End Seven on Seven, please

Rhizome just completed another Seven on Seven presentation ("pair[ing] up seven artists and seven technologists and giv[ing] them a simple assignment: make something in twenty-four hours, and present the results the following day in a public conference"). It's a popular event but the idea should have retired with the previous administration for two reasons:

1. It artificially splits Olia Lialina's Turing Complete User into two types of humans: artists and "technologists," a term Rhizome continues to use unapologetically. Lialina has written:

Alienation of users from their computers started in XEROX PARC with secretaries, as well as artists and musicians. And it never stopped. Users were seen and marketed as people who’s real jobs, feelings, thoughts, interests, talents — everything what matters — lie outside of their interaction with personal computers.

For instance, in 2007, when Adobe, the software company who’s products are dominating the so called “creative industries”, introduced version 3 of Creative Suite, they filmed graphic artists, video makers and others talking about the advantages of this new software package. In particular interesting was one video of a web designer (or an actress in the role of a web designer): she enthusiastically demonstrated what her new Dream Weaver could do, and that in the end “I have more time to do what I like most — being creative”. The message from Adobe is clear. The less you think about source code, scripts, links and the web itself, the more creative you are as a web designer. What a lie. I liked to show it to fresh design students as an example of misunderstanding the core of the profession.

The core assumption of Seven on Seven is that artists need technical assistance so they can concentrate on their real jobs. This year's "technologists" included a Microsoft researcher, a statistician, a software engineer, a web developer, and some programmers. The "artists" may or may not have technological abilities -- the reasons for the pairings are never discussed at great length. A certain amount of celebrity appeal goes into picking the names (Ai Weiwei, Nate Silver, "the co-founder of Instagram," etc), which in itself transcends the art-tech divide.

2. It assumes art can be done in 24 hours. So the awkwardly paired collaborators must meet, agree on what art is, agree on a project, and produce the project in an artficially-time-constrained situation that few artists would ever have to contend with if they were working solo. What is the point of this? Tech art as poetry slam? Only someone who had never been an artist, or even talked to artists much, would conceive of an idea like this. Sometimes art comes fast, sometimes it takes years.

Artists keep agreeing to do "Seven on Sevens" and people keep coming to watch the trainwreck but that doesn't mean it can't be re-thought or scrapped.

Addendum: Matt Taibbi, after the collapse of his journalist venture with ebay founder Pierre Omidyar, cracked wise about Omidyar's constant reference to himself as a technologist:

Ronan O'Donnabhain writes: Hi Matt! I realize this is a little inside baseball, but would love to hear your version of your departure from 1st look/Omidyar?
Liam O'Brien writes: How much would it take to snitch on ‪@The_Intercept? "I signed an NDA [non-disclosure agreement --ed]" also a valid answer.

[Taibbi]: Maybe someday I'll get into it, but it's not the right time. By the way, the fact that I'm keeping quiet has nothing to do with any NDA. It's just that it's a bad situation that I think can only be made worse by more talk.

It's too bad, too, because a lot went on that wasn't ugly and was just flat-out funny/bizarre. I know there are many [First Look Media] vets who are already mourning the Liar's Poker-type comic tell-all book that will probably never be written. If someone does write it, I really hope the Farrelly Brothers make the movie. For instance, I'm imagining a scene where just before an all-company meeting, a dozen journalists lay action on how long it will take their CEO to use the phrase, "As you know, I'm a technologist." The winning bet? A minute and forty-five seconds.