Art, Meet Science: Rhizome Director Lauren Cornell on AOL's Cross-Pollinating 7 on 7 Conference
Art, Meet Science: Rhizome Director Lauren Cornell on AOL's Cross-Pollinating 7 on 7 Conference
Rhizome's Seven on Seven conference, now in its second
year, is one part TED, one part science fair, and one part Bravo's
"Work of Art." Organized by the new media-art affiliate of
the New Museum, the event invites leading figures in the
technology world to collaborate with pioneering artists for one full day
to create something utterly original, be it a new idea, application, or
artwork. Decamping to conference rooms all over the AOL compound
— the tech giant is the symposium's sponsor — on May 13, the teams will
have little more than a whiteboard, a projection screen, and 12 hours
to come up with their project, which they will present at the conference
the following day.
roster boasts performance artists Rashaad Newsome, Liz
Magic Laser, and animator and musician Michael Bell-Smith, as
well as Etsy's vice president of engineering Kellan
Elliott-McCrea and 4Chan founder and self-proclaimed Internet
anarchist Chris Poole. "We wanted to choose people who we felt
were really proven, and not this year's newest thing," said Rhizome
executive director Lauren Cornell, who organized the event.
Inspired by Nine Evenings, a 1966 initiative that paired such
iconic artists as Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage with
preeminent scientists like electrical engineer Billy Kluver,
Seven on Seven has become something of a cult event in New York and a
rare opportunity for the technology and art worlds to mingle. It's
practitioners, too, have remained on the cutting edge. During last
year's conference, for instance, artist Ryan Trecartin and Tumblr
founder David Karp concocted an artwork — which Cornell
subsequently included in her media-focused "Free"
exhibition at the New Museum.
In anticipation of tomorrow's conference, ARTINFO sat down with
Cornell to discuss her selection philosophy, the blurry line between
technologists and artists, and why Seven on Seven is kind of like a
The Seven on Seven conference will take place from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
on Saturday, May 14, at the New Museum, located at 235 Bowery in New
Tell me about how you came up with the idea for Seven on Seven.
So often, artists can stick to their own world, same with architecture,
or design, or any other person in their designated field — and yet it's
so productive when they can cross a line, and work together. Because
Rhizome's mission is to support emerging artistic practices engaged with
the technology, the staff and board are of course very much attuned to
both the contemporary art and technology fields, and the experimental
forms, commitments to social change, progressive ideas therein. In a
way, the two fields have a lot in common and overlap constantly, but
they also depart around key points like agendas and markets. In a recent
Q&A we did with the Seven on Seven participants, Michael Bell-Smith
summed it up well by saying: "I think good technology is about solving
problems, while good art is about creating problems." We wanted to
create an annual event to show very clearly how productive and exciting,
even important, it could be when the fields were bridged. There is also
a rich history of this kind of interdisciplinary event like E.A.T's
Nine Evenings, which we wanted to extend.
One major different from Nine Evenings is that the participants only
have a day rather than 10 months to prepare their projects. How does
that short time span change things?
We felt that one day was what people could commit to in terms of taking
time out of their lives. So, it's a constraint created out of realistic
expectations of what we could ask really dynamic, successful people to
give, and also one of fairness. We wanted to give everyone the same
amount of time to work in. The daylong constraint also speeds everything
up — it compels you to go with your first, raw idea and disallows any
time for procrastination or any delay around finishing, which is kind of
a great exercise.
I'm imagining it as something like "The Amazing Race," where
adrenaline is pumping. But obviously, during the creative process,
you're seated most of the time.
It depends on the collaboration. Some of the teams last year were super
high adrenaline. When I visited Ryan Trecartin and David Karp, it felt
like they were moving fast according a schedule they mapped out, and in
fact they presented a working prototype of a video-sharing application
at the conference. Kristin Lucas and Andrew Kortina's presentation was
more geared towards sharing their exchange, which was very rich and
insightful. Their ideas centered around the idea of being able to switch
your online persona, have someone else play you for a while, but their
conversation was about performativity, how you play different aspect of
yourselves in different contexts, and how it can be suffocating, or
boring, and so forth.
Is there a lot of pressure to finish in one day?
