Art and Tech Worlds Collide in 5th Annual Seven on Seven Conference

Walking into Rhizome’s Seven on Seven art and technology conference in New York City last Saturday, May 3, 2014, was like arriving to an intimate dinner party an hour late. The project pairs seven leading artists with seven influential technologists in teams of two, and challenges them to develop something new over the course of a single day. There was an air of familiarity in the room, surprising given the assumed dichotomy between artists and technologists. It’s part of the brilliance of Seven on Seven, which is hosted in partnership with the New Museum, where the results were unveiled.

“Both artists and techies are a little cultish, and putting them on equal footing is hard to do,” said Simon Denny, a New Zealand artist based in Berlin who was paired with New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton. “I recently did an art installation of a conference, and was very sensitive to the cultish aspects of it in my work. So I appreciate the effort in bringing these two groups together on this platform. It’s pretty amazing.”

Drawing on each of their strengths, the pairs are put on lock-down at the Ace Hotel, where they have 24 hours to concept, create, and execute an idea. This year many ideas focused on the idea of Big Data—what society is putting out there, how it is being collected, and what it is being used for. Some teams, like artist Hannah Sawtell and technologist Avi Flombaum, took a lighter approach, creating a website (in one night mind you) where users can create visual collages using multiple vine streams. Other teams, like artist Holly Herndon and technologist Kate Ray, created SPYKE, a cross between spying and Sykpe, which enables users to take secret snapshots of someone during Skype chats.

This year’s keynote, Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research cited many artists that challenge the issues of privacy and surveillance in their works by performing their own data collection. “I believe artists should have the same ethical standards as big corporations,” said Crawford. “I love Data Art because it is pushing the boundaries of ethical behavior in a way that shows us what challenges we will face in the future from big government or big corporations.”  Citing an art installation where an artist performed random urine analysis on conference attendees and publicly published the results in real time, 7on7 conference attendees cringed as the thought of similar policies back at HQ didn’t seem so unrealistic.

For a full list of ideas and participants, click here. The conference was sponsored by Wieden + Kennedy and Microsoft Research. 

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