Artificial Intelligence under the lens of 7 artists and 7 technologists

The project run by Rhizome pairing artists with tech luminaries returned to New York for its 14th edition

After a hiatus of 5 years, Seven on Seven (7×7) recently returned to New York for the first time since 2019. Run by Rhizome in collaboration with New Museum, the project – now in its 14th edition – strengthens the link between art and technology by inviting 7 artists and 7 luminaries of science in a 1-day long collaboration. There is only one goal: to create something new (which seems to be an unrealistic expectation in our contemporaneity). For this 2024 edition, the topic addressed couldn’t have been anything but Artificial Intelligence: gathering together creative pairings from across different disciplines – biology, engineering, quantum physics, human-robot interaction on the science side; poetry, acting, performative and visual arts, and even comedy on the artistic side – Rhizome’s initiative aimed to overcome the conceptual rhetoric around AI, on behalf of a more applied approach to its potential.

Neural networks and other AI systems have long been topics of note at 7×7. With these technologies now widely available, 7×7 2024 takes an expansive but critical view of their role in society,” noted Rhizome Co-Executive Director Michael Connor. “The participants look beyond the dreams of apocalypse and the endless drive to extract, and ask, what new kinds of collaborations and entanglements will AI enable?”.

Lynn Hershman Leeson and Eugenia Kuyda in conversation during 7x7 2024 Collaboration Day. Photo by Owley Studios, courtesy of Rhizome

Unveiled to the audience during a public conference at New Museum (NY) on 27th January, the results of these collaborations involved some of the greatest names in the art field. Firstly, the Argentina-born and Berlin-based Tomás Saraceno, whose research is centered on highlighting networks of human-nonhuman interaction, as well as forms on nonhuman knowledge, which finds its best expression in the technology of spiderwebs. Saraceno was paired with Harry Halpin, CEO and co-founder of Nym Technologies – a startup building a decentralized mix network as a “fair web”: a network that is not based on mass surveillance and exploitation of human data extraction, colonized by capitalist industries. Working together, they confronted each other to deepen the role of technology in organizational decision-making for communities facing climate-related conflicts and upheavals.

Another major highlight was the idea presented by artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson. One of the most influential media artists of all time, Hershman Leeson collaborated with Eugenia Kuyda, founder of Replika – a dystopian company that provides you with an AI chatbot (complete with customized body avatar) “that would help you express and witness yourself by offering a helpful conversation”, as stated on the website. Together, they worked on a science fiction: a grandmother, intent on saving humanity from its own discriminatory nature, heads to space with a set of human embryos in search of a fresh start, with the help of a caring companion, an Artificial Intelligence. In the following projects, Xin Liu – an artist and engineer fascinated by macro and microscales that go beyond our human perception – delved into the field of biotechnology, collaborating with synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis, head of Creative at Ginkgo of Ginkgo Bioworks, deepening the hidden layers of the biological system through AI. Or again, engineer Alan Steremberg and Afro-American artist Rindon Johnson involved data for a visual storytelling, drawing on information about plastics, plankton and other conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

Tomás Saraceno and Harry Halpin in collaboration at Tomás Saraceno's studio in Berlin. Photo by Dario J Laganà, courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno

It was not only visual artists who were involved, as was the case with musician Reggie Watts, who collaborated with quantum physicist Stephon Alexander to experiment, through improvisation, as a way to understand the connections between physics, creativity, and AI. Furthermore, even AI and sense of humor (commonly perceived as a human prerogative) was investigated by actress and comedian Ana Fabrega. Together with technologist, software developer and CEO of Runway Cristóbal Valenzuela, they realized a project inspired by the agreement of the Writers Guild of Americaafter the strike on the regulation of AI in cinema. Finally, there was a piece of human-machine interaction with Miriam Simun’s dance performance, conceived in collaboration with David Robert, director of Boston Dynamics (an engineering and robotics company known for developing BigDog, a four-legged robot designed for the US Army).

In conclusion, as pointed out by Xinran Yuan, Producer and Co-Curator of 7×7 2024, exploring the art and tech ecosystem means to deal with a much more expanded and complex network of institutions, companies, and stakeholders. For this reason, Rhizome takes the only possible approach to constant and radical changes: to build “a risk-tolerant, experimental, and most importantly, public forum. Here, what is foregrounded is not only the intriguing outcomes of such collaborations, but also the negotiations, uncertainties, even failures that are integral to the shaping of these collaborative ideas, knowledge, and creations”, stated Xinran Yuan.

Laura Cocciolillo
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