Processes, Relations, and Situations: Expanding Understandings of Networked Art
My research examines notions of network and learning in the production, dissemination, and reception of contemporary art. The relational aspects of a network are often overlooked in a society that has become dependent upon the electronic information systems of the Internet – the network of all networks. I propose an understanding of “networked art” that is not based on art objects, nor digital instruments, but on the relationships and processes that occur between individuals (Bazzichelli, 2008; Kimbell, 2006; Saper, 2001). Through qualitative research that employs hermeneutic methods of aesthetic analysis, I explore how networked art might make available new understandings of network culture, and what networked art can contribute to ideas of teaching and learning.
Theoretical Framework and Context
Understanding art today requires a conceptual shift away from the aura of the art object, to the encounter with the artwork and an acknowledgement of the social relations produced from this experience (Bishop, 2004, 2006; Bourriaud, 1998/2002). 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. Contemporary art practices like networked art share conceptual overlaps with current discussions about pedagogy, particularly those that encourage interactive and collaborative methods of meaning-making. Complexity theory in education embraces a multilinear experience of learning in which teaching and learning is described as moving away from the concept of one individual passing established knowledge on to another, to the concept of collectives elaborating emergent knowledge (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2008). The notion of emergent knowledge has been extended beyond complexity theory and applied to an understanding of knowledge termed “temporal epistemology,” a quest for knowledge that is not based on developing accurate understandings of a finished reality but rather, “discovering more and more complex and creative ways of interacting with our reality” (Osberg, Biesta, and Cilliers, 2008, p. 215). In the history of relational art practices, representations of reality are replaced with performative creations and active negotiations with reality (Patrick, 2010). In this research, I embrace a theoretical framework of temporal knowledge to explore how we might engage with networked art in an attempt to better understand our relationships with/in network culture.
Networked art practices often utilize the connective possibilities of the Internet. Since its beginnings, the Internet has served as a space for artists to create and disseminate work, and continues to be used by artists critically engaged with new media and social practices. This research will examine the use of the Internet within contemporary art, but will focus on the meanings that emerge in and between the multiple relations produced, as opposed to the digital characteristics usually discussed. 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 today addresses aspects of network culture in terms of it being a sociocultural shift and not something limited to digital technology (Varnelis, 2008).
My research methodology is a hybrid of interpretive and constructionist methods that integrates hermeneutic processes of understanding aesthetic encounters (Davey, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2007) with information gathered from active interviews (Holstein & Gubrium, 2004) and narrative inquiry of artists and educators. I will engage in active interviews with a selection of networked artists whom also teach within university and college art programs. The conversations will be used to inform my theories of the relationship between art and learning.
This project argues that art school education may better reflect cultural production in a network society if the teaching and learning of art incorporates the multilinear relationships that are formed in networked art practices. Ultimately, this research contends that contemporary art has has the potential to reconfigure our understandings of network culture.
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