POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
David Karp and Ryan Trecartin at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven
You know a show’s a success when even its flaws have their charm. This is the case in Rhizome’s Seven on Seven, a conference organized by Fred Benenson, John Michael Boling, John Borthwick, Lauren Cornell, and Peter Rojas matching seven artists with seven technologists in a mad two days of art making and presentations. Pairing off in teams of two, none of the participants knew each other before they set to work, which, in tandem with the short time period, could well have resulted in disaster.
Perhaps it’s that element of risk that made the conference so compelling, because truth be told, some of the projects failed. With only one or two exceptions, I liked them anyway.
Undoubtedly contributing to the event’s success, most teams opted for the more manageable task of creating an Internet tool, as opposed to an actual art work. The most outstanding in these projects came from video artist Ryan Trecartin and Tumblr founder David Karp who put together the chat-roulette-esque tool called “Project Ten”. The online tool strings 10-second videos together that can be sorted by tag. Taking a cue from the success of Twitter’s limited characters, Project Ten only allows users to add three tags to their videos. “And there’s no flagging,” Trecartin explained, “So you can upload a picture of your cock if you want to. It would be annoying but…”
Graffiti Research lab’s Evan Roth and Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, brought even more laughs than Trecartin to their project, which explored the concept of “surprise me” in WordPress blogging software. Click the check box and an array of new features appear, including a celebratory publish button. This posting could randomly bring up videos such as New York Times reporter Randy Kennedy congratulating users on publishing their post. They also created a heading called “humanize” within the stats section of the blog, providing users with pictures of how many visitors they’re receiving as opposed to simple graphs. This was a fun idea, but I didn’t like that they assumed all users were obsessed with their analytics. Where was the anti-anxiety inducing stat button for people like me?
Of the participants, it’s hard to know whose project was the most blindly ambitious: painter and mixed media artist Tauba Auerbach and engineer Ayah Bdeir’s kenetic sculpture that moved only when viewers weren’t around or tech artist Aaron Koblin and Cloudera’s Jeff Hammerbacher‘s attempt to create visualizations for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 24 hours. Neither project came close to being realized, which visibly bothered the participants. As Jeff Hammerbacher recalled during the presentation, “At about 10 o’clock last night, Aaron turned to me and said, ‘So what do you think about another idea?'” They presented only their research Saturday.
Monica Narula, co-founder of Raqs Media Collective and software engineer Joshua Schachter took a more practical approach to their project “The Absolution Exchange”, and polled Amazon Mechanical Turk workers on the subject of guilt. Unlike most art projects I’ve seen employing Turk workers, the results were more important than the process, which almost automatically made the work more interesting. Probably my favorite response in the findings came from worker AO6K9SJGX7COT, who, when asked to come up with absolution dollar amounts for misdoings, answered $0.00 to all adding, “I don’t understand the relationship between feeling better and giving money.” This drew their project to a close.
Add to these presentations computer scientist Hilary Mason and sculptor Marc Andre Robinson‘s API moving data-sharing from smart phones to ordinary objects and artist Kristin Lucas and Bit.ly’s Andrew Kortina‘s twitter identity exchange site and the day was exceptionally full. That aspect of the four hour conference had more pluses than minuses: it was too long. Still, if the harshest criticism I have for the event is that I was forced to look at art I enjoyed for too long, I think it did alright. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of conference I’d like to see more of at museums.