(2010, Residency project)

Myself and Steven Ounanian were offered one of the 7 week-long residencies at the Stanley Picker Gallery, as part of the Louder than Bombs programme.  Over the course of the week we tried to get a bicycle stolen that we’d bought especially for this purpose.  We equipped the bicycle with a hacked mobile phone, hidden in the saddle, which would take pictures and send us its GPS coordinates when  it was moved.  Our aim was to use this slightly uncomfortable situation as a way to interrogate the complexities of theft, and to hint at a future where tracking technologies have become ubiquitous.

We turned the gallery into an office, complete with photocopier and coffee machine, where we monitored the situation, and held some talks where we presented our findings.  Participating audiences viewed surveillance footage and photographs taken from the bicycle’s on-board camera, video of interviews we conducted with economists, priests and security guards, and debated issues of theft, art and social ethics raised by the planting of our Honeytrap.

The bicycle, purchased from the Liverpool St branch of Evans cycles.  The shop assistant Ahmed who said he used to hang out with some bicycle thieves, insisted that this bike was the one to go for as it was a TREK, and had suspension.  Bicycle thieves also like disc brakes apparently, but our budget wouldn’t stretch that far.

I wrote an App for the G1 Android phone which caused it to take photos and text us its coordinates when it was moved.  Steven added extra batteries which would keep it running for about three weeks we think, and hid the assembly in the saddle. Java code for the App here.

The (quite subtle) hole drilled in the saddle for the camera lens.

During our residency, a girls’ rather fashionable Dutch-style bike was stolen from outside the gallery. It was locked just next to our honeytrap. This suggests either we got the thieves taste in bikes drastically wrong, or they had read about our project on the gallery poster

Some photos from the bicycle camera, with their GPS coordinates. We moved the bicycle to the ‘notorious’ estate in Kingston. It wasn’t stolen there either.

  1. Andrew Says:

    Brilliant idea. The bike was finally never stolen?

  2. Steve Hynes Says:

    So that’s it? Seems to me you gave up rather too quickly. In university I programmed a very expensive calculator to repeat the message “Please Steal Me” and play a little song. I left it everywhere in the university – libraries, cafes, outdoors on tables, for hours at a time over the course of a week. It was never stolen. And so I make the following proposal: You steal my calculator and I will steal your bike.

  3. Dave Neary Says:

    Hi Thomas!

    This project seems to have some relevance to yours:

    The results are striking :) Reminds me of a scene from Clerks too – “How do you know people are taking correct change, or paying at all?” “Honestly? Paranoia. People see money with no-one around, they think they’re being watched.”


  4. W Alief Says:

    That’s a shame. I’ve had two stolen from me: one from the back of my car and one from the parking garage in my apartment building. I’ve also had the wheel stolen from my bike which was locked to a parking meter. Another time someone tried to take my handlebars, but they did not finish the job.

  5. Dean Elliott Says:

    You should bring it to south africa, it would probably last 5 minutes. Regardless of whether it had a police man attached to it. Ha ha. seriously though, it does seem that if its too easy then there is no feeling of reward once stolen. Maybe you should try locking it up next time? Amazing project, well done. I have always wondered what would happen in this situation.

  6. Steve Says:

    Hmmmm maybe the shop assistant didn’t give you such good advice. Might be worth viewing a site like this and procuring something that thieves target secondhand.
    But that particular Trek looked cheap and the sprung saddle didn’t make anymore desirable; probably had zero resale value.
    We have maybe proved an entry level MBT is less likely to get nicked.

  7. Thomas_Thwaites Says:

    Actually, I think the project got in the way: As in outside the gallery there was a flipping sign saying we’re doing a project about theft. Just because you’re a thief, doesn’t mean you don’t have your ear to the ground culturally. Antiques Roadshow is the most watched show in prison (allegedly!).