Good to be swinging into the second week of the discussion. Thanks, Johannes and Annie for focusing minds on particular issues and questions. Also good to see we are beginning to see ‘concrete examples’ of network practice to discuss and evaluate. I will take a look a closer look at examples you offer, Annie, as well as work of other respondents and write in a later post. The main questions/issues you both raise seem to concern the usefulness or otherwise of thinking about networks-as-artworks, how to determine their success or failure and what role curating might have in these respects. These still seem to be areas needing conceptual clarification so we can move forward.
I think it can be useful to conceive of a network-as-artwork where production, distribution and reception integrate as closely as possible in the creative process. Typically, the institutional artworld conceives of these separately, often involving different agents of mediation: the artist being one, the curator being another, the critic and hypothetical ‘ideal’ spectator another still. This economy is well known of course and summarized usefully in Alloway, L. (1984) 'Network: The Art World Described as a System'. In: Alloway, L. 'Network: Art and the Complex Present'. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI Research Press, pp. 3-15. Hakim Bey has also equated increasing ‘degrees of mediation’ with corresponding interventions of Capital’ (Bey 1994. Available at: http://hermetic.com/bey/radio_se.html)
Clearly, this system places ‘artists in a submissive role’ as Clive notes and it's also not surprising that artists have regarded curating ‘as a very corrupt discourse.’ (O’Neill & Wilson, 2009. Available at: http://www.ica.org.uk/Emergence%20by%20Paul%20O'Neill%20&%3B%20Mick%20Wilson+17186.twl). More than this, I remember reading recently – but cannot locate the reference! – of an artist or curator who realised that while for Marx the issue was ownership of the means of production, their own preoccupation was with ownership of the means of distribution/reception or something like that. If anyone can help me re-locate that reference that would be great!
In any case, the case for the network-as-artwork becomes clearer when regarded from this position. The historical backdrop of the ‘dematerialisation of the art object’, which while a somewhat erroneous term, does expand possible interfaces of aesthetic exchange to encompass always increasingly accessible communications technologies as well as discrete, bounded objects of beauty, fax machines as well as paintings. The communications interface, just as a conversation, requires co-presence and co-production of the aesthetic experience. This sense is typical of the 1960s and found too in Allan Kaprow’s ‘no audience, only participants’ approach to the Happening (Kaprow 1968. Available at: http://www.ubu.com/sound/kaprow.html).
Much of this work clearly takes advantage of any and all communication technologies, especially those that could have global reach. Extending the capacity to be together in different places in the same liminal moment seems aesthetically to be the driver. There is an ‘aesthetics of distance’ here which actually depends on being separate from each other in space and time. The experience of this relationship, the intersubjective exchange across space and time, becomes itself the aesthetic ‘object’.
Manovich (2001) already points out that Benjamin defines aura 'as the unique phenomenon of a distance' (224) not of proximity. We shouldn’t necessarily assume an authentic desire to overcome physical, geographical separation between networkers: it is the romance of their geographical separation that becomes exotic and perhaps even an act of aesthetic love. Aesthetic experience, in my view and found I believe in Bakhtin, requires difference (non-coincidence) rather than synthesis of respective consciousnesses. Synthesis is often confused with empathy and thus thought of as an aesthetic event, where it is arguably more ethical. When the network-as-artwork ‘fails’ as Ken suggests and Johannes questions, is this failure understood in terms of aesthetic or ethical efficacy/sustainability? The difference between poetical and political economy?
These conditions all taken together mean arguably that Filliou and others becoming interested in the artist-networker position were in fact becoming engaged with curating. I was struck with Clive’s view that ‘curating (caring for) the network (as mutually authored projects) made sense as an artwork’ which was very well put. I like this because it refers to curating as an activity as opposed to a job or career. I think Filliou and other networkers (e.g. H.R Fricker and ‘The Decentralised Network Congress’) were behaving curatorially in setting/integrating the context of production, distribution, reception as an ‘open system’ in which to participate.
Two useful views on rethinking curatorial activity in the context of network-as-artwork:
For artists, Paul O’Neill again:
“The term “artist curator”, which once simply referred to exhibitions curated by artists, is applied by [Gavin] Wade to those practitioners using exhibition design, architectural structures, and curatorial strategies as a way of presenting themselves, alongside other artists, to create composite public outcomes”.
O’Neill, Paul. (2012): The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s). MIT, p. 105
And for curators, CRUMB’s very own Beryl and Sarah:
“Curators who are truly interested in the decentralised, dematerialized activity of network-based arts have tried to change their curatorial tactics to be more in line with the artists, even if that means being increasingly misaligned with the traditional institutions for the presentation of art.”
Cook, Sarah & Graham, Beryl. (2010): Rethinking Curating. MIT, p. 84
Rethinking relationships between production, distribution, reception (or at the risk of more hyphenating: production-as-distribution-as-reception, etc., etc.) is important and should welcome interventions from any perspective of hybridity and indeterminacy.
Hope I’ve explained my grounds for asking the question better!
Best wishes all,