EYEBEAM CELEBRATES 1OTH ANNIVERSARY: by Leah Hansen, May 17th, 2007

On the occasion of Eyebeam’s 10th anniversary celebration and benefit, the “Celebrity Media Mash-Up Tenth Anniversary”, arriving guests received electronic communication devices, created by networking specialists nTag and Dirt Party. The devices resembled television remotes on a string and guests wore the gadgets around their necks. Hold two up to each other, and each wearer’s name would appear on the device’s screen. By the end of the night, guess could tally up how many “friends” they’d made. Thus was created a digital social network that facilitated socializing—a more immediate and effective MySpace.

And herein lies Eyebeam’s auspice: a heavy emphasis on audience participation, as evidenced by its offering of classes, the cooperative art on display at the party, and previous projects such as Evan Roth and James Powderly’s electronic graffiti. Senior Fellow and advisor Cory Arcangel cemented this notion with his later statement that he didn’t believe in the idea of The Artist being a solitary genius. Eyebeam not only facilitates new digital media, but also allows such media to be shared and even tried out by the masses.

As guests ventured further into Eyebeam’s space, they were confronted with work created by artists-in-residence and fellows. All the art on display required audience participation. Cory Arcangel’s “I Shot Andy Warhol” video game, for example, allowed players to wander a Super Mario-esque world, taking aim at Warhol with a plastic gun while avoiding such uncanny characters as the Pope, Colonel Sanders, and Flavor Flav.

Similarly, Steve Lambert’s “Simmer Down Sprinter” looked like a regular two-person arcade racing game. Lambert himself appeared on the screen, jogging around a track, sporting a bushy beard and goofy running uniform. In place of traditional foot pedals, fingertip sensors tracked players’ blood flow, and racers had to relax to win. Get too stressed out, and Lambert would start running backwards. Lambert and his crew spent the evening wandering around in red tracksuits to match the game.

Other artists and Eyebeam employees wore hot pink and purple wigs. The colorful hair matched a photo booth that, for $5, printed Polaroids that looked like they’d been drawn in neon. Further installations included large screen projections of tabloid papers featuring photos taken at the party (“tabloid karaoke”) and an outdoor green laser “drawing” on the façade of an opposite building.

From 7 to 8:30pm, ticket-holders were served cocktails and dinner in a plush lounge area. At 8:30, the night’s entertainment began with an introduction by Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show’s “Middle-East correspondent”), in which he teased Eyebeam for its perplexing self-description and the presumably few people who understand it. He continued with cracks about the Middle East, appropriate given that the anniversary celebration also served to honor Arianna Huffington and Lawrence Lessig, two champions of free speech.

Eyebeam’s director emeritus Jonah Peretti followed Mandvi with the comment that he “wasn’t 100% sure exactly what Eyebeam is either,” but went on to explain that it’s


“…like a research lab, but doesn’t have the stuffiness of academia, so you can do research on projects, but don’t have to worry about tenure and politics. It’s like an arts collective, but arts collectives usually are in warehouses with no resources, and Eyebeam has 3-D printers and laser cutters and high tech tools for artists to use. And it’s like a think tank, but instead of just thinking about ideas, you do things in the world; you can make things and put them out there, have intervention, have an impact.”

As festivities wore on, Eyebeam’s speakers continually brought up the fight for freedom of expression. Founder John Johnson referred to an eroding circle of free speech and went on to say that Eyebeam promotes freedom of the arts. He introduced Arianna Huffington, who was being honored for her role in preserving artistic freedom. Huffington was unable to attend due to an eye injury, but accepted her honor via video. Her next project will be called “Off the Bus,” and consists of hiring volunteer journalists to cover the next election, in the hopes of avoiding the partisan pandering so entwined with mainstream media.

Later in the night, guests enjoyed music by DJ Spooky and DJ N-Ron Hubbard, rapper Juice Boxxx, and DVD spinning group Eclectic Method. The couches spread throughout the lounge area left little space for moving, but some guests made their way to the stage to dance, including Eyebeam’s spry founder, Johnson.

As the party wound down and guests began to leave, the walk outside gave them another look at the aforementioned green laser. A giant smiley face doodle, brightened by the late night dark, bid farewell. For an organization so hard to define, Eyebeam’s lasting impression is unusually clear and optimistic: openness to new ideas, devotion to public art and freedom of speech. As artist Chris Sugrue told one guest, “Eyebeam is one of the few places where people come in with preconceptions and end up with collaborations.”