Artists are Hackers: Evan Roth at TEDxPantheonSorbonne

Artists are Hackers: Evan Roth at TEDxPantheonSorbonne

Translator: Natalia Savvidi
Reviewer: Caroline ERUIMY OK, my name is Evan and professionally I am an artist,
but I also consider myself to be a hacker. I don’t view these as two separate parts
of one practice, but rather something that encompasses
all of the work that I make. And that being the case — at least we had a lot
of very different projects — and so there is kind of three segments
my work falls into. One of them is work that happens
in public space, work that happens outside
or in technology, often times working
with graffiti writers. This is from a series called
Propulsion Paintings. Another part of my work happens
in more traditional arts spaces like galleries and museums and is in more traditional materials
like prints and canvases and sculptures. And the third portion of my work
exists entirely on the web and is work that is inspired by and created
just for the Internet browser. And this is from a series called
“One Gif Compositions”. And so these may look
very different mediums and very different venues, but I see them all as being connected
through this notion of the hack and through philosophies that come
from hacker communities. And so what I would like to present to you today is
my work within the context of the hack, but perhaps, more importantly,
how we can learn [things] from the hackers and apply them to things that happen
outside the realm of code, outside the realm of software and
outside of computer screens. So I would like to do this by looking at how the hacker community
defines itself and how people have defined
what that word means because it is not an easy word to define.
It is easier to talk about what it’s not. And the community of hackers
I am going to talk about today, that grew up with the open source movement,
they agree at least on one thing, which is that it is not about stealing passwords
and stealing credit cards, despite what the news media
and entertainment media tend to show us very often. Hackers tend to wear that word
as a badge of pride. The word — it’s fitting that I’m going
to talk about it in a way that is outside of software
because it started outside of software. And the word was first defined
back in 1959 at MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club,
and they wrote the first definition. And part of their first definition is “an article or project
without constructive end”. This image on top — [“IGNORE THIS SIGN”] —
is from a street artist named Brad Downey. An important player in defining
both the hacker culture and the open source culture — they overlap so much that it is
actually very hard to talk about one without the other — is this gentleman Linus Torvalds,
the creator of Linux, and talking about the open source he says: “I’ve always seen open source as a way
of making the world a better place. But more than that, I see it
as a way of having fun.” And this notion of fun is
something that goes all throughout the hacker community and it is a motivator that I think
can be at times more interesting than
a profit driven motivation. And searching through
various hacker documents preparing for this talk I kept coming across this phrase,
“Playful cleverness”, which is one that I think rings very true
to hacker communities. It is something I see in the art
of other hackers that I enjoy. This is by a Dutch artist
named Helmut Smith. It’s called rainbow. Wikipedia of course has a definition
for the term “hacker”. Wikipedia says: “To expose or
add functionality to a device that was unintended for use by end users
by the company who created it.” And it’s here that, as I think, at least,
I start to see the connection to graffiti. If you think about Krylon company,
they never intended for people to point their product
at other people’s property. This was a brilliant or a terrible hack,
depending on your view on graffiti, but it is the one that nonetheless
changed the way most of our cities look. And my fascination with graffiti
is really a fascination with hackers. I think that graffiti writers are
one of the most interesting hacker communities of our generation. And so when I am inspired
by falling in love with great graffiti it’s not about how well rendered
the paint is, it’s not how many colors are in it. It has everything to do with
where those letters are placed and what systems are tackling into. And this is something that was
a part of graffiti since the beginning. I am not sure graffiti writers
self-identify as hackers, but if you look at how graffiti was born in New York and in Philadelphia
in the ’60s and ’70s along the subway systems.
This was a brilliant hack. This was a group of people
exploiting a system for something it was not intended to do, to transport art instead of transport
people throughout the city. And so when I am working
with graffiti writers — this is what I am trying to do as well — it’s less about paint,
it’s less about dripping ink, and it’s more about hacks
on an urban scale. This is from a group I co-founded
