San Francisco Gallery Shows Hacker's Work as Art

San Francisco Gallery Shows Hacker's Work as Art
San Francisco Gallery Shows Hacker's Work as Art,138991-c,hackers/article.html 

By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
October 26, 2007

Joe Grand has never really thought of himself as an artist, but on 
Saturday night he's having his first gallery opening.

Grand is a hardware hacker: He's at home with a soldering iron in one 
hand, the guts of some electronic device opened up in front of him. A 
former member of the L0pht Heavy Industries hacker collective, he 
designed the programmable conference badges used at this year's Defcon 
15 hacker conference and a cheap RFID (radio frequency identification) 
reader, soon to be on store shelves at Radio Shack.

His show, called "When Electronics Become Art," is happening at the 20 
goto 10 gallery, on the fringe of San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin 
district. It's the kind of place where you'd expect to see a hacker art 
exhibit: it's populated by junkies, liquor stores and dive bars. Gallery 
owner Christopher Abad says the space was filled with old TVs and other 
junk hoarded by "dumpster-diving meth heads" before he moved in earlier 
this year.

Abad, a noted hacker in his own right, says that Grand's work is good 
enough that it deserves the kind of attention you get in a fine-art 
gallery setting. "A lot of the stuff that I've seen him work on is 
pretty interesting, and it's rare for hackers to get any kind of credit 
outside of that community or any exposure at all," he said. "At best you 
get to see some movie where it's all completely embellished."

Though 20 goto10 also has the typical fine-art exhibits and book 
readings you'd expect from a gallery, it's a bit of a hacker experiment. 
Abad featured another technology-themed installation in the gallery's 
first show this past February: a system that could be used to spoof 
caller ID, check other people's voicemail and launch unsuspecting 
man-in-the-middle attacks.

Abad says he wants 20 goto 10 to be a venue that goes beyond the 
standard hacker conference. The gallery environment lets people gather 
information at their own pace.

"When Electronics Become Art," includes the Defcon badges Grand has 
designed as well as a "Curtain of Shame" of malfunctioning badges, a 
Marquee sign with the word Kingpin (Grand's hacker moniker) cut into 
Nintendo and Atari circuit boards and a modified searchlight from a US 
Army M-60 Patton tank.

There will also be an interactive RFID exhibit and what Grand calls his 
Lichtenberg Lighting Frame -- a large acrylic block he picked up at a 
Boston flea market with a tiny multi-color LED (Light Emitting Diode) 
display in the middle.

But one of Grand's favorite pieces is a hacked up Atari computer called 
Atari K-9. While visiting his family, last Thanksgiving, Grand found a 
floppy disk containing a program that he'd written for the Atari when he 
was eight. He created a custom display for the machine to "make it look 
like it was created by Atari in the 80s" and got his old program to run 
on the Atari. It's a silly graphic of K-9, the robot dog, from the 1970s 
TV series Dr. Who, but Grand sees it as a kind of collaborative project 
with his eight year-old self. "It's basically to pay tribute to my past. 
I grew up with an Atari 400 computer," he said.

Grand makes his living running his design company, Grand Idea Studio and 
he's currently filming an engineering TV show, due to air next year on a 
popular science cable channel,

But does he consider himself an artist? Maybe electronics aesthete would 
be a better description.

"Engineering and electronics does have this simple, beautiful way about 
it. If something is done in a really elegant fashion, then it could be 
considered art," he said. "Sometimes I'll open up a product to see how 
it's made.... and there's a lot of beautiful design work that goes on."

"It's hard for me to consider myself an artist, because what I do to me 
doesn't seem like art," he added. "People can call me an artist. I still 
consider myself an engineer and a hardware hacker."

"When Electronics Become Art," runs through Nov. 8 at 20 goto 10, 679 
Geary Street, San Francisco. The show opens on Saturday, from 7 p.m. to 
11 p.m., and gallery hours are 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 
3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

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