Rhizome Seven on Seven: The Live Blog

12:12 Welcome!  Seven on Seven begins shortly — watch this space for conference liveblogging.  

12:17 A video welcome from Mayor Bloomberg: technology and art are vital to the city's fabric and "best of luck to all of the contributors."

12:19 HTC's Scott Croyle speaks: it's the journey that drives him; the construct of artists and technologists coming up w/ an idea and presenting them today exemplifies that journey. He introduces Lauren Cornell, Executive Director of Rhizome. She presents Rhizome's context as "all contemporary art that engages technology," and a broad conversation between art and tech that has grown since the mid-90s. She juxtaposes that context with a summary of E.A.T.'s 9 evenings in 1966 (performances and music by Rauschenberg, Rainer, Cage), a time when engineers and artists seemed much farther apart.

She recounts a conversation w/ a technologist this year who was excited about not creating a product and an artist who wanted "to create a hot start-up."  Presentations to follow on what these teams came up w/in a day.  Lauren ends by thanking the people, corporations, and organizations involved in making Seven on Seven happen, and introducing Douglas Rushkoff, the keynote speaker.  

12:27 Douglas: an artsier Apple = an Apple less open for artistic intervention. Anyway, he's happy to play around w/ the HTC phone he received. He recalls joining the geeks (those who tended to turn sharp corners while walking in straight lines) in 1976 as an artsy theater guy to try programming, but "using computer science to solve mathematical problems" wasn't enough of a motivation to really get him hooked or to understand programming's scope. Being in California in the late 70s introduced him to the artier, psychedelic, hard-core math/computer science folks in Silicon Valley.  Executives then 'needed psychedelics because they were employing people "capable of operating in a realm where their hallucinations can become real." Artists were injected into a culture that wasn't yet ready to imagine.  

12:34 Douglas: Now, there's a reversal: in an "ITP Rhizome era" technologists are less bound, and it's the artists who bring the social and intellectual discourse and discipline to technological craft.  The technologists: sky's the limit! The artists are more: "The Delueuzian sense...." — they contextualize a way to make what's happening make sense. The Art kids are catching up.  

12:38 "How do we maintain human agency in a world that is being consciously programmed to defeat human agency?"  These are questions that have existed at the onset of each new technology, and it's the artist's role to preserve human agency. So, "program to not be programmed."  Learning to program is not like learning to fix the car, it's like learning how to drive the car. The future if you don't know how to program is one where "the wallpaper might as well be the window." But, learn programming as a liberal art and as a means to think critically about the world in which we live. 

12:42 "God bless Mayor Bloomberg, but this is not about jobs in the city—who wants a job?!" Machines are the ones that should be doing the work so we can make art! Today, we can witness a process, the marriage of art and technology, where "technology is a catalyst for the human adventure rather than something else."  Applause. 

12:44 Taryn Simon and Aaron Swartz take the stage. They've been working together for the last 12 hours. Taryn normally takes 3-4 years to complete a project, so rapid speed is new and daunting. The two wanted to create a spectacle unrelated to a product. They first looked at data on the conference audience to create an experience w/in today's space, worked on the concept, then learned it wasn't possible for legal reasons. So, they couldn't do it.  Taryn: "we took a couple walks, there were moments of complete despair."

At 8 last night, they knew they wanted to present something, and that something indexed "visual material established via mediating features." Aaron: programs that present a seemingly unmediated view of the world are programmed; they wanted to expose that. Their piece statistically looks at images that are associated with words, and repetitions in popularly distributed digital material with the intention of highlighting the cultural complexities of forming a visual language. Example:a query via word translated to the language of a country translated to an image. More on that as they show the result.

12:52 Onscreen, they show examples of images from search results via country. Some terms so far: painting, freedom, war, liar, crazy, sadness, beauty. 'Freedom' is so different in Brazil and Syria—in Syria, freedom would be meetings (!) The audience wants more time to absorb the images and compare the distinctions between the results presented. The Iranian view of 'America' is a zombie-fied Statue of Liberty in front of an Amercan flag. 'Celebrity' in Syria is the Mona Lisa; in the U.S., it's Paris Hilton.  A German search for 'Jew' yields Jude Law - that language! In Israel, Taryn Simon is a hot dog! The Syrian results are consistently interesting: the first image result for 'management' is the barrel of a gun.

