Digital Sizzle 6's Hackathon: art, data & digital at the Whitechapel

Beer, burgers, artists and a whole load of digital know-how; what a Hackathon is and why anybody who is anybody needs to know about it...


A "Hackathon" is one of those new and made up but equally official sounding words which are buzzing about in the world at the moment, more specifically in Whitechapel, East London. Figures of digital media, coders, game developers and techies all over the London scrawl and beyond contributed their technical expertise to the Hackathon – which can be defined as a 48 hour event in which visual art is created by using sets of data, whether it’s real-time weather reports or Olympic medal statistics. The exhibition presented an exciting potential which all creatives and businesses can respectively take something inspiration from, read on to find out how developers and coders continue to break the boundaries...

Technology is a digital world which is cemented by code and script; problems are resolved by forums and factual solutions whereas art never has just one answer, it is subjective and entirely open ended. With this in mind, I was intrigued to find out how integral the art and digital world could become and what lessons can be learnt from the discoveries made.


The common misconception in all of this is that the world of digital is supposedly not cool, this is an outdated mind-set and one which Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery ruled out as she marked this event as the beginning of a dialogue between art and digital. Art is accessible, and digital is fast becoming accessible to those who concentrate long enough. There were around 50 hackers and 50 artists who contributed to the exhibition within the Whitechapel Gallery, after being physically spammed with an exhibition guide and entering a noisy hubbub of creative and digital media networkers it became apparent that the quiet stereotype of the solitary developer and his computer had been discarded for a collective get together. A little free food and beer reinforced the Digital Sizzle brand in a kind but altruistic way, we give you a little love now love us back. In this economic climate, free gourmet cheeseboards go a long way but as much as I care to indulge upon the edible delights it will probably leave you salivating and hungry as you read through this post – which wasn't the desired effect I was going for. The care for detail within the whole event was seamless however, and it is worth noting that the organisation of the event added to the credibility of the 3beards' message.

The various project briefs were detailed next to each piece of work; in accordance with London Fashion Week the data dress consisting of Instagram images was fantastic (and not entirely dominated with pictures of cake or other sweet treats), the dress was modelled on a mannequin and photographed on a model with an air of great authenticity and execution. 'Instaspam' aspired to make 'something tangible and finite from extraneous internet content', with the rather catchy name of ‘Instaspam’ the piece looked at spam as a way of curating images; data within email subject lines tied in to automatically pick a random image from Instagram. Both the data dress and Instaspam incorporated an online community (Instagram) that has progressively engulfed our lives but these guys had the curious minds to turn it into a physical and tangible object – Instaspam was responsible for the brutal spam attack on the front door. It was exciting to see 'hackers' (data experts), artists, coders and musicians joining together to talk to exhibition go-ers, to engage in technical know-how and to pledge for their votes in order to nab first place of the competition – ofcourse no hackathon can finish without a winner!


Perhaps for the lesser techno-orientated, the old school photo booth was an easy crowd pleaser with touchscreen facilities allowing you to pick and choose which pictures you wanted to print clearly impressed our beer-clouded minds with wonderment. The iPad that showed you the other side of the world in direct correlation to where you were standing was mind boggling and it was a nice touch to hear that the brain behind it had an inkling to do it but wasn’t quite sure how exactly it was going to happen. A particular favourite was the seemingly infinite footage of gormless wonderers coming out of a tube station - as a spectator you could choose the speed at which they walked with a manual control – a little switch and some footage of people and suddenly I was playing God. Sandwiched within these projections sat two computer screens which dissected the whereabouts of ALL London buses (incredible) and put it into an accurate 3D wire diagram which co-ordinated exactly where the buses were along their route on that specific day. Having spoken to Alasdair (@AlasdairNorth) who contributed to this piece, it seemed clear that no project came without complications – perhaps creating something beautiful within 48 hours involved a fair share of ugly error messages.

The questions are; when will the corporate and business consciousness fully embrace the potential of digital, if not already? Data is literally everywhere and at our disposal, Google Analytics as one obvious example, with its statistics which are often cordoned off with a big red tape as if to say, precious, sensitive information. Here Digital Sizzle are displaying this data in a fun and interactive way. Cool and clever brains that merge with creative aspirations have fused to create a limitless potential of engaging work. Art is an experience, any experience becomes instantly memorable and engages with the viewer - surely this will inevitably have beneficial effects on your company's identity? Now that art and digital are fully treading similar paths, why not invest in creating more visually stimulating aspects within your work to boost your ecommerce success? The Twitter game that navigated the on-screen character by certain tags within a tweet could be a talking point for you as a company. What about the projection which used spoon fed data from those who had tweeted @Digital_Sizzle? Their Twitter handles appearing in a static bubble which was connected to Digital Sizzle. The creators behind the Twitter hybrid had the desire to engage their visitors – what stops you as a business from using social media to create a dynamic visual spectacular at a project or brand launch? At this event, networkers don’t exchange numbers but Twitter names.


The 3beards (Michael Hobson, Bryce Keane and Joe Scarboro) who started up the Digital Sizzle were lost amongst other hairy bearded tecchie sorts at first but when they emerged for speech time, it became apparent that this world they had masterminded boiled down to a sincere desire to create something visual, real and amazing from what was once a private, muted and hostile environment. This world in which we had been let into had demonstrated that digital technology inspires awe and emerges the realisation that actually, the hottest topics are often technologically orientated – to iPhone 5 or not to iPhone 5? The revelation that struck me as I walked around and read up on the projects was that I decoded each piece of work like an art piece, while it was satisfying to get an answer for once rather than to be left puzzled (as I often do in many art exhibits) it became clear that the world of digital also has endless possibilities. If someone has the expertise to create and the enquiring mind to invent then the Digital Sizzle has given developers and coders a reason to delve into a realm they've never been professionally allowed to explore before. Let your minds loose today, sizzle with script, jab at JavaScript to mimic the art ‘experience’ and propel your company or creative impulses to the forefront of cutting edge ideas…

Images courtesy of Paul Clarke

About the Author

Olivia Jones avatar

Olivia Jones, Producer

Olivia was a Producer at Gibe. She keeps busy with project and account management working side by side with the tech team to ensure the project hits the nail on the head in terms of requirements and expectations. Olivia is a blogger so you'll often find her at meet ups, beer weeks or art festivals armed with an SLR. The maintenance of her own blog has meant she's up to date with the latest blogging trends, ready to advise her clients on the latest must haves!