What is network(ed) art?

So…the writing and research process continues on…

I have not had the amount of time I would like to focus on this. I have been teaching 2.5 courses this term, all with new content. However, I did present at the International Digital Media Art Association conference in early November and exhibited artwork there as well. I was also informed that my SSHRC proposal made it out of the department for review, so that’s good news. Then there was the writing of 2 papers for presentations I will be doing at CAA in February.

Back to the PhD….
I still have to revise one of my comprehensive exam papers as well as continue to draft my dissertation research proposal. I have a meeting set up in January with my committee and I’m not sure how it’s all going to get done by then.

I have been mulling over the input I received at my last committee meeting in October and am now shifting my research focus (my main questions and approach) back to where it was in the summer, yet still informed by all of the ideas I have done since then. I think I was under some false impressions from my first committee meeting in the Spring when it seemed that I could basically make this all about art, as opposed to education….but now I’ve been reminded that this is an education degree, working from within the social sciences. Thus, I can’t just focus on art and then merely point towards implications for education….so I’m shifting back again in order to refine my methodology more.

I really need a pep talk at this point…and several pats on the back 🙂

Now, this is where you come in — well, anyone who might be reading this who has an interest in networks and art — or, if not, then this will basically exist as a digital archive of my mental brainstorming process…

I have been delving into philosophy and art history to get to a better understanding of the meaning of “network” in art. Now, here’s the longer version of the question:

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 for the 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”)

What is even more confusing is that amongst conversations within my dissertation committee I’ve been told that the notion of “network” is actually not heavily dependent on “internet,” considering the long history of network associations before the internet. However, I question if those outside of academia feel the same way today. Speaking as an artist who teaches art at universities and colleges, I feel that “networked art” is immediately associated with digital and new media.

Thoughts? Opinions?

Here is one of my comp papers from the summer that provides more background to what I’m talking about (this is the one that has all the ‘meat’ in terms of notions of network in both art and learning). It is definitely a draft of something that would need to be edited before publishing since there is a bigger division than I would like between the ‘art’ and the ‘learning’ sections. It could actually turn into a few different papers. This other document is a recent two-page proposal for a SSHRC scholarship that attempts to apply these theories to a more ‘doable’ project focused on a couple of Canadian art projects.


Filed under with/in process

6 responses to “What is network(ed) art?

  1. I think the questions in red are really good ones, especially the first. Rather than search for a strict definition though, I would put limits on it, saying that it’s everything within a particular domain. That way you can kind of visualize where the boundaries are. But what’s networked/net/internet art? I think you already seem pretty certain that those are all different things. If I were to venture a few thoughts though (And I throw a few books in there not to name drop, but just to give a sense of where I’m coming from. Maybe you’ll find them useful too)….
    1-I think networked art redefines the relationship between “art” and the actual art object, be it textual, visual, performance…whatever the medium, I think networked art has the potential to explore artistic commitment, as well as the huge data set comprised of the artist’s experiences, values, and ideas that s/he has accumulated through their life. In that sense, art is the event of creating it, rather than the creation itself. John Berger’s ways of seeing got me thinking a lot about how we approach art objects, and Umberto Eco a lot re: literature. Check out this cool project I found in Argentina called <a href=Bola de Nieve (snowball) which tracks relationships between working artists in the Southern Cone.
    2-The above being given, network art begins to see the artist less as an individual, and more a node in a nexus. Networked art, then, has the potential to explore has values, judgements, decisions, intentions coarse through a network, acquire shape and form, and then die off or transform into something else. The experience for the viewer is not only being blatantly shown something on a meta sort of level, but ideally thinking about their formation and perseptive as well. No one influenced me more in that line of thought than Foucault, who refers to the body as a battlefield of ideas. Again, we see more an event, a constant conflict where ideas change upon contact with one another.
    3-Networked art isn’t necessarily participatory, but it’s definitely data driven, if not data dependent entirely (i.e., the artist has little control over what the final shape is, and it’s inevitably generative). All the networked art I’ve seen that incorporates data mining SMS or twitter feeds or search results suggests this to me. This opens up a still somewhat unexplored space as we create work that uses this information to create a new layer of connections and meaning out of, well, existing connections and meanings. I think anything that bestiario out of Spain and Lisbon does hits the nail right on the head in this regard.

    My two cents. Thanks for starting the conversation, and to that sage Bruce Sterling for bringing your blog to my attention.

  2. Thanks so much for responding to my inquiries, Adam.
    I’m going to have to spend some time thinking about these ideas, and, of course….they will indeed be helpful to me! Please feel free to comment more if you like or to send me an email. I’m really glad you found this blog as I have a feeling it might turn in to a reflexive document of my research process over the next year or so….or for however long it takes me to finish the PhD! I’m also considering setting up a separate blog just for these purposes as part of my methodology. I hope we can keep the conversation going…

  3. Read responses to this inquiry on the mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity > http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc/1963?set_cite=hide
    * if you do not want to subscribe to the list, check out a sample of current discussions here: http://www.collectivate.net/idc/

    Read discussion “defining network/ed in art” [NetBehaviour] listserv http://www.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/ (see December 14, 16, 17, 18 / 2010)

  4. Relevant links from the above conversations:


    Brian Holmes blog (third section – Vittorio Baroni)

    Marco Deseriis article (what is a network, inter-generational definition of what is a network, extending boundaries of techno-determinism)

    Net Aesthetics 2.0 panel (2008)
    write-up > http://www.artfagcity.com/2008/06/12/net-aesthetics-20-the-long-of-it/
    following panel > http://www.tommoody.us/archives/2008/06/07/internet-aware-art-emotions-in-net-art/

    Art for Networks travelling exhibition (2002)
    review > http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/67732
    interview > http://sites.google.com/site/ambulantscience/Index/texts

    Locative media art in relation to the notion of networked art
    Hudson, D., & Zimmermann, P. R. (2009). TAKING THINGS APART: LOCATIVE MEDIA, MIGRATORY ARCHIVES, AND MICROPUBLICS. Afterimage, 36(4), 15-19.

    Seeta Peña Gangadharan article
    Mail Art: Networking without Technology

  5. Pingback: Data as Medium | Dialogical Balance

  6. Pingback: Rigorous definitions of network art. | Beyond the Beyond | Wired

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