Workshop 2: Hacking and Reverse-engineering

In this workshop, we take apart everyday tools, mechanical objects, and simple technologies to understand the basic mechanisms that drive these devices. We learn something about machine and mechanics by reverse-engineering these devices in attempt to alter or modify their purposes. We will hack mass-produced objects to serve our own enquiry.

Analysis: Research Artworks

In a group of 2, choose one of the following works to analyse. Consider the following questions:

  • Who is the artist/ designer/ producer?
  • Imagine and describe the experience of the work including how it functions and how one may interact with it as an audience.
  • What is the work made out of: what are physical objects and materials used ? Are they everyday objects?
  • What is the theme? What may be some of the ideas explored?
  • How does the selection of materials or objects used in the work contribute to this exploration and the audience experience?
  1. Ken Rinaldo’ s Autopoiesis, 2000

  2. Ian Burns’s Glacier, 2008

    Ian Burn, Glacier, 2008

    Ian Burn, Glacier, 2008

  3. Mari Velonaki’s Fish-Bird Circle B – Movement B, 2004
  4. Jean Tinguely, Radio No. 1, 1962
  5. Kanta Horio’s Earth Song, 2009
  6. Mischer’Traxler’s Collective Works, 2012

Present your findings to class and discuss.


Discussion: Hacking

Example of an 'Ikeahack'

Example of an ‘Ikeahack’

In the context of mass consumerism, hacking as an activity has become political. In its simplest form, hacking allows users to modify, re-purpose, and customise a mass produced object that they purchased. However increasingly consumers are told that warranties of a product will be void if they open up the casing or change the battery.

Movements such as ‘Right to Repair‘ advocate for the consumer’s right to modify the products they purchased and owned. This denial ranges from making repair information proprietary to making replacement impossible (most commonly batteries). Some advocates argue that this contributes to a loss of skills and knowledge that enable us to understand our material culture. What do you think? What is your experience?  What do you think the implications are? How important is it that we do have a ‘right to repair’?

In a group of 3, take apart the objects you brought to/ supplied in class, take this apart object be guided by the following questions:

  • What is the purpose/ primary function of this object?
  • What materials is made of?
  • What are the parts that contribute to its primary function?
  • How are they put together
  • Create a diagram of the objects work.


Exercise: Makey-makey

In a group of 2 – 3, create an interaction using a Makey-Makey, objects and a computer program. You may want to think about how this helps creates or approximates the functions of the objects you hacked, or the works you analysed earlier in the class.

Document this exercise in your blog and reflect on the process.

Exercise: Make something that does something

In a group of 2 – 3, using Littlebits build these sample circuits following instructions provided, Document and make a note of what each one does. The handouts have some ‘real world analogies’, can you think of some other examples?

Make the Art Machine by following these instructions. Document your process and results.


  1. Post your artwork analyses, discussion notes, and exercises into an entry on your blog. This will contribute to the research for your Major project assignment.
  2. If you have not already, visit one of the exhibitions listed for the Research Essay assignment component, and begin writing.



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