by Alan Feuer

“His Gowanus workshop soon turned into the atelier and lair for the artists of the Madagascar Institute.  With Mr. Hackett as their host (their motto: ‘Fear is never boring’), the members of the group—out-of-work tech geeks, writers bored with their laptops, graphic designers, a disaffected law school student or two—taught themselves the rudiments of welding and metal fabrication, and began to fashion street junk into pranksterish electrical and pyrotechnic devices:  mechanized bulls built out of salvaged AC motors or a hilariously dangerous carousel with jet-powered ponies.

The group’s esteem for improvised technology was matched by a kind of Situationist love of public spectacle.  Several years ago, it staged a reenactment of the Hindenburg disaster, in which a crowd of hundreds towed two 15-foot dirigibles through the streets near Union Square—that is, until they exploded.  (Mr. Hackett described the event last year to an interviewer:  ‘The crashing, the burning, the confused and terrified N.Y.P.D., the cheering crowds, the glorious fire.’)”