When an innovative artist hears the word "programming," it means events—exhibitions, lectures, workshops. When an innovative engineer hears "programming," it's a synonym for the act of coding. Artists and engineers don't even speak the same language. But if they did, would it make a difference? Would they find that they actually want to do similar kinds of work in the world, and all they needed was translation? That's what Susie Lee and Hsu-Ken Ooi wanted to know. So the artist and the Decide.com cofounder created an event last month that brought together 10 artists and 10 technologists to have 100 conversations over the span of two hours, with live-tweeting "chaperones" (of which I was one).
"I'm live-tweeting the 'speed dating' event at Project Room Seattle, where techies meet artists and the world's probs are solved" was how chaperone Brangien Davis described it. Issues raised included: how to receive the Japanese tsunami debris washing up on the West Coast (tourism to explore/commemorate? Sculpt it?), whether boredom is dead, how to design 2-D experiences that direct people back into the physical world rather than act as unhealthy escape hatches, how it feels when you get hold of an idea, what causes things to go viral, whether it's harder than it used to be to do something new, what it means that feel and smell are missing from technology, whether code is a living thing, and the meaning of competence.
A few fine tweets: "How could we measure and quantify the impact of a piece of art on our likelihood to be activist?" (Jenifer Ward). "The milliner and computer scientist eyeball one another knowingly" (C. Davida Ingram).
The event didn't solve the world's problems, but it generated ideas and energy and will be followed by a second date ("Dinner and a Movie," though it will include neither) on July 11, when the group will choose a problem to tackle collectively and begin. Anyone is welcome to join.
The venue, the Project Room, is significant. While small, new, conventionally structured galleries (display objects, sell objects) continue to rise up to support artists' more concrete efforts (most recently, True Love, Prographica, Blindfold, LTD., Prole Drift), the nonprofit Project Room is distinguished by its broad-mindedness and measured, quarterly pace. Jess Van Nostrand opened the Capitol Hill storefront last year after curating exhibitions at Cornish College of the Arts. She didn't want to just organize shows. She wanted to tackle big questions over extended periods of time from multiple perspectives. Invited artists spend days working there with public open hours, thinkers talk there, authors sit there around a table and cut up books to make new ones. All things cultural are displayed, made, and discussed, then further explored on a blog called Off Paper edited by the multitalented Ward (soon to be interim provost at Cornish).
The opening of the Project Room comes at a time when there are precious few alternative or nonprofit art centers left in Seattle. As stalwart Pioneer Square dealer Greg Kucera said recently of Lawrimore Project, which closed its doors on June 30 after six years of attempting to expose and expand on art-gallery-business-as-usual, "People don't understand what [Scott Lawrimore] was trying to do. He was trying to change the gallery model itself." The Project Room carries on the spirit of change that's always been part of art, but struggles to find places to alight when money gets tight.