13:02 Lauren begins with questions about the piece. How long did this take, especially taking into account the earlier mentioned 'despair'? Taryn: "Well, Aaron is a really fast programmer."

Lauren asks how this work relates to Taryn's larger practice, whose photographic work is often indexical. Taryn responds that this piece similarly considers ideas/things where seeming neutrality exists. In her work, she writes and create images, and examines the space between the two where interpretation happens. With this piece, it's about the borders between images and images. e.g., Less and less people can read cursive (written language); language is more and more visual. There's an imagination that images have an universal ability to communicate, but how, why, and really?

13:09 Question from the audience: how did you choose to order the countries listed?  In this iteration, it was for entertainment purposes, but alphabetically would make the most sense. A question about translation: is it textual? Then, how did you prioritize among multiple translations? Aaron: "meaning can be very multi-faceted in other languages" Taryn: "those collapses are exactly what's at the root of it all." Another question on the translation tool - via Google translate?  It differed depending on country. Question: Is the Internet an effective bridge between cultures?  Taryn: there's an "illusion of cultural flattening that's erased borders" but she highlights that they are still very much present.   

13:13 Charles Forman and Jon Rafman are on stage now. They had 'zero despair,' did their bit, then went to see a Broadway play ;). The theme they agreed on was memory. Jon, drinking a Modelo, recounts a girlfriend who left him that never allowed him to take a photo of her. He lacked any images to remember her w/, but then recalled a Google Street View car was taking photos when they were on vacation in Italy. He found a photo on Street View with her on the beach, and became obsessed with it. Later, he realized he had constructed the narrative: the photo couldn't have been of her: they were inland, always arguing, and never at a beach.

13:18 The team's piece: The Memory Box: you view an image and record your response. In seven years, the memory box starts vibrating, you open it, and see a photo you looked at seven years ago (the watercolor illustrations of the prototype are gorgeous). Then, it records your reaction to looking at the image/video, memorializing a memorable moment in time. The piece is a means to reflect about changes over time.   

13:21 Jon quotes Heracitus to illustrate this passage and difference: a man never steps in the same river twice. The screen is the shared external reality. The memory box gives a person a stronger role in constructing ourselves, allowing images to anchor reflection in life. It's an aid to answer the age-old philosophical problem of What is Self?  

And it's not only the person who changes, it's the people around you that change. He gives an example of the many things that can happen in between images shown by projecting a photo of his best friend from high school, Joe.  They were in a band, formed a business, were bffs; later, Joe stole Jon's wife, they were involved in a lawsuit, and haven't spoken in years.  Charles: "Joe sounds like a dick."

13:26 Charles talks about recollection through old photos: in looking through those images, it reminds him there's no use in worrying (e.g., upon looking at a photo of when he first started his company, he realizes the anxiety and worries he had at that time were needless).

The implications of the memory box? Jon: there's a ritual that's potentially involved in using this object. And, from a practical standpoint, the Box must be immune to obsolescence. Charles: it would be great to pass on to the future: to talk and see someone from the past in action.  

13:30 Is it a product or a service?  Charles:"A service is available to many people, but when it's out of sight, it's out of mind."  Jon: It could technically be an iPhone app tomorrow, but no, it will be a box made of ivory with gold circuitry! Audience laughs. They chose an image, but perhaps the object of recollection could be a line of poetry, a smell (Jon: "He [Charles]'s actually figured out a way to digitize smell").

Charles wishes this Box had existed 7 years ago — it would've been great to see himself then. Jon: "And, if you look under your seat...." Ha!

While Charles was coding, Jon was writing sci-fi short stories, and thought of hypotheticals involving the government in memory: a 1984-inspired Ministry of Memories where memories had to be reported, could be falsified, implanted. Charles reassures us that the Box is not evil (with a wink?)  

