“We’re using the brain for the wrong things,” said Pablos Holman. It’s an
important natural resource. Discovery is fundamental to innovation, and you
can’t skip it. “Humans are trying to figure out how to keep more people alive
on just one planet, and the only way we can do this invent our way out of this
What happened to me was, in taking apart a toy truck in 1949, I discovered
it was made out of an American coffee can. Probably it was part of the
reconstruction program after World War II, probably the United States was
sending shiploads of scrap metal to Japan and one of the cans came back and
ended up under the Christmas tree.
Before long I had my truck all apart and that’s when I learned about the
surprises you can find when you hack it. I took apart clocks, car engines and
sometimes I’d turn parts of things into things like a crystal radio or a
“Our imaginations are not keeping up with technologies. We have a
supercomputer in our pocket and we’re using to play FartAss or Dots or something,”
Pablos said. “We try to take on the biggest problems we can find. We don’t need
more APPs for the iPhone. What we do need is to take on the bigger problems
facing human kind.”
Rembrandt was a hacker
At the height of the Golden Age of the Dutch Empire, when Rembrandt lived
and worked, he was surrounded by a boom in technologies of all kinds. Not only
painting technologies, which was what Rembrandt knew best, big things were
happening in medicine, shipping and shipbuilding, manufacturing, optics, navigation,
publishing, international trade, the sciences, philosophy and education.
He was a great painter, one of the best, but I believe his fame today owes
partly to his use of the technologies of printing—or what we artists like to
call, “printmaking” because we make the plate and print the plate ourselves.
That’s what Rembrandt learned how to do by hacking the printing industry and
doing it his way.
He took apart the process, in other words, that all the other painters were
using, and made the process do things other artists hadn’t tried. Other
painters were not hackers like Rembrandt—they took printing as it was and did
not change anything—it was just a way to make reproductions and promote
In my humble opinion, by hacking printmaking, Rembrandt got one up on his
contemporaries. When I started out in art school, I discovered that my
childhood hacking days—taking apart toys and such—helped me master the
technology of printmaking. Then, when video came along, I found I could hack
video, too, and the same with the university’s mainframe, the mini, and the
microcomputers that were just coming out.
It wasn’t programming and writing code that I needed—I just needed a
different use for the computer. Like all innovative artists—like Rembrandt—we
take existing ideas, technologies, ways and means to express and communicate
and we see what else we can make of them.