Magda Tyżlik - Carver

Distributed art of invisible networks

Notes on network politics

Art and politics are not two terms that would be linked through some form of representation. They are constituted as such in the same knot of the visible, the sayable and the thinkable, in the same framing of a common space where some practices appear to be named “arts” and some matters to be viewed of as “political”.
Jacques Rancière, 2002

The intention of this text is to describe the conditions in which the network as a medium emerges. This article will concentrate on a reading of selected examples of network art and it will be driven by Rancière’s writings on politics of aesthetics. In particular I will focus on love_potion, a network artwork by Cornwall based artist group Glorious Ninth, and on the Department of Reading (DoR) which is a project initiated in 2006 by Sönke Hallmann at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. The question I am interested in is whether contemporary art can re-establish or express its connection with ethics? And what I want to look at is if this can be achieved through the space of the common which these network artworks seem to create.

Network art evolved from the early participation of artists in the growing telecommunication networks of the World Wide Web in the 90s, characterised by their limited accessibility and slow bandwidth. Internet art practices of the time were influenced by activist and hactivist (computer hacking + activism) approaches to the medium. The use of media as a tactical tool was defined in this way by Lovink and Garcia [1997],two artists/activists/theorists engaged in practice of Electronic Civil Disobedience:

Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap ‘do it yourself’ media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture. [1997]

Early Internet art of the 90s manifested itself in the works of such artists as Heath Bunting (UK), Olia Liliana(Russia), and Vuk Cocis (Slovenia), and in the offline environment of festivals and conferences such as Next 5 Minutes or Ars Electronica, mailing lists and online art communities such as nettime, THE THING, Syndicate,, etc. [Greene, 2004]

Network art follows also from relational art, which tried to re-establish the human bond in the changed social conditions of a globalised world. According to Nicolas Bourriaud [2002], who coined the term and explained the idea of Esthetic Relationell in his famous collection of essays, art practice of the 90s shifted the realm in which it operated from private, individual consumption of art to “intersubjective encounters” provided by art. Relational artists concentrated on production of “relations between people and the world, by way of aesthetic objects” [Bourriaud, 2002, s.42]. They proposed models of sociality and distributed them in galleries or museums, which according to Bourriuad revitalise “the place of visuality in the exhibition protocol, without belittling it” [Bourriaud, 2002, s.43]

Network art is also tied to the contemporary world of “post-material economies” [Terranova, 2006:30] defined through the concept of “immaterial labour”, which Terranova explains, following Lazzaratto, as “a political concept able to actively respond to the social transformation undergone by subjectivity in what have been called post-industrial, post-Fordist or network society”[Lazzarato, M. cited in Terranova 2006, s.28].

This new form of critical art today can be recognised by the fact that it takes place in many distributed locales, merging everyday activities taking place in “real life” with those which are enhanced by technology and Internet. Network art is a hybrid. It is a combination of sociality and technology, human relations mediated by internet based tools which allow communication, new and open models of participation and free and wide distribution, not only via telecommunication channels. It is art which uses network as its medium. This is the context in which I further discuss collaborative network art projects within which the connection between technology, sociality and mystery might suggest the possibility of reaching the ethical organisation of sensory experience that produces a politics of network aesthetics. This terminology derives from Jacque Rancière who discusses the connection between politics, aesthetics and ethics in the context of distribution of the sensible in The Politics of Aesthetics [2006a]. He characterises distribution of the sensible as the way in which forms of “what is visible and audible” and all that can be “said, thought, made or done” is categorised in the common. In the glossary of the terms available in Appendix 1 in the book, “distribution” refers to forms of inclusion and exclusion and the “sensible” is that which can be apprehended by the senses.