13:35 Lauren: they were in it to win it! (There are no winners in 7on7; we are all winners) The presentation was less testosterone-fueled than she had expected after that display of competiveness.  They answer that they were "just really into memory".  Charles: "It's just a simple idea, but I think a powerful concept."

13.38 Audience: What's the significance of seven years?  They started with ten, but that felt like too long. The time lapse can be reconfigured. From a psychologist in the audience: There's also a practical usage: "it can create an external container of the self as the external self is disintegrated."  

Another: "Jon, you're a liar. What do you think your relation to the object would be?...Personal memories are often more honest than those we pass on to our descendents...what would the relation be with lying in this tool"...is there a mode of erasure, a reset button? Jon: "You can't escape the lying aspect. Sometimes there's truth in fiction."  Charles: the disparity between the lie and the truth could be pretty interesting to see.  

Lauren can see how this piece relates to Jon's work; how does it relate to Charles' work as an entrepreneur? He's been creating photo software since he started having digital photos: in 2002, he went to a mobile blogging conference in Tokyo and had created software to organize his photos even then. Charles: "I'm not a good photographer, but I am prolific" and he uses the images as a way to remember. Relevant to this product, taking a photo today would be a way to remember that he was "the funniest guy here" and "there's nothing stopping me!"

13:44 Audience question: Would you make it public? What if there were two people in the photo? Then, in seven years, the two could/would recount their views to one another about that documented experience.

Charles: "Would you guys like something like this?"

Jon:"Well, it's coming, and it will be sublime."

13:48 Stephanie Syjuco and Jeremy Ashkenas are up. They begin by talking about the freedom in having a short time to make something and the pressure. Stephanie was excited about the technological aspect, and Jeremy had no interest in making an app. Jeremy talks about Stephanie's work, which looks at counterfeiting, bootlegging, and Stephanie talks about Jeremy's work at the NYTimes "making information transparent." Jeremy came to the table with a flow chart of ideas based on looking at Stephanie's website.  It's a tidy, great-looking diagram.

13:52 Jeremy: if you work in the Times newsroom, you can't be publicly political. So there can be "less felicitous pairings" (e.g., w/ highly poltical artists). Their premise from Jeremy's idea flow, considering Stephanie's ideas of counterfeit, is a counterfeit Seven on Seven.

This one happened yesterday in Central Park: artists and technologists were invited from the Park (Stephanie: "a lot of it had to do with proximity") and had 15 minutes (15!) to come up with an idea. The results would be presented today (Stephanie: "So we kinda outsourced our labor").  

They discuss their obstacles: a lot of people didn't want to brainstorm for 15 minutes with a stranger and responded "No English" to Jeremy (and his clipboard). Team 1 was an advertising associate, and a student who came up with Hushmaphones: noise-silencing headphones to wear outdoors to enjoy the environment without the hubbub. Team 2: a classically-trained musician and a start-up entrepreneur who discussed what they had in common, realized it was Bruce Springsteen, and came up with a Bossdoc (?).  

14:02 Team 3's concerns were there were too many statues in the park that no one looked at. "Everyday Monuments" erects a (revolving?) monument a year for the "lawyer" the mom, etc. Team 4 looked at making artwork about technology: they proposed paintings of key words (in programming language, words like void, if, var, false) which mean one thing to a programmer in a specific context, and other things in other parts of life. Team 5: put more real estate in NYC and make prices more reasonable by creating an artificial island. Team 6: a barista and venture specialist. Stephanie: most people were receptive after hearing she and Jeremy were working on an art project for the New Museum, but many suits were unimpressed.  Team 6 had incompatible viewpoints, and came up with a way of making intanglibles like freedom tangible on a scrolling market index board. Team 7 agreed on Wikipedia's authority, but can we trust what's real? Their result: the DisinfopediaBot which shows false 'encyclopedic' results.

14:09 Lauren: Would you consider realizing any of these projects, and would you take the credit?  Jeremy: We wouldn't, but many of the ideas seem very do-able, apart from the Artificial Island.

