[iDC] Off Topic: Defining networked art

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Thu Dec 16 15:53:53 UTC 2010

I like this genealogical definition of network art very much, 
particularly its roots in the work of Robert Filliou and the mail 
artists. Imho it's the untold prehistory of the organizational forms and 
intrinsic sociability of the information age. I always wanted to write 
about such topics in the exquisite detail that you're clearly headed 
towards, but all I got in the end was the third section of an omnibus 
essay about, well, everything under the sun (plus vampires in the 


If you look in that third section you'll see that in 1992 the mail 
artist Vittorio Baroni made "networking" into the trunk of his "Organic 
Tree" of multiply authored art forms. The "ing" may be the way for you 
to go, Heidi. To my ear and eye, "networked" is ineradicably associated 
with a slew of cables running under the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. At 
this point it is difficult to even remind people that there was history 
before Facebook, so you're right, there's an issue with the vocabulary. 
I would vote for "networking," "networking art," "networking practices 
in art," and so on, with copious allusions to Filliou's "Eternal 
Network." But with any luck you will now get a rush of distributed 
creativity on this question, and when all the advice has been sifted you 
can tranquilly continue what looks like a great great project!

best of luck with it, Brian

On 12/16/2010 12:18 AM, Heidi May wrote:
> 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
> following:
> “...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?
> thanks,
> Heidi May
> ..................
> http://heidimay.ca
> http://postself.wordpress.com
> http://heidimay.wordpress.com
> 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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