Creativity, Collaboration and Hacking

My intro to 7 on 7 at The New Museum in New York this past Saturday, which was built on my intro to Flickr Hacks from a few years ago, and was read to the assembled art crowd watching 7 on 7’s unique (and awesome) program. You can read more about it on the Rhizome site.

When I was in college, I wrote a paper about a poem, “The Book of Ephraim”, that was about a couple that spent years talking to spirits on a Ouija board, communing with the shades of poets, emperors, and friends. I’d never tried a Ouija board before, but I drew one on a piece of paper and used an overturned teacup to try it out with my friends. Amazing things happened as a result: we recorded conversations with dead army generals from Prussia who’d climbed Kilimanjaro, and conjured a mysterious spirit who spoke only in riddles. It was an addictive activity. Hours would go by, story after story would be told, and eventually the candle, set up for atmosphere, would gutter out, or we had to stop and eat, or pee, or write another paper, or go to sleep.

I didn’t believe (and I don’t think my friends believed) that we were actually talking to spirits, but something much more interesting has happening: my subconscious and the subconscious of my friend were working together to tell a story, a story we couldn’t have made up on our own, but which we were both contributing to.

If you’ve ever been in a band, or played a sport, or danced, or done anything with other people — even started a company! — you’ll know what I’m talking about. You make up a riff, and then the bass player picks up the riff, and then the drummer makes a variation on the theme, reversing it, and you jam on it and make sweet, sweet music together. Hours go by, you are lost in the flow, or the zone, or the jam, or whatever you want to call it. You know when this is happening with your hockey team, when you’re reaching a sublime level of banter at the dinner table, even when your flirting is really hitting the mark. Your subconscious is working together with someone else’s, time vanishes, peace prevails on earth, and everyone is dissolved together into the great, unimpeachable and omnipotent Is.

Hacking and art-making are like this, especially when done together — an artist-hacker matched with a hacker-artist for the day — to jam, invent, make things, do stuff, and have ideas. Both technology and art are about making things new and seeing things new, and the way to arrive at the new is a collaborative, mysterious and Ouija-like process.

This is what Seven on Seven is, and what Rhizome has created for us, here, today. It’s a risky undertaking because you pretty much have to go with your first idea. And your partner — maybe you know her, maybe you don’t. What if you are unable to get in the groove? What if you’re classical and she’s jazz? He’s Rails and She’s Python?

What’s fun about this project, this format and this day is we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. It’s a lark, a plunge. We’re in the middle of the creative process, not the end. It’s a leap-of-faith, seed-stage, put good people together and see what happens day. The seven technologists and the seven artists here today are the top of their respective fields, and they’ve hacked and improv’d their way through the past day.

The assembled awesomeness is inspiring and Lauren has set the scene, a locus for scenius. What do we have? A blank sheet of paper, a Ouija board, an overturned teacup, two people and their imaginations. Or an iPad, a keyboard, Ruby on Rails, some wires, two people and their imaginations.

And our own curiosity, amazement and surprise.

One thought on “Creativity, Collaboration and Hacking

  1. We all need a little Mardi Gras with our Lent. Making art with friends is a wonderfully grown-up way to lose control without being self-destructive (or maybe if self-destructive, then in a cool Buddhist sense).

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