5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Things About Chris Hackett

Hackett is the founder and director of the Madagascar Institute, the Brooklyn “art combine” specializing in large-scale sculptures, guerrilla art events, and carnival rides from hell. He is also an Adjunct Professor at New York University, and a “TV personality.” He’ll be speaking on the Main Stage at World Maker Faire New York this Saturday at 6pm.

I Am on the Teevee, and So Can You: Basic Cable and Maker Culture

I am Hackett. The deafeningly loud Jet Ponies and chaos of the Chariot Races at last year’s Maker Faire were my fault. I currently have my own show of the Science Channel (Stuck with Hackett), and I will be speaking a little bit about my experience, but mostly, about how the cable spectrum is full of opportunities for makers to make some money and get some exposure.

The less glamorous, lower-budget end of the cable spectrum (think: Science Channel, Discovery, History, Spike, and on and on) is a gaping maw of airtime, desperate for content. Much of it is shows that document work, in one way or another: insights into people with interesting professions (Dirty Jobs, Oddities) or people actually doing interesting work, thinking and designing and building something, just for the purpose of documenting it (Monster Garage, MythBusters, Doing DaVinci). Unfortunately, for the networks, most of the people who want to be on television are blandly attractive people who cannot actually do anything other than shouting, being shallow, and occasionally high-fiving each other. Fortunately for makers, the bar has been set low as to what is considered attractive enough for television.

One Project You Are Particularly Proud Of

1: The Madagascar Institute goes Crazy, Broadway Style!!!– a three minute, nineteen second chunk of sterling awesome, a classic movie musical trope made real on the steps of the New York Public Library, years and years before anyone had ever used the term “flash mob”, and an inspiration to what later became Improv Everywhere. Also: Our gayest moment ever.

Two Mistakes You’ve Made in the Past

Just two? My life is like the Whitman Sampler that God would give his mom on Mother’s Day — so many choices, so many technically-edible, good-looking, excruciatingly poor-quality mistakes. (Wait- why would God give his mother a big box of fail? Read the Bible, heathen!) With that said, here are a couple:

1: Piss-poor documentation. The Madagascar Institute has done some really extraordinary things, like staging a reenactment of the Hindenburg disaster (two dirigibles, each fifteen feet long, towed by a crowd of hundreds, one of Helium advocates, chanting “He-le-yum! He-le-yum!” , the other, Hydrogen partisans, chanting guess what, converging at Union Square Park. The dirigibles docked, about to usher in a glorious future of gas neutrality and lighter-than-air glory, when a spark, the horror, the humanity, the crashing, the burning, the confused and terrified NYPD, the cheering crowds, the glorious fire.). Sounds awesome, right? Want to see the video? Me too. There is probably some out there, somewhere, but we were too busy doing it to shoot the thing, but I have never seen a second of footage. Even when we do have cameras on a thing, we never get around to the editing and making something that captures the awesome in video form. A couple of years ago, we zip-lined a 350 pound opera singer across the Gowanus Canal as she sang the National Anthem, and all the proof is either grainy or long, uncut YouTube sprawls that are close to unwatchable. Good, solid documentation is something I always neglect, and always kind of assume will take care of itself. It never does, and this is a mistake I make again and again.

2: Testing that confetti gun a second time. I really should have just let it go, but instead: Snow. Blood. Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force on a first name basis, eight weeks wired, six months patched, sixty-five days on Rikers.

Three Things That Make Your Work Unique

1: The human factor. When it comes to machine art, many, many people do better work than Madagascar. I will never be half as good a machinist as Mark Pauline or Christian Ristow, and whoever is reading this knows better welders than I. Where Madagascar shines is taking the big, dangerous tech, and adding in some sex, violence, some casual disregard for your safety — stuff that makes it a more human-scale experience.

2: The story. All Madagascar creations, be they rides, machines, or performances have a rich and detailed backstory, a fully thought-out narrative that no one ever knows besides those of us who made it. This acts as our bible for the thing. For example, the Jet Ponies had a whole narrative about pony dystopian futures and kids birthday parties that anyone on the crew could refer back to when making an aesthetic decision or change.

3: Adeptness at “turd polishing.” Every bug a feature!

Four Tools You Love to Use

1: Plasma cutter. Miller was nice enough to give Madagascar a really nice 3050, for free, and it makes cutting metal of any kind easy and fun. Whenever I need to trim facial hair or my finger nails, I get kind of pissed that they are non-conductive.

2: Power sheet metal shear. An old one, so ancient that any brand name or maker’s mark has long worn off. Handheld, the thing goes through thick sheet stainless quicker than a scissor through paper.

3: Bridgeport mill. At least a decade older than I am, and the thing is far tighter and more accurate than I could ever hope to be.

4: Milwaukee Porta-band. It slices and dices anything and everything, but is responsive enough that (amazingly, perhaps uniquely) I have never hurt myself with it.

Five Inspirations

1: New York City. It is hard and brutal and far and away the best place on Earth. That is why I live here, and if you do not keep up and be great, it will kill you and spit you out.

2: Rage. I am angry pretty much all of the time, and that is the font of my creative energy. If I was happy, I would be useless.

3: The hardcore punk scene. When I was growing up, it taught me all I know about DIY. Do not rage against the machine, build a better one.

4: The people I work with. Whenever someone gushes about something I have made, I usually respond “It was a lot of people, working hard.” A group of like-minded, smart, creative people working towards a common goal can make anything happen.

5: Learning and interesting problem solving. I love learning new skills, new techniques, new ways to demystify reality and make things happen, and the deep satisfaction of problem solving is my favorite thing in the world.


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