Back in January the Science Friction crew resided in Berlin to take part in the Transmediale Festival in Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt in a series of ways. One of these were taking part in the 48-hour Art Hack Day where 100 artists and hackers came together in a sprint to produce art & technology installations to be exhibited at the official Transmediale festival later in the week.

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Basically the Art Hack Day concept is simple: Invite a large group of artists and hackers and put them in a space for 48 hours to do whatever they want – but with the goal of collaborating to produce things that can be exhibited in the end. Tools, manufacturing equipment and basic materials are made available – a technology playground – so the main purpose is coming up with ideas.

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Brainstorming ideas

We (Carl Emil Carlsen and Christian Villum, both from the Science Friction crew) teamed up to explore a handful of ideas; among other to look at old decrepit data. As brainstorming continued we ended up wanting to celebrate old computer desktop icons from the 1980s – including one of the most iconic of them all, the Trash Bin:

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Basically we wanted to create an art installation based on augmented reality in which a tablet computer, when having it’s camera pointed towards a physical marker (a high-contrast icon), would activate – on the screen of the tablet – a waterfall of old decrepit desktop icons from the 1980s coming at the holder of the tablet. The idea was to make it look as if the icons would come pouring out (like emptying a trash bin) from a virtual black box above people’s heads in the fancy steel truss scaffolding system that the Art Hack Day room had been installed with for all of us to work in and exhibit from.

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Getting started

First step was to dig out and clean up a lot of the desktop icons from back then. Far from their time of glory, they are now floating around online in nostalgic websites and forums. So we collected and cleaned them, pixel by pixel:

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Next step was putting together the necessary software and code.  We ended up using Unity and the free Vuforia app, compiled to an iPad Air. The icons was rendered using the build-in particles system. Only a few lines of code was written to handle the calibration, the rest was achieved using the Vuforia example scripts.

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It was then time to produce the physical components consisting of two parts: A physical marker (which would serve to both activate the AR, but also to act as center piece of the installation), and a casing for the iPad.

Starting the process of producing the physical marker, with the kind help of the Art Hack Day staff, we cut out a white painted wooden plate and projected the Trash Bin icon onto it (using MadMapper for accuracy) in order to create a stencil template out of tape – which we could then spray paint on the white wood.

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Making the installation

After drying over the night, this board was then mounted in the steel truss roughly 3 meter above the ground.

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After which we could do the first testing – it worked and looked good:

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Next it was time to build a casing for the tablet computer, so that it could be positioned in front of the wooden plate and thereby be available to the audience in an intuitive way. To buy materials we went to the absolutely magnificent Berlin design material institution, Modulor in Kreuzberg (right by Moritz Platz, highly recommended – when German say “Material total”, they mean it).

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We ended up getting both wood casing and foam interior materials for maximum protection and nifty looks:

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Casing finished – then adding wire to be able to hang it in front of the marker plate:

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Testing and getting ready to exhibit

Lastly, a few hours before the opening of the exhibition, as more and more other art pieces around the room started coming together, it was time to test and prepare to the actual exhibit:

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All done – ready for the crowd:

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Exhibition time

After 48 hours of work (and some beers and a little sleep) it was finally time to present the final art piece to the public – as the exhibition opened and several hundred visitors started rolling in.

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The reactions were really nice and people found different ways to interact with the Has-Been Trash Bin. Highlights included meta-videofilming the screen – and trying to replicate the marker as a tattoo (which, for the record, didn’t work – unfortunately).

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Also virtually it was great to see how the installation was well received:

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Notendo did a nice little Vine clip that manages to catch it all in 6 seconds:

The project files are available from github under Do What The F*ck You Want To Public License.

Read more about Art Hack Day on the official website – or visit the AHD Tumblr. I also recommend checking out some of the other short films documenting some of the art installations.

Get in touch with the Science Friction crew here.

So the Bitbugs Lab site is up and running. The idea is to present the projects that I have been making and the ones I will be working on. Stay tuned.

-Villum