called Graffiti Research Lab, the piece is called L.A.S.E.R. Tag. So this notion of unintended use
of course has ramifications within the hacker community
outside of spray paint. I think unintended use is a lens that we can look
at all technologies with, and especially ridiculous technologies,
like robotic vacuum cleaners. They tend to get much more interesting when we stop putting
technology on a pedestal, and we start creatively
disrespecting that technology. I think when you duct tape knives
onto just about anything it becomes more interesting. This is from an Internet
meme called Doomba. Eric S. Raymond is a big player
in defining hacker culture and talking about hacker culture. He is a self-described hacker,
a software developer and author. In 1997 he wrote an essay called
“The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. And in this essay he uses these two metaphors
of the cathedral and the bazaar to talk about two very different approaches
to software development, the cathedral being the single architect
of the top-down design and the bazaar being a design
that does not have a single plan, a design that came together
through many people acting in collaboration or acting under
their own autonomous means, nonetheless cobbling together something
that didn’t have a single plan, and it’s this bazaar model that I find so interesting and applicable
to the art community. Eric Raymond in
“The Cathedral and the Bazaar” talks a lot about the rise of Linux, he talks a lot about the genius
of Linus Torvalds, and he says that Linus’ genius
had nothing to do with writing code, and had everything to do with seeing the quickest way
between two points and for being “lazy like a fox”. And so when I find myself
working too hard always I’m trying to channel
my interlineness and come back to this
“lazy like a fox” approach towards making work. An example of that — this is a piece that happens
on airplanes and it’s made with just of a single zip
tie between two seats in front of you It’s called “How to keep motherfu#%ers
from putting their seats back.” (Laughter) And so this is me
channeling my lineness. This is me trying to be
“lazy like the fox”. Thanks.
(Applause) This is part of hacking. It’s how can you have the biggest impact
with the least amount of effort. Eric Raymond also wrote
another document, probably the most pointed
to definition of hacker called “How To Become A Hacker?” And to illustrate this connection
that I see between what’s happening in the hacker communities and what what’s
happening now in the arts communities, I’m gonna perform a very simple hack upon
this document that Raymond wrote. And what I am going to do is to view
the source code of his web page, I’m gonna copy that all
into a blank text document and from here I’m gonna perform very simple
find and replace word searches for every reference to the term hacker
and replace it with the word artist. And I save this as a new document,
a new web page and instead of “How To Become A Hacker?”
this is gonna be “How To Become An Artist?” And when we open this up
what we are gonna see is Raymond’s words as applied to art making
instead of as applied to hacking. And so looking at our
“How To Become An Artist?” document, here it says: Step 1. “The world is full
of fascinating problems waiting to be solved. Being an artist is lots of fun, but it’s the kind of fun
that takes lots of effort.” One of the fascinating problems I’ve been lucky enough to be
a team member in helping solve is a project called EyeWriter. EyeWriter is a collaboration originally
amongst six hackers and artists to work with Tempt One pictured here. Tempt One is a graffiti writer, an activist who eight years ago was paralyzed
with ALS, with Lou Gehrig’s disease. And he has only retained
motion in his eyes. His eyes is his only means
of communication. And so the team of us came together
to make a system that will allow Tempt and, in effect, other people
write graffiti using his eyes and to be able to make art again. Tempt is a hacker himself,
he was a part of graffiti crew in the ’90s, that were the first crew
to exploit the L.A. freeway system as a place for writing graffiti. And so the EyeWriter project
was about making a tool that would help Tempt
and then others make art again
using just their eye movement. Going back quickly to
“How To Become An Artist?” document, Number 2 is “No problem should ever
have to be solved twice. To behave like an artist,
you have to believe that the thinking time of other artists is precious — so much so that it’s almost
a moral duty for you to share information, solve problems
and then give the solutions away just so other artists
can solve new problems instead of having to perpetually
readdress old ones.” And this is the reason
why the bazaar model gets so interesting with art making because you can pick up
right where the other people have left off. The EyeWriter system is open in every way
that we knew how to make it so. It was open source hardware
running free software and saving into an open data format
