The Best and Wackiest Pieces at Berlin's Art Hack Day

Phones in honey, sending smoke signals, or straight up in flames—there was a lot of phone abuse.

Feb 5 2014, 9:45pm
Image: Michael Ang

Last weekend's Transmediale "Afterglow" festival in Berlin featured a number of hacker art projects created for Art Hack Day. One of the installations, Julian Oliver and Danja Kasiliev's PRISM: The Beacon Frame, was so good at mimicking the NSA's PRISM program that it was shut down. While PRISM's drama was definitely the most newsworthy, there are plenty of other projects worth a gander. 

Like Oliver and Kasiliev, the artists who exhibited at "Afterglow" were all required to address the issues of big data, privacy, surveillance, and virtual detritus of our "post-digital" world. The work took a number of forms, from Geraldine Juarez's burning of Bitcoins (part of the main "Afterglow" program) to Kim Asendorf and Ole Fachs', which allowed people to create "an Emoji composition to be played back as audio intervention during the exhibition." Here is a round up of some of the other most interesting, wacky, and downright hilarious pieces to come out of Berlin's Art Hack Day. 

Image courtesy of Dennis de Bels

SMS: Smoke Messaging Service 

For his Art Hack Day project, artist Dennis de Bels built a hardware prototype for a very curious application: an SMS (Smoke Messaging Service) add-on for smartphones. Users could attach the hardware to their phones and send smoke signals to one another. It's an interesting parallel of two forms of long-distance communication—one ancient, the other modern. De Bels envisions chains of people communicating over large distances using secret protocols that would be hard to intercept and leak because of "the social coherence of the user group."

Indeed, it's got me thinking that something like a contentless smoke signal-esque app could be incredibly useful for protests and revolt; something to warn dissidents when it's time to move their asses. Maybe there already is one and I've just not seen it? 

Image courtesy of Michael Ang


Johan Uhle and Robert Boehnke believe that our phones are so vulnerable and insecure that they might as well have been designed as surveillance honeypots. This isn't the James Bond-type of honeypot, but the computing term for an information system trap that tricks an attacker into believing the target is part of a network. Taking that idea to its ultimate conclusion, Uhle and Boehnke submerged two phones in jars of honey (purchased through a crowdfunding campaign launched by the artists). Art Hack Day's Olof Mathé told me, at least one visitor at the opening submerged his own phone in the honey. 

Field Sweeper, Inc.

Sabrina Basten and Audrey Samson spent Art Hack Day developing "Field Sweeper, Inc." It's a suit that "detects and makes audible electro-magnetic fields." According to the description of the project, "Through mountains of electronic waste, the field sweeper suit enables the scavenger to find the last bit of surviving electronics, listening for the last peeps of these devices." There is something rather melancholy about this project, like the central conceit of Wall-E, where humanity's detritus is picked over and organized without anyone in sight. This should be made into a short film. 

Jobless Avatars

Saso Sedlacek distilled Generation Y's infamous, though perhaps overblown, sense of entitlement into a must-see satire. In his film, avatars speak various truths about themselves at job interviews set against a "morose corporate backdrop." In the interviews, avatars say such things as "I'm lazy," "I take naps," and "I can't take shit from anyone." Sublime.

Detective Camera (Song)

Artist Niko Princen, who created "The Clouds" for last fall's Art Hack Day, went back to the late 1800s for his project. Diving into the history of detective cameras (some were disguised as paper bags or hidden behind a waistcoat), Princen found a song called, naturally, "Detective Camera." Written in 1892 by James Newland and George Le Brunn, "Detective Camera" opens with the following lyrics: "Don’t wink or blink, or even think, but just stay where you are... I’ll introduce myself to you – Detective camera... No matter what you do or say, I’ve got you on the spot... A house on fire’s very warm, you’ll find me twice as hot." Well over a hundred years later, there is a certain Pynchonian ring to the song.

At Art Hack Day, Princen and other participants made the first recording of "Detective Camera." As Princen told me, the Art Hack Day participants saw the text of the song for the first time while singing it. It's madcap and oddly menacing, especially given that the performance is being captured by a camera. It's nice to know that people were anti-surveillance well over one hundred years ago, but it's also a reminder that we've not been able to stop the long-anticipated rise of the surveillance state.


Exonemo, Japan's longest running new media "art unit," created a little hearth for "smart" devices that will eventually disappear. Visitors sat on a couch and watched a little bonfire for keyboards, mouses, in honor of a "now lost legacy." 

"Once upon a time, the hearth was the heart of the home," wrote exonemo of the project. "Now there's a TV in its place, where you can watch a perfect fireplace 24/7. With 'smart' devices that too will soon disappear, to be consumed from our palms. Consider this our contribution to such progress...a new iteration of the fireplace to warm our restless souls." 

Image courtesy of Michael Ang


Forrest Oliphant and Kawandeep Virdee's "Hypno" installation uses facial detection technology to record and process people's faces. A visitor stands in front of the facial detection tech, and watch as their faces become abstracted and manipulated in psychedelically cartoonish ways. 

Image courtesy of Michal Ang

Parked Domain Gallery

A speed project, Olof Mathé, Paul Christophe and Thiago Hersan's "Parked Domain Gallery" repurposes the television test screen (seen between TV programs) to satirize the "spammy GoDaddy ads" on parked domains. With this project, users can redirect their parked domain to the parked domain gallery, or insert a small code snippet provided by the artists to show net art rather than "shitty GoDaddy ads" with Danica Patrick and other GoDaddy girls. As Mathé noted, "It's a total inversion since net artists used to be inspired by the Parked Domain Girl pic."

For more images of the projects created for Art Hack Day, head over to Michael Ang's Flickr page