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Despite its informal name, the living room has historically been something of a formal social space, used for entertaining and the ostentatious display of prized possessions. In her 2010 New York Times op-ed “Who Lives in This Room?” historian Joan Dejean traces this incongruity to the living room’s early nineteenth-century origins, arguing that it inherited many of the functions of the “grand salon” even as the home was reoriented around more everyday activities. She notes that this tension continues into the present, asking, “Why is it that the one room whose name honors everyday life is so often a place where we do as little living as possible?”

The living room has been the focus of much hi-tech reimagining over the years, but it still retains its nebulous, all-purpose status: part social gathering space, part living space. This all-purposeness made it the ideal site for a series of events initiated two years ago by artists Liat Berdugo and Elia Vargas. The duo used the living rooms of Bay Area artists and cultural producers to host monthly public conversations on new media, digital art, creative works in progress, and artistic practices, which were open to the public and attended by friends and strangers. The aim was to produce a kind of meaningful conversation that was lacking in more formal spaces such as cultural institutions and art centers.

In addition to a deeper sense of engagement, the informality of the setting allows the Living Room Light Exchange to bring a wide range of practices into conversation with one another. Over the course of two years, the platform was dedicated to makers, writers, and thinkers working in physical and digital spaces as well as conducting experimental research. In addition to sharing works in progress, the range of subjects cover everything from sound art, social media platforms as a medium, to performance pieces in their nascent stages. For example, artist and writer Nicholas O’Brien shared work on videogame design as a way of creating more conceptually driven and literary works. Other notable speakers have included artists Pamela Z and Chip Lord.

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Talking art and tech in Bay Area living rooms