Commentary: The rise of hack culture, and how the arts are getting in on it

Leila Johnston, The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 2/1/13

I love hacking. I love the challenge of it, the subversiveness of it, and the way in which it turns the world into a playground. Hacking is the art of dismantling and reassembling to alter the intended purpose, and I'm a big believer in the value of doing things you're not supposed to. It can be useful and noble, of course, but the real reason we mash things up and make new stuff is because it creates a happy chemical reaction in our brains. Back in January 2011, I attended the first ever Culture Hack Day, bringing together the culture and technology sectors' shared passion for creativity. The event was inspired by the extraordinary enthusiasm demonstrated by developers at hack days, popular events that see teams of technologists challenged to build quick prototypes out of data within a very limited time frame. Culture Hack has now evolved into a digital development programme, enabling the creation of innovative digital prototypes and new working relationships across the arts, technology and creative industries. More recently experimenting with different formats that sit under the Culture Hack banner to create a broader programme of work, the programme now includes hack days, workshops, prototype commissions and how-to guides. We recently hosted an inaugural 'Ideas Lab' -- looking at how young people could better access London's museums and archives using technology. [T]he Ideas Lab method involves risk; it asks you to have faith in the value of the process without always having a goal in mind. By bringing culture professionals and technology experts together in a fast, hacky way, the aim is to develop ideas that extend outside of comfort zones and encourage ideas and processes that can be taken away and shared.


Commentary: Can your arts org benefit from a local student 'hack-a-thon'?

Joe Patti, blog Butts In The Seats, 2/25/13

This past weekend, the University of Miami had an art-themed student hack-a-thon. The results were varied and interesting. The winning team made an app that would allow you to find music local to any city by genre. 2nd place was for an app that helped curate music recommendations. The third place team created "a music instrument combining piano and guitar sounds with motion sensors." Fourth place I have to copy and paste rather than describe. "Nullinator - Joke apps. 1 creates a plaid shirt design based on the sound waves of a song. Another replaces your face in a video with that of Nicholas Cage. A crowd pleaser." While the UHack event chose art as a theme this year, the group Art Hack Day holds arts-related hack days across the country. They describe themselves as:

"...dedicated to hackers whose medium is art and artists whose medium is tech. We bridge the gap between art, technology and entrepreneurship with grassroots hackathons that demonstrate the expressive potential of new technology and the power of radical collaboration in art. We believe in non-utilitarian beauty through technology and its ability to affect social change for public good."

Looking through the list of sponsors at the different cities on both sites, I don't see a lot of arts organizations involved. I wondered if any arts organizations knew these were going on and if involving arts organizations was even on the event organizers' radar.


Commentary: A hacker blurs the line -- legally? -- between art and activism

Benjamin Sutton, ArtInfo [via Huffington Post], 2/19/13

For his latest subversive intervention, the self-described "contemporary artist and pirate" Paolo Cirio wants to give you the offshore tax benefits enjoyed by major multi-national corporations. He hacked the corporate registry website of the government of the Cayman Islands, a popular tax haven second only to Switzerland for being home to the world's secret and untaxed fortunes, stealing the identities of 200,000 companies registered there. Now he's selling off the identities for 99 apiece on so that small businesses and private citizens can enjoy the same tax breaks. "Finally," Cirio writes in his project statement, "small businesses and middle class people can invoice from the major offshore centers and avoid unfair taxes, legal responsibility and economic disruption in their own indebted home countries, in a form of global civil disobedience." This is not the first time Cirio has blurred the line between online art and activism, to provocative ends. Another of his acts of appropriation, "Face to Facebook," -- for which he and Allessandro Ludovico set out to steal one million Facebook profiles and used them to populate a dating website they created based on facial recognition technology -- is currently on view in "The Public Private," an exhibition at the New School in New York that examines the ways in which new technologies and social media are blurring, dissolving, and undermining the boundaries between public and private.


Commentary: Are nonprofit arts organizations the hacker -- or the hacked?

Andrew Taylor, blog The Artful Manager, 2/25/13

Hacker/artist Evan Roth offers a compelling TEDx presentation on both hackers and artists, and the ideals the two communities share. Hackers are individuals who strive for clever, shared, and often playful solutions to problems through computer code or resourceful intervention. Their work abducts or adapts existing systems toward purposes for which they weren't designed. Which all makes the hacker definition and ethic a natural fit with artists, who do the same. But it left me wondering about arts organizations. Are our institutions that support and connect the arts hacks in the larger system, or in need of a hack themselves? They certainly started as hacks. The first nonprofit arts organizations abducted and adapted the tax-exempt form for expressive ends, even though the tax status wasn't designed for the arts (and the tax law never mentions them). They found clever ways to turn wealth and found materials into expressive works, forging new spaces for artists and audiences. And many still do. But others seem more like the system than the hacker, unable to adapt or adopt their machines to new purposes or to serve new communities. They have become slow and resourced institutions in need of (and sometimes in desperate search for) a hack.


Commentary: Hacking Hollywood: digital insurgents are disrupting film biz

Eugene Chung,, 2/24/13

There was once a time when Hollywood was the Wild West. In the early 1900s, a rogue group of artists, seeking to free themselves from the expensive yoke of Thomas Edison's film patents, left the developed heart of the American Atlantic to settle in remote Los Angeles. These renegades would go on to form the foundations of Hollywood as well as herald an era of unprecedented creative experimentation. In many ways, these early filmmakers were the spiritual siblings of today's hackers. While hackers are disrupting everything from corporate America to venture capital, today's indie filmmakers have the opportunity to unsettle Hollywood as we know it. The decreasing cost to create video is transforming film and TV. The visual quality of amateur video is improving rapidly. This trend is upending the establishment. For now, the most talented filmmakers are beholden to the aristocratic patronage of the studios, but eventually, cheaper production costs and unlimited digital distribution have the potential to usher in a new Golden Era for the singular creative genius in video. The Hollywood majors and HBO still control the best content, reports of the death of the blockbuster are greatly exaggerated, and the ascendancy of the long tail is premature. Disrupting Hollywood and the existing power players is thus a more difficult quandary than at first blush. Nevertheless, brilliant young hackers have solved harder theoretical problems than these by the time they finish grade school, and some of them are now dedicating themselves to turning the disruption of Hollywood from theory to reality.

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."