Then, the reveal: Stephanie: this was a fictional project, a great story to tell you guys. They met the people, took pictures, but made up the rest. Lauren:"I was uh, completely deceived." Applause. Stephanie: It's a true counterfeit. If someone googles Seven on Seven, this site might come up.  Lauren, wryly: "I thought of that."  

14:15 Audience: "What do you hope we learn from this?" Stephanie: Jeremy has to be truthful because of his job: both of them are interested in truth or fiction and the way they cross in online presentation. So, the presentational format seemed a good way to explore that space. They downloaded the existing site, spent most of their time on content, and purchased sevenonsevenagain.org for $10. Question: How did you pair the fake teams? Answer: They worked backwards: they started from the idea, and thought which of the people that agreed to have their photos taken in the park would be the most likely to come up with that idea. Stephanie: an interest in truth became an entry point for an exploration of fiction.

14:20 To lunch.  

15:29 Round 2. Lauren welcomes us all back. Khoi Vin and Aram Bartholl are on. Aram likes the speed project aspect; Khoi thought the constraints were unusual in that the time limit was the only restriction they had. They had similar artist v. technologist discussions where the artist wanted to do something super-tech, and the technologist, more than an implementor, wanted to do something other than 'pixels.'  They started by going through all their dumb (their words) ideas. They tell the Donut Story to highlight some of their earlier work activities: At Wieden + Kennedy (but not *every* Friday), there's an inflated pool filled w/ stale donuts: the goal: jump off ramp, over hay (!), and land on cushions.

Khoi discusses Aram's work on where the Internet is. Aram: it's ubiquitous, in everyone's pocket; he likes literal translations and transitions from digital analog, for example, doing a show in an Internet cafe, or taking dumped screens on sidewalks and using them as a screen/frame for art and/or all that's shown within that rectangle. He shows his Online Gallery Playset; Khoi thought of it as a space of humor, and a jumping off point to do something w/o commercial purpose.  

15:59 They talked a lot about screens.

Aram: There's a gap between what happens in physical and digital space: you don't strip naked on the street, but on ChatRoulette... He doesn't believe in "the AR thing," but w/ the Google glasses, it will probably come sooner or later: vestigial spaces are unfolding into the world rather than sucking the world into them.

They show a hi-lar-ious video of Khoi and Aram around the city, sporting spray-painted 'NY' caps and neon-colored glasses, showcasing their enormous gangsta anime medalions: a gold spiky thought bubble with hot pink trim that show what look to be random images coming from the same visual family. Khoi: We don't have a name for it yet. Aram: I like the title of the song: "Express Yourself."

15:46 Express Yourself's screen was an iPad in a spiky bubble bag. As Khoi lists his attire, Aram brands each noun: "Watch" "Rolex rolex" "Phone" "HTC HTC."

Lauren begins the questions: So, they were at Wieden and they have a project on branding. Could you take it further?  Khoi: No. Aram: Maybe with 'My Art Party': in the way everyone shows things on their phone, why not go to an opening and show their work the same way: on a screen, worn around their neck. "I'm not thinking 'where's the product?" but yeah, this could be a product."

Lauren brings up Aram's dead-drop piece and though the 7on7 piece might be a parody, the ideas do relate to his work. They discussed what happens when someone drops their iPhone on the subway: everyone freezes because of the acknowledged importance our phones have to us.

15.52 Khoi: They wanted to be comedic from the start. A question from someone from Wieden: he brings up the aspect of touch in the gestural interface they built. Aram: Yes, but it's jewelry, and you don't touch jewelry. Khoi: "What if people were comfortable enough with their personal space that you could come up and just interact with that person's device and it would be non-offensive and not sexual harassment?"  

Audience: A question on content: they showed Mixels, what else did they think of? Aram: Woulda been great to show animated gifs; there were 30 frames. Khoi: Chosen due to the time constraint, and they thought of the screen as a mini-gallery.

A question from the front row: How about a different usage, like a walking advertisement?  Aram adds: With targeted ads!

