KNOCKING HEADS TOGETHER

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A conference designed to get artists and technologists working has partners ...

From THE ECONOMIST online

One morning in May, in a conference room at the AOL offices in Manhattan, Michael Bell-Smith and Andy Baio (pictured) met to make something. “We weren’t sure exactly what we wanted to do, but we knew that it was common ground for us,” said Mr Baio. 

The two started talking about shared interests. Mr Bell-Smith is an animator and musician, and Mr Baio is now a project director at Expert Labs, a non-profit organisation that works to connect the federal government with citizens who want to become more involved. Since 2008 Mr Baio has been curating a collection of what he calls “supercuts”, which are themed video clips edited into a single montage. (For example, these might feature every time the f-word is used in the film “The Big Lebowski ” or all the different times a reality-TV star has said, “I didn’t come here to make friends”.) After 24-hours of working together, Messrs Bell-Smith and Baio created Supercut.org, a site dedicated to documenting the “cultural phenomenon” of the supercut. 

This partnership was one of seven initiated by Rhizome and AOL for “Seven on Seven”, a conference that paired seven technologists with seven artists and challenged them to create something new—in 24 hours. The teams presented their creations to a filled auditorium at the New Museum in New York in mid-May.
 
The initiative was inspired by “9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering”, a seminal 1966 event organised by Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), which paired artists with scientists to create a series of groundbreaking performances. Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver were among the participants who fused art and theatre with emerging technologies such as video projection and wireless sound transmission.

Art and technology are fields in which “some of the most influential and important ideas happen,” explained Lauren Cornell, executive director at Rhizome and adjunct curator at the New Museum. “They’re imagining what the future would be like.” After the success of the first “Seven on Seven” conference last year, AOL jumped on as a sponsor for 2011. “We want to be investing in people and ideas and activities that help get the best game-changing outcomes for consumers,” said Maureen Sullivan, senior vice president of marketing, brand and partnerships at AOL. “There’s a refreshing approach to this conference that I wish more conferences would borrow.” <--break->

Rhizome selected artists who would thrive together in the short time span and were familiar with both technology and art. Ms Cornell chose “people who I thought were really generous and collaborative. People who could participate and succeed in a framework like this, which really entails being open and supportive of another person’s ideas.”
 
Teams were not allowed to discuss their ideas before meeting. Some concepts fell into place smoothly, while others ran into obstacles along the way. One team wanted to touch upon the story of then-detained Ai Weiwei by talking to people at his Zodiac Heads sculpture near the Plaza Hotel, but no one there seemed to know about the Chinese artist. Another team had trouble securing the right video equipment. 
 
For some pairs, the line between artist and technologist was blurred. Zachary Lieberman, developer of the EyeWriter, a system designed to let ALS patients use creative technologies, was considered an “artist”. Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, an affordable 3D printer, was a “technologist”. Yet both are equally creative and tech-savvy. Christopher “moot” Poole, founder of 4chan.org, an image-based bulletin board, was the “technologist”, yet he credited his partner, Ricardo "Mr Doob" Cabello, with being a better computer programmer than him.
 
The seven collaborations culminated in three websites, one app, one music instrument, a deck of cards and a multimedia art piece. Messrs Pettis and Lieberman created a project called “Important People”, which projects videos of people’s faces as they list the most important people in their lives onto plastic 3D models of their own visages made using Mr Pettis’s 3D printer, the MakerBot. Messrs Cabello and Poole created behin.de, a website that allows users to anonymously create ephemeral comments and images on websites. Erica Sadun, a designer of iPhone apps, and Camille Utterback, an artist and MacArthur Foundation fellow, created “Sabi”, an innovative photography app inspired by the Japanese idea of celebrating something that is old and faded.
 
By the conference’s end, these concepts were largely in a fledgling state, but most teams seemed keen to see these ideas through. “If you’re with a proper artist, [the project] never will be complete,” mused Ms Sadun. Participants were bleary-eyed yet grateful. “It forced me to think about things in ways I normally wouldn’t,” said Mr Bell-Smith.
 
A few weeks on, some teams are about to work some more on their projects, while others pushed them aside due to busy schedules. Supercut.org has received more than 70,000 page views, and Mr Baio recently said he is making improvements to the site, such as allowing anyone to add their own supercuts.

Visit here for more information on the "Seven on Seven" conference and to view videos.

(Via Prospero)