There isn't pressure to finish a work; but there is pressure to have a
20-minute presentation the following day with a seed of an idea, so yes
there is real pressure and a risk. That said, the audience understands
the constraints they're working in and is sympathetic.
What's your philosophy when it comes to selecting people?
I wanted to pick great artists and programmers, but also people who are
generous and collaborative. Because for Seven on Seven you have to be.
So, for instance, Rashaad Newsome often plays a directorial role in his
works; he collaborates with all different kinds of people from hip-hop
artists to dancers, and he's good at it. Similarly, Emily Roysdon's work
often involves collaboration, or choreography of friends and artists,
and she is also a co-founder of the lesbian feminist journal LTTR. So
the process involved seeking out terrific people, but also considering
who could be prepared to bring ideas to the table and then have them
changed, tweaked, or rejected, etc, people who are used to all the
tough, awkward, ultimately productive parts of collaboration.
And what about pairing people up? It seems like the pairs you've done
so far are very complimentary, not people who have incredibly
contrasting ways of looking at things.
We try to pair people across shared interests, while giving some thought
to personality. So, there is a slight aspect of blind date to it —
wanting people to hit it off. But the organizing committee doesn't know
everyone personally, so there's only so much we can do.
In technology and in the art world, to some extent, there is a pretty
big gender disparity. Is that something you all take into account?
Of course, that's something that I think about all the time. We work at
Rhizome to be diverse and inclusive, and support the work of those who
aren't the dominant demographic in technology or art engaged with
technology, aka white men. Both the female participating technologists
are top in their fields: Jeri [Ellsworth] as a game designer, Erica
[Sadun] as a builder of iPhone apps, and both are writers, educators, as
well. In technology, prominent programmers tend to be men, but the
field is more gender-balanced than it seems.
Who is working with Chris Poole? He's been in the press a lot lately.
As the king of the internet underground should be. Besides being that of
course, Chris is also a fantastic guy, so intelligent and
entrepreneurial. He's working with Ricardo Cabello [aka mr. doob], who
is a Spanish artist currently working in London who does a lot of work
with HTML5. Their pairing is a good example of the blurry line between
technologists and artists. Chris would not identify as an artist, but
his work building 4chan has lead to an incredible amount of creativity
(whether you like it or not), and Ricardo is very much in between the
I know people have been concerned with the harshly drawn distinctions
between artists and technologists.
We want to show that there is a lot of overlap — and that even though we
present those categories in a really strict way, that they're not that
strict. No designation is. In my work as a curator, I see how people
always want to get away from the category that identifies them whether
its "abstract painter" or "media artist," or so forth.
Who owns the product after Seven on Seven is over?
The participants do. It is their project, so the pairs have to work it
out among themselves. It could create litigious situations, but let's
hope not — we can all be more mature than that.
A lot was made last year of the ticket prices, which are not exactly
cheap at $350 for regular registration, $250 for early registration, and
$75 for students and artists. Some people said they were so expensive
that they were prohibitive.
It's true, they are high. The event costs a lot to produce — to bring
out, put up and pay the participants, etc. And the ticket sales are also
a fundraising opportunity for Rhizome. I understand that it can seem
like its trying to be glitzy, but inside the event, it actually feels
very experimental and intimate.
Who is your target audience?
It's an event that reaches to art and technology communities, but also
outside them, to design, to business, et cetera. Invention and the
process behind it are all on display, and those are things people are
interested in broadly.
Was there anything that came out of last year's event that surprised
you? Were you expecting to have more app-based inventions, or more
All the projects were right down the middle of art and technology. Tauba
Auerbach and Ayah Bdeir made a work of art, a kinetic art object that
moves when you're absent, freezes when the viewer is present and, at
least in its presentation on the conference day, carried over Tauba's Op
Art aesthetics. Ryan and David's project, again, was a video sharing
application that allows you to upload clips and create dynamic
playlists. It was inspired by Ryan putting his work on YouTube and
getting the comment that all modern and contemporary artists tend to
get, which is, "I could do that better." So he wanted to create a
video-sharing platform that was a little more interactive to encourage
people to start doing it better. It wasn't an artwork, per se, it was a
working application, but it was inspired by his experience as an artist