Artists and Hackers

A Podcast On Creative Tools




computer drawing
hand turning dial drawing

January 27st, 2021

Ep. 2 - Art, Tools and Activism

In 2021 what it means to be an artist working with technology is wide open, and we're here to explore it in detail, especially looking at issues of creativity and equity. In today's episode we're talking about art and activism, toolbuilding and technology.


Algorithmic Inequality

Our guests are artist Grayson Earle, the collaborative team who made White Collar Crime Risk Zones (Brian Clifton, Francis Tseng, Sam Lavigne), and artist and organizer ann haeyoung.

In the Software for Artists Book: Building Better Realities, Grayson says:

[I’m] not so shy about the distinctions, like, “Is it art? Is it activism?” I think these things are kind of funny constructions. For me it’s never a question of, “Is it art?” But, what does it afford us to call something art that we might be more comfortable calling activism?

Grayson has been building the Counter-Productivity Suite, a series of tools for workers in crisis. These tools are meant to aid striking workers and to connect their plight to historical labor history.

Grayson points out that the root of the word sabotage is an old French word for shoe forms: sabot. He describes how peasants arrived in Industrial Paris to work in factories and experienced unfair labor conditions. The story goes that they resorted to disrupting the means of production, at times by throwing their wooden shoes into the machinery. In one of his current tools, he considers what form this shoe could take in the current era.

A cartoon featuring a sabot

We also speak with the team behind White Collar Crime Risk Zones, Brian Clifton, Francis Tseng and Sam Lavigne. White Collar Crime Risk Zones uses machine learning to predict where financial crimes are mostly likely to occur across the US. It is a commentary on predictive policing and algorithmic bias.

Sam believes art has the power to clarify, to make clear issues of inequity. Francis holds out hope that artists building tools and technology can subvert power, though he warns us we should be ready to abandon our tools at any time. And Brian identifies as a former artist and current data scientist, someone that knows how data works and can wield and deploy data sets.

ann haeyoung takes a different approach to considering art and activism. She creates sculpture and performance work, which she considers to be a separate process from her work as an activist and organizer and tech worker. She brings this past and current experience to bear as her work spotlights issues of identity and inequity arising from corporatized technology.


Grayson Earle is a new media artist and educator. He has worked as a Visiting Professor at Oberlin College and the New York City College of Technology, and a part-time lecturer at Parsons and Eugene Lang at the New School. He is the co-creator of Bail Bloc (along with Sam Lavigne and Francis Tseng) and a member of The Illuminator art collective. He is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany as a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude.

Brian Clifton is a data scientist who is critical of how the field is used to launder biases and systematize oppression. His work employs machine learning, algorithms, automation, and data to expose the anti-human logic of technology and power.

Francis Tseng is a researcher who designs and implements simulations & games, designs and implements procedural & AI systems, develops software & web applications, and builds software tools.

Sam Lavigne is an artist and educator whose work deals with data, surveillance, cops, natural language processing, and automation.

ann haeyoung is an artist currently based in LA. She uses video and sculpture to examine questions around technology, identity, and labor.


Our audio production is by Mimi Charles and Max Ludlow. Episode coordination and web design by Caleb Stone. This episode was supported by Purchase College.

Our music in this episode includes Idiophone by Bio Unit, Further Discovery by Blear Moon, and Crystals by Xilo-Zyko.