[iDC] Off Topic: Defining networked art

Heidi May mayh at ecuad.ca
Thu Dec 16 06:18:15 UTC 2010

What is network and/ or networked art?
The main question is quite simple, but as you will see I have been
delving into philosophy and art history to get to a better
understanding of the meaning of "network" in art:

For the past several months I have been thinking deeply about this. I
spent the summer working on comprehensive exam papers for my current
PhD program, in which I defined for myself a definition of networked
art that I felt was perhaps a challenge to the mainstream notion of
“network”. Without getting too much into the literature I based this
on (ie. Jean-Luc Nancy), I argued that by using the word network, the
Internet itself is predominant over any other associations we might
have (see Sack, 2007 on “network aesthetics”) and that if artist
educators focus more on what emerges within the relations and
processes of a network, such as with Internet art, then we can perhaps
gain new understandings of network culture that reflect more the
sociocultural aspects as opposed to just the technological aspects. I
refer to Fluxus practices, most specifically mail art, and the ideas
explored by George Maciunas and Robert Filliou, connecting this to
later relational art and participatory art practices. My interests
pertain to aspects of what I am calling “relational learning,” thus I
see these networked forms of art to be significant...yet not just in
terms of individuals collaborating, but most importantly on the
emergent knowledge that occurs in these processes.

Within my recent writing, I suggest that we need to expand our
understanding of networked art in order to obtain new understandings
of network culture. I have been defining “networked art” as the

“...practices not based on art objects, nor digital instruments, but
on the relationships and processes that occur between individuals
(Bazzichelli, 2008; Kimbell, 2006; Saper, 2001)....Networked art,
sometimes described as participation art (Frieling, Pellico, &
Zimbardo, 2008), consists of multiple connections made through
generative processes, often, but not always, incorporating digital
technology. In many cases, the production and dissemination processes
become the artwork itself.”

“....New understandings of network culture may require us to
understand that technology enables social and economic activities, as
opposed to something that determines society (Castells, 2001). This
research will examine how art addresses aspects of network culture, in
terms of it being a sociocultural shift that is not limited to digital
technology (Varnelis, 2008)...By employing a broader understanding of
the notion of network within analysis of networked art, this research
aims to provide deeper understandings of network culture...”

But after sitting with these ideas for awhile now and being confronted
with needing to write a research proposal, I’m in the doubting phase
that I think all graduate students go through. Is it really possible
to use the term “networked art” in the way I would like to without it
immediately conjuring up digital practices alone? (even though I
acknowledge this in my argument) Am I just confusing things by saying
that I am indeed interested in Internet art practices but only aspects
I have defined above, and particularly in cases of artists who
are interdisciplinary vs. strictly “digital”? Do people think about
the differences between “network art” and networked art” the same way
they might have distinguished between “net art” and “net.art”? In my
writing, I opted to go with “networked” over “network” because there
is more emphasis on being within a process (verb. vs. noun), but now
I’m starting to regret that, thinking that “networked” might clearly
imply dependence on an electronic system whereas a “network” might
allow for more human connection. (For those who are familiar....I am a
bit torn between Craig Saper’s (2001) use of the term “networked art”
and Tom Corby’s (2006) use of the term “network art”)

To make matters somewhat worse, I've been told by someone I respect in
this area that the notion of "network" is not heavily dependent on
"internet," considering the long history of network associations
before the internet. But this is someone who is quite knowledgeable of
network notions in academia and English literature, and I question if
those outside of academia feel the same way today. Speaking as an
artist who teaching art at universities and college, I feel that
"networked art" is immediately associated with digital and new media.

Thoughts? Opinions?


Heidi May


Instructor, Emily Carr University of Art + Design. http://www.ecuad.ca/people/profile/14163
PhD student, University of British Columbia. http://edcp.educ.ubc.ca/

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