Art for Troubleshooters: 7 on 7 at the New Museum


How long does it take to come up with a new idea? The New Museum thinks 24 hours should just about do it. Rhizome, the New Museum’s online affiliate for technology-based artistic practices, launched Seven on Seven in 2009. This past weekend saw the second iteration of the event, which seeks to merge the seemingly disparate languages and methodologies of art and science. Seven artists, each paired up with a technologist, were given 24 hours to develop something—anything—new. Saturday’s 5-hour affair featured presentations by each team in the New Museum’s theater.


Presented by AOL, Seven on Seven takes as a precedent Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a project launched by Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg in 1967, which organized collaborations between artists and engineers. When they founded E.A.T., Klüver  and Rauschenberg had already produced several projects together, most notably “9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering” a performance series that paired ten artists—among them, John Cage, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay and Yvonne Rainer—with engineers and scientists from Bell Telephone Laboratories. Hay’s Grass Field, featuring amplified sounds generated by brain waves and muscle activity, was among the results.

Rhizome executive director (and the day’s emcee) Lauren Cornell reminded the audience that the Seven on Seven projects were “seeds of ideas” rather than fully realized products. Indeed, in some ways, the presentations gave more insight into collaboration than individual concepts.

The first presentation, by video and conceptual artist Liz Magic Laser, and Ben Cerveny, founder of VURB, a think tank for urban computational systems, was a “Surrealist card game” that commands users to interact with architecture. Examples like “Floors Move,” “Glowing Path Appears,” and “Camera Follows Movement” provoke what Laser described as a “call and response” designed to “narrate or destroy” an imagined city.

Next up was digital artist Michael Bell-Smith and Expert Labs director Andy Baio. Their project was inspired by “supercuts,” a phenomenon in which fans cut together recurring phrases in films or TV shows—every utterance of the word “dude” in The Big Lebowski, for instance, or reality show contestants insisting that “I’m not here to make friends.” Their project, the website, documents the trend and randomly remixes pre-existing supercuts into new montages. These “super supercuts” are sourced entirely from a database of supercuts created by Baio.

The fifth team, Barcelona-based artist and designer Ricardo Cabello and 4chan founder Chris “Moot” Poole, also found inspiration in the comments typically relegated to peripheral locations on a website (i.e. the bottom of the page, or what Poole referred to as “the comment ghetto”). Caballo and Poole’s project,, comprises an “invisible” scrim that can be layered over any website as a comment pad, so that users can respond directly with text, image, or video links overlaying specific coordinates on the webpage. Imagine, for instance, that instead of having to scroll to the bottom of this page to comment, you’d be able to post a link to a YouTube video on top of this very sentence. This project proved to be one of the most innovative and exciting of the day for its simplicity and real-world utility.

Another standout was the pairing of artist and writer Emily Roysdon with Kellan Elliot-McCrea, VP of engineering at Etsy, an online market for handmade arts and crafts. Embodying the collapsible barrier between art and technology, artist and scientist met for the first time the day prior to the symposium. It turned out they attended the same university, graduated the same year, and shared the same professor as a mentor-“who recommended I drop out, [whereas] Emily wrote the foreword to his book,” joked Elliot-McCrea.

Roysdon and Elliot-McCrea also shared an interest in using lost histories to re-consider political possibilities. Their is an interactive timeline that invites users to contribute forgotten concepts from history. Goddess worship, gay power and decentralized agriculture, for example, are brought into the present in order to renew their relevance and destabilize the consolidated nature of history.

One audience member asked why they chose to deal with the recent past as opposed to the more malleable future. Roysdon responded that using the present to re-conceptualize the past is “clearly also about the future.”

Will art and technology soon be inextricable? Not necessarily. In the words of  Bell-Smith, who reduced their differences to means and ends, “technology is about solving problems, art is about creating problems.”