The line between “artist”and “technologist” is blurring as code fluency becomes increasingly critical to the creation of meaningful cultural objects.
Three years ago, Lauren Cornell and the Rhizome/New Museum team launched “Seven on Seven“, a 24-hour “sprint-posium” pairing artists/technologist teams to create privately and explain publicly…something. A work, an idea, a prototype. Something resulting from the collision of their very different world views. Like a cultural LHC, “Seven on Seven’s” real premise is: can seven successive impacts of sufficient force throw off new cultural particles?
W+K got involved because the “Seven on Seven” platform confronts issues we tackle daily: What is an idea, now? How fast can you get to a compelling idea? How do artists and technologists productively collaborate? How do we build timeless stories in timely ways?
The teams had 24 hours to create two equally critical things: a collaboration, and the story of that collaboration. The story without the thing was fantasy, the thing without the story was unengaging.
A brief synopsis of the teams and the results:
Team #1 was Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz, who used “the hidden spaces between cultures” as a visual root for their project: a tool that translates a query into a local language image search in fifteen countries – a “simple” act that exposes cultural differences visually (e.g., here’s “party“). Aaron described their process of considering “how supposedly neutral and statistical tools that claim to present an unmediated world carry with them biases that program us.” The internet, they argued, has created an illusion of cultural flattening that this tool exposes. (other examples: Liar, crazy and freedom). Simple Formula, complex results. So hot Clay Shirky (@chsirky) was tweeting it during their presentation. Watch their presentation here.
Charles Forman and Jon Rafman were Team #2. They were interested in using images to explore memory and its plasticity. Charles described how looking at old photos created “chronologically impossible” memories. Jon has found unintended stories in images. Both sparked to the way old photos confront us with our “mistaken notion that we’ve always been whomever we’ve become,” and their collaboration generated the “Memory Box“. As described, by Jon, it’s as an “ivory box with golden circuitry” that records a reaction to any of your personal images, then serves that image and reaction back up seven years later for re-consideration. Not an archive of memories, the Box is an archive of what we’d forgotten, intentionally or not. Your chance to confront your neuro-plasticity. Without their invention, said Charles, “Ten years from now, I’ll remember that I was the funniest guy here at that you all loved me. And right now, there’s nothing to prevent me from doing that.” 20:47 video here.
Team#3 delivered the event’s “homeless hotspot ZOMG” moment. Jeremy Asheknas, who enjoyed lifting “the constraint of the newsroom requirement of sticking to just the facts”, was working with Stephanie Syjuco, an artist who amongst other things, leads counterfeiting workshops. “I’m supposed to be transgressive,” she said, “and he has a code of ethics.” Together they created an alternate “crowd-sourced” Seven-on-Seven they called “Seven on Seven, Again“. They described their recruiting process and the resulting seven ideas – from “Hushamaphones” to a “Market of Intangibles”, but the mood shifted perceptibly in the room when the two revealed the entire project to be a fiction. As required, they’d built a product (a website of the event) and a story – but in this case, the product was an artifact of a story that was a fiction. They raised all kinds of questions about authenticity you can watch here.
Team #4’s Aram Bartholl and Khoi Vinh were one of two team in Wieden’s NY office. While outside their office people leapt a swimming pool filled with rancid coffee and stale donuts, the two considered the ubiquity of the internet: Aram noted “it’s in pockets and cafes, but always in rectangles.” Khoi noted screens had gone from social experiences to personal ones, and wondered if you could reverse that trend. Aram didn’t buy technology deliverance – “I don’t believe in the AR thing – floating in a pool, connected to a brain…”, “or floating in a pool of coffee and donuts…” added Khoi.
They built a circular case for an iPad, then filmed Aram wearing it around NYC to see what reaction it caused. And while a circular screen “may not be culturally viable”, it was an important part of breaking cultural expectations for screens.
To see how it would change interactions. To see if people would engage with it differently. What would it mean if people could touch your content? Unsurprisingly, it took some convincing for women to engage with the gestural interface on Aram’s chest. Their video is priceless.
Team #5 was Blaine Cook and Naeem Mohaiemer, representing activism and left politics. In wrestling with the creative process and where ideas come from, they considered the way the brain processes images and ideas, and thought about “slow” and “tactile” time. They explored five concepts:
“Don’t let me be lonely”: Naeem quoted Blaine with “poetry looks like ass on a blog.” And I can’t remember how this explained the concept, but it was so good, it’s here.
“Killing Time”: Now that people “Google” mid-conversation, everyone is an instant expert. Or as Blaine put it, “I feel my memory doesn’t work anymore, and it doesn’t matter.”
Constellation Theory: Not a single note here. I google-ed it (see “killing time”, above) and got this blurb: “the self is organized into a stable concept, our defenses protect the self-concept and how to be aware of our defensive nature” from this book.
For the specificity of the local: you can’t flatten everything. Local matters, illustrated by way of the German word, Doch, a hard-to-translate word roughly meaning “I affirm your negative structure.” Also, (and I’m not sure why) they described Tacqawores, a work of fiction that described a micro-community (“Punk Muslims”) that was inspired to form because of the book.
Back to a room of my own: Naeem asked “how do we get our minds back when they are so linked into rectangles?” Blaine “we are against pecha kucha and TED. we are for the slow jam. we need our room back.”
The result: roomofmyown.org – a deliberately reflective collage-wall of ideas you can share with a limited number of people. While today’s “social” tools pressure us to expand our networks, this one forces choices to be made – and attention to be paid. The prototype, said Naeem, is a means to an ends: How do we slow down? Watch their video here.
Team #6, Anthony Volodkin and Xavier Cha built an idea around the notion “you are what you eat” – and felt a fair proxy interactively was the twitter stream you consume. What if you could see the tweets someone else consumes, rather than projects? Would you get better insights into who they than reading their carefully curated tweets? Boom: Peep, the tool that lets you step into someone else’s twitter feed. Xavier: “Foursquare isn’t a record of where you’ve been, it’s a record of missed opportunities – at any given moment, a friend is having a better time than you.” Peep looks for you in your incoming stream – in other words, the you you’ve chosen, not the you you create. You can watch them here.
Team #7, Latoya Ruby-Frazier and Michael Herf (also based in the W+K building) shared a concern about how technology is used – and how it affects us. Both interested in how you talk about culture and images – and how you raise visual literacy around the meanings embedded and encoded in images. Their project, Decode: A Encyclopedia of visual culture, is a collaborative platform on which users (identified by age, gender and race) can offer their cultural insights and perspectives on images in popular culture and communications. The tool would look for modifications, and layered cultural meanings. So that the font you use isn’t the one used by…say…Nazis. Video of the presentation is here.
If you’ve made it this far, wow. Buckle up – travelogue is over. Next stop: key takeaways
(and here’s the liveblog stream of the event from Rhizome. Nifty.)