caused controversy when a technical contractor thought the project seemed closer to the NSA PRISM surveillance project than an artistic statement and disabled the project. The Art Hack Day version of PRISM gave a demonstration of how easily cellular phone connections can be hijacked - festival visitors coming near the piece would receive mysterious text messages such as "Welcome to your new NSA partner network". With the show just blocks away from the German parliament and recent revelations of NSA spying the piece seemed particularly relevant.

PrintCade printer

A discarded printer remade into a video game for PrintCade

Disnovate was hosted by Parsons Paris as part of the inauguration for their MFA Design and Technology program. Art Hack Day isn’t shy of examining the constant drive for innovation in technology, and even the hackathon format that it uses: "Hackathons have turned into rallies for smarter, cheaper and faster consumption. What role does the whimsical and useless play in this society? Can we evaluate creation without resorting to conceptions of value? What worldview is implied by the language of disruption; what does it clarify and what does it obscure?"

Many of the works in this Art Hack Day had a political or dystopian statement to make. WAR ZONE recreated historical missile launches inside Google Earth, giving a missile’s-eye view of the trajectory from launch site to point of impact. The effect was both mesmerizing and terrifying. Terminator Studies draws connections between the fictional Terminator movie and real-world developments in the domination of machines and surveillance. Remelt literally recast technology into a primitive form by melting down aluminum computer parts and forming them into Bronze Age weapons, evoking the fragility of our technological systems and often warlike nature. On a more light-hearted note Drinks At The Opening Party presented a table of empty beer bottles. As people took pictures of the piece using a flash a light sensor would trigger powerful shaking of the table that would actually break the bottles. Trying to preserve an image of the bottles would physically destroy them.

Edward Snowden Paris vaccination

Edward Snowden gets a vacation in Paris as Snowmba. Photo by Luca Lomazzi.

The speed with which many of these projects were created is testament to the abundance of technology that is available for creative use. Rather than using technology in pursuit of "faster, better, more productive" artist-hackers are looking at the social impacts of technology and its possibilities for expression and non-utilitarian beauty. The collaborative and open atmosphere of the Art Hack Day gives rise to experimentation and new combinations of ideas.

Technology is one of the most powerful forces shaping global society. The consummate artist-hacker uses technology in a creative way for social good. Art Hack Day provides an environment for these artist-hackers and hacker-artists to collaborate and share their results with the public.

You can browse through project documentation and look for upcoming Art Hacks on the Art Hack Day website or via @arthackday on Twitter.

Project credits

About the Author

Michael Ang is a Berlin-based artist and engineer working at the intersection of art, engineering, and the natural world. His latest project is the Polygon Construction Kit, a toolkit for bridging the virtual and physical realms by constructing real-world objects from simple 3D models. He is a participant and sometimes organizer of Art Hack Day, an event for hackers whose medium is tech and artists whose medium is technology.

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