called graffiti markup language. So these are examples
of what Tempt made using the system, they’re saved into this open file format
so that other artists can pick up right where we jumped off. This for example is a piece
by another artist named Goian Levin. He made a system that reads in the data
that Tempt made with his eyes and controls a robotic arm
with a giant marker to write that data out and adds ink on the wall. And so working in this kind of open way
in an art practice you get to end up here, place
where you never would have expected. OK. Quickly going back to Raymond’s “How To Become An Artist?” document. Number 3 is “Boredom and
drudgery are evil. Artists (and creative people in general)
should never be bored or have to drudge
at stupid repetitive work, because when this happens it means they aren’t doing
what only they can do — solve new problems. This wastefulness hurts everybody. Therefore boredom and drudgery
are not just unpleasant, but actually evil.” And a place that I find myself
unpleasant and confronted with evil is at airport security. I travel a lot through my art practice
and in 2005 I made a piece, I made a hack to try
to deal with this problem. This is called TSA communication. It is a very simple setup. I would have a thought, I would carve that
into stainless steel, put that in my carry-on bag,
send that through the X-ray machine so that on the other end
the security workers would be reading a message
that I had for them. (Applause)
Thanks. And so this became a part
of my normal travel procedure, I would pick up a message
and put in my carry-on bag and just personally
looking back on this piece, to me this shows this parallel nature
that art making and hacking have. They both have this
kind of fundamental ability to completely alter your surroundings. And so just that simple motion
of putting something new into my backpack completely changed
my relationship with traveling from being a passive role
to being an active role. OK, the next and the last one
I’m gonna leave you with from Eric Raymond’s
“How To Become An Artist?” document is “Freedom is good. Authoritarians thrive
on censorship and secrecy. And they distrust voluntary cooperation
and information-sharing — they only like cooperation
that they control. So to behave like an artist,
you have to develop an instinctive hostility
to censorship, secrecy, and the use of force or deception
to compel responsible adults. And you have to be willing
to act on that belief.” And this notion of freedom
whether it’s talking about free software, or whether it’s talking
about free speech’s use, it’s something that’s part
of the hacking community and part of a thread that runs
throughout my work. And to the last piece I would like to show: it’s something new
that I just finished two months ago, the piece is actually called free speech
and like some of my other projects, it’s a very simple open system
consisting of just a van, a large mobile telephone number,
the word “free” and an arrow pointing
from that phone number to a giant audio speaker
mounted to the roof of the van. And so this is an open and
uncensored structure which anybody if they see the number
is happy to call in. And I’ll show just about 30 seconds of what this looks like
from Vienna two months ago. “Hello? Hello.” “I am the champion!” “Hello.”
(Laughter) “Fuck you. Fuck you.” (Laughter) “Laura! I love you!” “Hello!” “Nice. Awesome.
So fresh man.” So — (Applause) — Thanks. (Applause) So, it is my guess, I lot of people take this unexpected empowering voice
that they don’t have to say things that might not be the most groundbreaking, revolutionary oratory
you’ve ever heard, but when I look back
on the documentation from this piece I’ve actually grown to really like
these kind of reactions because what I was seeing is
people very honestly reacting to this notion of empowerment. And this idea of empowerment
is really at the core of why I think the hacking community
has so many ramifications for things outside of just computers. It is a way of taking these technologies,
whether the high technologies like eye tracking or
very-very low technologies like zip ties and
transforming these technologies into empowering technologies. And so what I would like to leave you with
is an invitation to perform your own find and replace
results on Eric Raymond’s “How To Become A Hacker?” document. I talked about how I see these connections
between hacking and art, but I invite you to put in your own interests whether it’s education
or business or politics. And I think that any field
that touches innovation, any field that touches creativity has a lot to learn from this community
that self-identifies as hackers. Thank you.

Dereck Turner

6 thoughts on “Artists are Hackers: Evan Roth at TEDxPantheonSorbonne

  1. 25dnorric says:

    Very cool

  2. TheHundeMensch says:

    Love that!

  3. juicyj says:

    so fresh man!!

  4. CerealMonogamist says:

    What a hack!

  5. The Flow says:

    누가 번역 좀 해주세요. ㅜㅜ

  6. Annehmbar says:

    yay happy germans xD

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