How did they decide on the circle? Aram: it couldn't be a rectangle becuase that's the usual shape of a screen. Khoi: Then it becomes not about an iPad.

The 'product' was duct-taped together, so the iPad is locked, its unlock button made inaccesible. Khoi: "It turns out a circular screen is not a commercially viable idea." 

15:59 Naeem Mohaiemen and Blaine Cook are onstage. "How do you follow that up?" asks Blaine. Naeem says their presentation will be an interesting contrast to some of the previous ones. They discussed concepts to some of the possibilities of the mind being both stimulated and weakened by the screen.  Naeem: Found objects are a way to think through ideas, accurately or not. They kept coming back to the aesthetic stimulus; Naeem uses an 'upside-down' technique to work through his images: printing them out and arranging them in an analog manner first.

Naeem quotes Blaine: "poetry looks like ass on a blog." They're talking about the 'togetherness' the Internet offers via social media.  Anonymous' emergence is the re-emergence of the social collective: there's safety in numbers, so you can punish the individual but the collective doesn't break.  

Naeem tells an anecdote about the know-it-all-ability made possible by Google: during a conversation with a friend, Naeem mentions a historical figure passing away. His friend pauses, then returns, "Oh yeah, the general involved in the Bangladesh War" and Naeem calls her out: she's just responded with the first sentence of the man's Wikipedia entry.

Blaine introduces linguistic structure and its effect on the brain: what of the existence of the German word 'doch' which affirms a negative assertion? 

16:10 Blaine and Naeem bring up a novel on punk Muslims. Though the author's characters were fictional, he received correspondence asking "Where do I find these people?" from individuals who identified with them as a community that would like to belong to.  

Naeem: how do we return to the room where we think, where actions take place, when so much of our mindspace is in the rectangle? Blaine: volume and speed are the enemies of contemplation. They'll say it: they're against Pecha Kucha and TED—they prefer a slow jam, learning to love you more.  Their intention is to slow down time.

The title: Slow Time or Room of My Own. It's a collage interface that they built over the lunch break, purposefully not doing it the night before.  From the concept of Levi-Strauss' bricolage, a user can add images alongside pre-loaded terms like assassinations, hijackings, Bangladesh, Cute Overload - but you cannot add indiscriminately: there is a limit to space (a physical aspect to a web tool). Comments, if I understand correctly, can come only from trusted friends (in opposition to the possibility of thousands of FB friends).

16:21 Lauren asks what the collage affects. Naeem: thinking through an idea without excess stimulus. The idea is a creative process that has limits. There are different media-related interactions of a function nowadays: students can look through highlighted pages via Kindle or paper. Blaine: del.icio.us lets you collect all your links (ideas) that don't take formation. In this project, your bookmarks present your ideas in a way that you can reflect upon.

A question from Kellan: the bookmarking experience is still very fast, even with your intention of creating a more thoughtful, slower space. Why make the bookmarklet seamless and instantaneous? Blaine: he wanted the tool to be invisible so you could be alone with your thoughts. 

From the audience: he overheard the team discussing/disagreeing about patenting the idea. How do they see this out in the world? Naeem: It was a joke! Blaine: I don't feel any ownership of it. Naeem: the prototype is a means to the ends of how to slow things down. There are different ways to go through the question of how our minds are interacting with technology.

16:32 Xavier Cha and Anthony Volodkin are up. They were initially concerned that 7on7 would be The Hunger Games. They discuss their differences, and begin by talking about what satisfies them about their work. For Anthony, it's his part in connecting people through like-minded search. And for Xavier, it's for something to be both abstract and have clarity at the same time. She shows a piece she showed at the Whitney last year of performers wearing a self-worn camera rig.

Anthony: In X's work, she creates co-existing experiences that take effort; these experiences already exist online. A binary: authenticity vs projection, where a version of actuality comes up. Their title, You are what you eat, refers to how what you consume can affect changes in behavior.  

