[iDC] Off Topic: Defining networked art

Armin Medosch armin at easynet.co.uk
Fri Dec 17 07:30:20 UTC 2010


I think a similar approach to yours was tried by Simon Pope when he
curated the travelling exhibition Art for Networks in 2002. You can find
a review here: http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/67732
It has been quite a while ago and I don't want to misrepresent Simon's
views (you can find an interview here where he explains his intentions
but as far as I understood he wanted to establish a richer and
technology neutral understanding of networks; this at a time just a few
years after some artists who were seen at the time to be leading
net.artists had very publicly resigned. 

In my catalogue contribution I consciously focused on wrieless free
community networks to highlight the physicality and reality of networks
and that building networks _can_ be concomitant with building
communities (which is very different from saying that networks foster
communities which was one of the tropes of the 1990s). 

The problem with a technology-neutral view of networks and highlighting
just the processes and communications is that you are engaging only with
one specific layer, the top layer of symbolic exchanges and human
understandable meanings. Below that however are several other layers
which shape those communications insofar as they make possible certain
things and disallow others. By ignoring all those layers they become a
technological subconsious, a repressed which will return, demand its
right to be recognised. It is like you want to talk about the beauty of
mobility culture, i.e. cars without acknowledging that they are a
disaster for the environment in quite many ways. 

Similar to see mail art as a predecessor for net art is all well in a
certain sense but in another way it is a bit misleading. networks are
now near ubiquituous, you have them on your phone and on your computer,
you have them even in quite remote areas. networks and computation are
still the major driving engine of economic growth - which is something
you cant say of the postal networks of the 1960s-70s. For instance,
reading an article on Google recently in the FT the author pointed out
how it was Google's strategy to use the mobile phone operating system
Android to also get into people's homes, to become part of the
infrastructure of networked households. Now that's a viral strategy
which is absolutely really stunning as it is based on a dialectics
between being very small, very viral, just a piece of software, a widget
voluntarily installed by people on their own phones, and this being
brought together at the back end in giant data warehouses which harvest
ever more knowledge about people and their relationships. 

Now those net-entrepreneurs still understand the net much better than
any artists and theorists which is unfortunate because what they are
planning is both admirably smart and really evil and goes on unchecked
if people like us focus on producing beautiful ideas on the symbolic
layer alone. Castells made a big effort to understand the net but his
assessment is too optimistic and he fetishises the network form, so in
the end he is deterministic. Maybe the question will soon be how we
defend ourselves against networks, you know, skynet and all that ;-)


On Wed, 2010-12-15 at 22:18 -0800, 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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