“There’s some trademark violation going on, obviously. Whatever.” F.A.T. artist Aram Bartholl’s talking about Evan Roth’s project Ideas Worth Spreading. Pop on a headset, pop in your own Powerpoint or just stand next to the giant red “TED” and it’s your TED Talk. Sup?

It’s an all F.A.T. international reunion at the Eyebeam Art+Technology Center’s Lindsay Howard-curated “F.A.T. GOLD” opening. It’s packed and hard not to be giddy. The Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab artists/hackers/programmers/… are here with their projects for a five-year retrospective of fucking with the system, creating their own and spreading it through open source. It’s all good. Very, very good.

Yeah, you could literally fuck the system. 3D-printed Obama dildo, anyone? Proceed.

Tobias Leingruber’s making his Social ID Bureau Citizen of Social Network cards for you to start using them as your official picture ID. Addie Wagenknecht and Pablo Garcia’s Venus Webcam – with their amateur sexcam stars solicited to pose like classical art models — are framed, proper and regal. The Every GML (40,000 GML Tags) projection from Theo Watson & F.A.T. Lab is a massive, scrolling, glowing matrix of graffiti signatures. Then there’s…

“YOU’RE DEAD!! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DELETE YOUR FCKING CREATION!!”

Greg Leuch’s Chrome and Firefox Shaved Bieber plug-in censored every photo and text mention of the omnipresent popstar and the “Beliebers” army still sends him death threats. Wait ’till they see him being amorous with the Bieber cut-out in our video.

Then there’s a replica of Google’s self-driving car, like the one F.A.T. has used it to terrorize citizens abroad. “We might have to drive by the headquarters, trolling,” F.A.T. artist, Graffiti Research Lab co-founder and former Eyebeam fellow James Powderly promises. They did, the next day, but Google ignored it. Oh, well. It’s New York. Not Beijing.

A few years ago, James Powderly worked with Students for a Free Tibet and rigged his L.A.S.E.R. Stencil into The Green Chinese Lantern, to beam messages of protest with a 400 milliwatt handheld green laser  gun on places of public interest in Beijing. He was arrested and interrogated for 30 hours.

“I did I usually do with the Graffiti Tesearch Lab: I built a tool for them,” Powderly told ANIMAL, packing up by the Google decoy outside Eyebeam. “I was overcome with the hubris of graffiti. I was arrogant. I wanted to be the first one to say I used it and got away with it. It was a big mistake because I wasn’t a professional activist. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was caught. We were all caught.”

He was transfered to an extrajudicial detention center and after a few days and a visit from the U.S. Embassy, he was sentenced to 10 days detention for administrative investigation. He was not charged.

“I heard a story that has to do with someone who works with Eyebeam of influence made a call to their former roommate who was close to George W. Bush and George W. Bush got on the case. He somehow might be directly responsible for us not being charged with a crime.”

I asked him how he felt about that. “At the time, I didn’t love it but I was glad to get out. I appreciate the support,” he said. We laughed. Hilary Clinton’s people called him a few times after, to check up on him.

“It wasn’t some exclusively activist project for me. We were certainly into the aspect of freedom of speech, but my interest in it was as a graffiti project. And then I learned that I have limited capabilities as a graffiti person. I’m not good at it. I’m lanky and tall and weird-looking. I stand out.”

Powderly says he semi-officially retired last year. He’s been enjoying F.A.T. projects “purely as a fan,” but Powderly and Roth, co-founders of the Graffiti Research Lab, have been our heros for years. Graffiti as activism, activism as graffiti — it’s all very close to heart for us. It’s what F.A.T.’s about.

If you spot the Google decoy out on the road in New York this month… wave. No. Salute.

Tonight (Apr 4) from 7-9pm at Eyebeam: Aram Bartholl, Tobias Leingruber, James Powderly, Evan Roth, and Addie Wagenknecht, in conversation with Christiane Paul about how hacker culture has influenced a new generation of artists. 

F.A.T. Gold Apr 1 – Apr 20, Eyebeam Art+Technology Center, Chelsea

(Photos and Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)