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Code As Bureaucracy: Art Hack Day Takes on Artificial Intelligence

At Art Hack Day's 'Master Slave' in Providence, Rhode Island, hacker artists wondered if code has become friend or foe.
December 1, 2014, 6:00pm

'Panopticomical,' courtesy of the artist.

As far as new media art goes, [Art Hack Day](http:// http://www.arthackday.net/) enables some of the most interesting intersections of art and hacking. Over the course of three days, relatively unknown hacker artists and established figures, like Cory Arcangel and Niko Princen, collaborate to radically subvert technology for creative ends. After each edition is all said and done, the artists exhibit their techno-fueled art, yielding a vast array of ideas that are as topical as they are clever.

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For the early 2014 Berlin edition, Art Hack Day participants tackled surveillance. Last week, artists and hackers retreated to Providence, Rhode Island for Master Slave, an exploration of how code can be both friend and foe, and one day maybe something else entirely — artificial intelligence.

Below, a selection of the thought-provoking and creative Art Hack Day works showcased at the Rhode Island School of Design's Eship + Exposé Gallery space:

Smartphone Sounds

Faith Holland and Nadav Assor's sound-based installation, Phantom Dings, played with human reactions to smartphone notification sounds. These sounds were dispersed throughout the gallery space using hidden speakers and people’s phones, and triggered by an array of roaming and stationary, passive and reactive sensors. Holland and Assor drew on the Pavlovian reactions that humans have developed to notification sounds coming from personal electronic devices. The name of the work was inspired by Phantom Vibration Syndrome, the phantom sensation that one's phone or other mobile device is vibrating or otherwise sending out a notification.

Self-Drawing Pen Plotter

For Plotter Jesus Unknowingly Draws Itself, a team composed of Carl Lostritto, Linyi Dai, Chen Sun, and Shou Jie Eng hacked a pen plotter—a mechanical device used to draw schematics—to make the machine draw itself, iteratively. Lostritto is no stranger to using pen plotters in exploring man vs. machine dynamics, so it was probably inevitable that he would get a pen plotter to draw its self-portrait. It's a great conceptual foray into the idea that code is becoming more and more human-like in its actions, whether bureaucratic, corporate, or creative.

'Plotter Jesus Unknowingly Draws Itself,'courtesy of the artists.

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“Anti-Photoshop”

Minkyoung Kim and Barron Webster's You Cannot Go Back is a digital drawing system that the two described as an “anti-photoshop.” It was an attempt to nullify almost all advantages of digital visual creation. Every five seconds a printing was made of visitors' drawings on a screen, made using only a joystick and without the ability to edit. “Most people try to control the system to the best of their abilities, trying to draw something realistic or spelling out words. But in the end, the restrictions in place usually end up making people’s artwork look similar -- no matter how much they try to control it,” Webster says. “The printed record becomes the evidence of a control battle between human and system.”

'You Cannot Go Back,' courtesy of the artists.

Panopticomical

David Braun used projection mapping for his piece Panopticomical. Residing in one of the gallery's corners, it was only visible from one physical perspective, effectively trapping visitors in that location to experience it. With the projection, Braun attempted to replicate the Internet's entrancing and infinite qualities, filling it with “rote Internet imagery” like BuzzFeed stickers and social media icons. “It was a metaphor for the Internet, which people only experience from one vantage point, their own, rather than using it to explore different perspectives (which it was the original promise of the Internet),” described Art Hack Day co-founder Olf Mathé.

'Panopticomical,' courtesy of the artist.

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“Digital Ouija”

With Guider, Kawandeep Virdee created a simple app that guides users along its programmatically-created path by using a smartphone's GPS data. The app, a “digital ouija,” works when users visit the Guiding.us website, where they're instructed to turn up the volume, hold the screen, spin themselves to mach the direction, and push the phone forward. When this is done, distorted electronic drones and pings sound, pulling the user in the direction the app wants.

Screenshot from Kawandeep Virdee's Guider app.

Censored Poetry

Invisible Poems, actually titled 看不清楚 (Can’t see clearly), is a work created by an anonymous artist using blocked Chinese search terms to create poetry. Working off of Wikipedia's list of blacklisted keywords in China, Mechanical Turk workers explored the difference between censorship in the physical world (printed copies of poems) versus the digital world (digital text). In one poem, the art itself features words set against Internet icons, creating a sort of pictogram or hieroglyphic effect.

“The incarnation at Art Hack Day starts a series of self-sustaining online protests,” said Art Hack Day co-founder Olof Mathé. “In a continuation of the work, the poems will be hosted on a website that will add job postings to Mechanical Turk when donations are received or ad revenue is made, thereby creating more poetry which in turn brings more visitors and visibility: a virtuous cycle to combat censorship.”

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'Invisible Poems' courtesy of the artist.

Comcast-Time Warner Merger

Finally, David Huerta's Merger of Upper and Lower Kingdoms illustrates the Comcast-Time Warner merger, and the centralization of control over the Internet. In the sculptural work, which features a large and small pyramid on top of a slab of marble, the Internet becomes the Nile River.

'Merger of Upper and Lower Kingdoms,' courtesy of artist.

See more works created at Master Slave at the Art Hack Day website.

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