Chris Hackett wanted to have the bomb completed on Monday. But at 4 o’clock that day, he was still out shopping for parts.
He said the strength of the bomb would be equivalent to “about four pounds of TNT. It doesn’t sound like much,” he allowed, “but it’s enough to kill everyone in the gallery.”
Mr. Hackett, who is an artist, doesn’t like to jaywalk; he crosses the Manhattan streets with caution. He looks something like a big paramilitary teddy bear, in work boots (his only pair of shoes) and all-black clothes. He’s in his early 30’s and has lots of big dreadlocks and many freckles. He’s a co-founder of the Madagascar Institute, a collective of radically minded artists in Brooklyn. This latest project, a functional suitcase bomb, will be included in a large art exhibition that will open under the auspices of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council a few days before Sept. 11.
Its components were being purchased, using cash, from “chain stores” in the area. He’d already picked up a nice glass beaker—very scientific-looking. Next, he headed down Broadway towards the Toys “R” Us in Union Square. Unfortunately, that store was in mid-conversion to a Babies “R” Us.
“That probably says a lot,” he said. He looked around the neighborhood. “It’s all electronic consumer products and shoes.”
Down at Kmart on Astor Place, he roamed the basement for super-soakers. For the mechanism that would potentially combine the bomb’s separate tanks of fuel oil and fertilizer, Mr. Hackett wanted to cannibalize pumps from battery-operated toy water pistols. But Kmart didn’t carry those, as a sullen stock boy confirmed. (No doubt the chain didn’t want to be implicated in one of those kid-with-toy-gun-gets-shot-by-cops-at-dusk stories.)
Building a bomb, it seems, takes just a little bit of work.
“I’ll probably go to the Target in Brooklyn,” sighed the artist.
Mr. Hackett, due to the scrutiny he expects this project will receive, is now working on the bomb at a location other than his quarters at the Madagascar Institute, one that he described as “undisclosed.” The bomb will be displayed at either the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art or at the South Street Seaport Museum. The two-venue exhibition—which will include many artists who have run afoul of the law, including Gregory Green and Tom Sachs—is called A Knock at the Door ….
Mr. Hackett’s bomb is designed to be triggered from “anywhere else in the world—you call a cell phone.” He said that he had already purchased the cell-phone trigger. Only he knows the number—but, of course, he has no plans to explode it.
The bomb’s construction will be, in essence, familiar to anyone who has seen a Die Hard movie. The two components that comprise the explosive, fertilizer and fuel oil, would be detonated with oxygen and propane, but they remain unmixed inside the suitcase until the bomb is triggered.
“As long as [the explosive materials are] separate, it’s like an aisle in Home Depot,” he said. “The whole thing is safe and inert.”
Of course, it could be truly inert: Mr. Hackett’s bomb could be a conceptual hoax. On display, the suitcase, he said, will be open to afford a view of its workings; whether it is truly operational, as he claims, is something only he will know. It will probably not, as the artist joked, have “a big red ‘Do Not Push!’ button.”
However, he had thought long and hard about how the mixed elements could be ignited after the cell-phone trigger. “The detonation problem is taken care of,” said Mr. Hackett.
Mr. Hackett has a weird habit of talking of his bomb in an active—which is to say, explosive—tense. “To ignite it, I’m putting a resister in. What that does, it’ll take a while to get enough current in it—when it shorts out, it makes a spark. Two minutes later, the spark goes off and the thing explodes.”
“It won’t go off,” said Seth Cameron, creative director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Mr. Cameron is the curator of the show, as well as an artist himself, and he was speaking from his Dumbo studio.
Did Mr. Cameron feel safe with the bomb’s construction? “Given Chris’ illustrious past, at first, no. Basically, I’m just making him swear up and down that he’s not going to …. ” He trailed off. “It’s one thing for him to blow himself up, but when it comes to other people … I’m just crossing my fingers.”
Mr. Hackett was the victim of one of his own art works early last year. The graphic description in a New York Post story on Jan. 25, 2004, was that Mr. Hackett “blew up part of his face” while rigging a propane tank to fire a confetti cannon. Mr. Hackett’s jaw was broken in the explosion.
“I think it’s significantly safer than things he’s done in the past,” said Mr. Cameron, “because he’s not trying to make something that will work.”
According to the Post story, when police arrived on the accident scene, “Officials found two AK-47s, a 9mm handgun, a pump-pistol shotgun [sstupid LLLiberal media twats], a handmade machine gun” in the artist’s quarters. The New York Times added a “World War II–era British Sten gun” and “several hundred rounds of 7.62-caliber ammunition” to that arsenal.
Mr. Hackett is currently out on bail from those weapons charges. His next court date, in Kings County Criminal Court, is on Sept. 20. He has made many appearances related to these charges, court records indicate, and while a number of the charges for criminal possession of a weapon have since been dismissed, others still remain.
Mr. Hackett could potentially suffer a long enforced vacation on Rikers Island as a result of these charges. But he believes that his current bomb-making art activities reinforce his claim that those weapons were actually for use in art-related projects.
“Can you hold on a second, please?” the polite Mr. Hackett had asked during a phone conversation last week. He was outside his regular workspace, which is at the head of the Gowanus Canal. Voices were heard over the cell. He returned. “A cabdriver got carjacked across the street from me, and the detectives are with him now. But they don’t want me—right now.”
Like every other LLLiberal on the face of the planet, it is entirely about him.