They obsessively love flux. Anthony talks about a program for programmers that auto-dims their screen as night comes, so you don't constantly look at something "as bright as the surface of the sun" and how it changed his work habits. Onscreen, they show a chart of Anthony's activity online: a glamorous life, he says, with a lot of Gmail.  The idea is by simply seeing your personal data, that perspective can change habits, life.  

16:44 Opportunity cost for them is how else time could've been spent. Anthony: looking at someone else's feeds (check-ins, etc) can show what a person could've been doing. Xavier: On Twitter, seeing what a person is consuming (i.e., reading) rather than projecting gives a better idea of who they are.  This team decided to look at the presentation of a person via private Twitter list. Their prototype, 'Peep', shows Twitter through another user's eyes and you can read what they read.

16:52 Questions: Are there any other platforms that you can apply this model to where you can observe what a person consumes? Anthony: with other services, there are less meaning.  Lauren: feeds gain meaning because you know the other person. What's the motivation when you lose that?  Answer: it's more of a portrait. Jamin asks about privacy/the boundaries: where's the sacred space when you follow the followers? Anthony cites Zuckerberg's idea of the same: you can follow them all manually, they're all the same, the data's there (Audience laughs. Mark!)

17:00 Refreshment break. Back on at 5:20 for LaToya Ruby Frazier and Michael Herf, the final presentation. 

17:29 Lauren introduces the last team, and invites the audience to the afterparty in the Skyroom. LaToya:"This has been pretty intense. To be asked to do something w/ a total stranger...w/ different roles and functionalities." She and Michael had serious conversations about how seriously they viewed their practices, and their sentiment and concern about the use of technology. Michael recounts their initial talks about politics, how people talk about these things: how to tell the truth and be authentic. Michael lives in LA, where people are "really good at telling stories" and works in software, where people are pretty obsessed with telling the truth. What are our tools now in telling a truth or a story? Online spaces might not have true facts, and care too much about citations, but it's a way of recording history. 

LaToya: we rely so much on erasing things, we don't want to talk about the past in America, though it might help with resolution. How do we build the intelligence to grow with visual literacy? We know we heavily rely on consumer, commercial culture. Onscreen are images of a Bolshevik work poster and a factory worker and the text "We are all workers". LaToya asks the audience to think deeply about what that means.

Michael: They wanted to capture antecedents of images and the embedded histories they may show. LaToya: she's a trained artist and knows how to read images, but does her audience comprehend perspective and reference?  There needs to be a balance to discuss the messages of the images in a discursive way. "Are we selling a product or are we selling a lifestyle?"  

Their piece: Decode "An Encyclopedia of Visual Culture". Onscreen is a NYMag cover of "The Bloodiest Campaign" a photoshopped image of bruised, battered Romney and Obama, with Gingrich between the in the background. LaToya thought immediately of Rineke Dijkstra's Bullfighters. Michael: though a person may not see that reference, it begins the discussion of viewing images critically. And then, they had thoughts about the modification that took place for so many current images to exist. But, how to capture the differences in responses (to images like the NYMag cover) based on cultural background?  They're looking a collection of reactions: more input could say a lot more about culture. LaToya teaches individuals about this at different levels: People care about the images that they see.

They show the Mad Men poster of a silhouetted man falling in stark white space: first response: Robert Longo (art crowd!); second: 9-11. The responses can highlight our differences and begin a conversation that allow us to embrace and discuss them. 

Lauren: Rushkoff was a great keynote address as ideas of being sensitive to images keep coming up in today's presentations.  Striped shirt asks about the Mad Men image: people that most often take offense to the 9-11 events are most often public figures, unrelated to the 9-11: it's unlikely that the marketing team knowingly presented the ad in relation to 9-11 so isn't there a largely separate interpretive context of this image? LaToya: With Decode, you could drop in that image and see what interpretations might come up, elevating the perception of image. Naeem: the demographic of a population affects the interpretation.  LaToya: Decode brings to life something that she's teaches; it's made a living model.  

18:00 Applause and, woohoo, we're done!  Lauren directs everyone to the afterparty. To quasi-paraphrase (and nerdify) Brian's ending entry from last year's liveblog: May these ideas live long and prosper.