■ John Hopkins' comment
where is netart?
When invited to join this year's netart curatorial crew, I was
somewhat sceptical that such an exhibition -- with the attendant
baggage of dusty artifact carried by the traditional Art World --
would be a satisfying way to spend life-limited time when there are
always other things to be done. That and the continuous nomadic
movement that underlies my participation like a slippery mat,
allowing only sporadic concentration of my remote presence hunting
for and looking at network-based art and actually thinking about it.
However, collective curation with people who I knew were sensitive to
the contingencies of remote collaboration and very aware of the
limited understanding that the Art World has regarding net art makes
the project interesting. So what then? Do I trawl the now-vast
network for something brightly shining or sounding attractive? Eye
candies? A hopeless task. The only thing to do was to sift the
daily flow of content, during interstitial times when local presence
was not demanded -- that flow of information personally customized by
the networker to form a vital link with the remote macro-network --
while keeping the overall blast of data at a comprehensible level.
Not always possible: getting ever more difficult with each
spam-filled day. Especially given that the networker is not fond of
reductionist activities which concentrate attention on particular
In order to proceed at all in a project using the words "net" and "art," it is useful to start by reaching back into the recent past of
teaching for several proto-definitions which follow:
-- network -- a distributed and dynamic configuration of humans
engaged in dialectic and sustained exchanges of energy.
-- digital art - artifacts/performances enabled by or realized with a
-- (computer)net art - art(ifacts?) on the net (what's the net?)
Internet? Any technological network? Any human network?
-- web art - specific art(ifact?) located on the WWW (and possibly
interacting with that particular network dataspace).
-- networking art - art activities that take advantage of, or use the
concepts of, (human / technological) networks - use of those spaces
for active expression (creation of spaces for others to create in) --
networks which are an extension of socialized being.
Meditating on these definitions suggests certain defined spaces where
creative activities might take place or be placed. It also suggests
rather different forms of creative activity, or that even the concept
of classifying art by traditional material parameters might not aid
in the understanding of creative manifestations existing in networks.
The definitions perhaps eliminate much of what is considered as "art
on the net" -- those artifacts which are nothing more than extensions
of very traditional art forms: sound, static image, moving image, and
text. But what then is left beyond these apparently all-encompassing
One possible space beyond artifact is the set of creative practices
which, in their immediate operation, may be as ephemeral as presence
and being in the world.
Ping Melody, the winner of this year's competition, is as ephemeral
as life. Humans are constantly configuring and re-configuring the
architecture of the technologically-networked space of the internet
-- a space that is embedded in the greater dynamic social system of
human be-ing in the world. This constant flux of connection and
dis-connection governs the actual pathways in which energy moves
between individual humans when crossing this massive network. These
pathways may be traced in their momentary configuration via a
technique named after the sound that a war-time sonar system makes
when it senses reflected sound energy from an enemy vessel, a "ping."
"To ping" in the telecommunications sense is to send a small digital
signal out into the socially constructed human/technological network.
The ping is aimed at a particular distant point in the network, and
if that remote point is active, the signal is "reflected" to its
origin. Fundamentally, the pathway that the signal follows is a
direct expression of the momentary (and very much human) connectivity
of the network. Ideal networks are dynamic systems where momentary
state-of-being information is distributed throughout the network so
that any single point in the network contains information about the
whole network. Thus, a traced pathway through the network space is
an elegant expression of the momentary state of the entire social
network. Incorporating this state information into a live sonic
performance brings the richness of that dynamic state into
juxtaposition with the creative potential of the single human node in
the network, the artist. This is a network collaboration in its most
One of the runners-up works, Gridcosm, explores this participatory
space more explicitly, where there are several critical elements
juxtaposed: the concept and the programmers of the collaborative
space, the people participating and interacting in that defined
space, and the resulting artifact that spins out of the space.
It is precisely this interaction, a deep participatory action --
between the individual node and the collective human network -- that
makes both these works the epitome of net art by the definitions
But where is the actual art? Is it the concept? Is it in the
ephemeral traces, pathways through the network? Is it the
artifactual evidence of Gridcosm? Is it the programming code of the
"pinging" software? Is it in the live sonic performance? Is it the
idiosyncratic imagery of Gridcosm?
I leave those questions to be pondered be visitors to the netart
exhibition -- with the observation that networks are the site of
creative activity, networks are a means of creative production, and
that net art is about the dynamics of human connection.
Ukiah, California, 22.November.2004