network culture

Forced Exposure

Yesterday evening, I received the news that I my proposal for Networked (a networked_book) about (networked_art) was accepted. The other finalists who will be writing essays will be Anne Helmond, Patrick Lichty, Anna Munster, and Marisa Olsen. This is really exciting for me. I'm fascinated by the opportunity to let one of my essays loose to be rewritten by the networked art public. This chapter will also feed the work I'm doing for my book on network culture, so it's a good kick in the pants for me too. Thanks so much to Jo-Ann Green and Helen Turlington of Turbulence.org, all of the members of the advisory committee, and the NEA for their support of the project.

Below is my (very slightly edited) proposal. I'm thinking that I'd like to put the project on the net early on, to solicit all your input even as its being sketched out, so you're likely to hear a lot more about it soon.  

 

Forced Exposure:[1] Networks and The Poetics of Reality

Proposal

The real has come to dominate cultural production, both high and low (those categories are more blurred than ever, if not nonexistent)—from reality television to blogs to MySpace to YouTube to the art gallery. But the new poetics of reality is not the same as the old model of realism. First emerging in the eighteenth century—especially in the form of the novel—realism was part of a new fascination with everyday—as opposed to courtly or idealized—life that also manifested itself in the newspaper. Associated with this was the rise of the authorial voice, the seemingly objective narration of the novelist or journalist. Authors constructed a reality assembled according to codes of “realism” for the public. Today, however, both novel and newspaper are in rapid decline, losing sales dramatically. So, too visual art now turns to reality-based forms of production. The codes of realism are being replaced by new codes of reality, constructed around immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and the remix of existing and self-generated content, using readily-available technology to directly engage the audience. But when I discuss realism as coded, I do not mean to say that “reality” media is not coded. Throughout the essay I will identify the codes deployed in “reality” media, be it reality TV, amateur-generated content, or professional “art.”

It is crucial to expand the boundaries of this investigation to go beyond just art that is produced for a small net.art community to cultural production as a whole, high and low, online and not (if anything is not online today in some form). Thus, I am interested not only in what is on Rhizome.org but also what is on television, on YouTube, or in the gallery. Looking only to cultural production found on the Internet ghettoizes that cultural production, isolating and thereby limiting our understanding of the impact of networks and easily accessible, powerful digital technology on culture as a whole. Network culture is not limited to technological developments or to “new media” but rather is a broad sociocultural shift much like postmodernity was in its day. Writing merely about the impact of these technologies by looking only at networked art today would be like looking only at video art to understand the impact of the television. In other words, although maturing digital and networking technologies are inseparable from contemporary culture—as the spectacle of the television was from postmodernity—they must be read within a larger context.

Along with the broadening of the influence of networks and digital means of cultural production past the net.art scene, the turn to realism is very different from the sort of work done by the first net.art generation. Artists such as Vuk Cosic, Jodi, Alexei Sholgun, and Heath Bunting made art that (often deliberately) resembled the graphic and programming demos found on cassette tapes and in computer magazines of the 1980, before computers left the realm of user groups and became broadly useful in society. Instead, the impact of digital technology and networks is much more pervasive and diffuse. Mark Leckey, to take one example, would not normally be seen as a net artist, but his work is thoroughly informed by the cultural turn I am looking at. His goal, as expressed in the video for his Tate prize nomination, describes the poetics of network culture in a nutshell: “to transform my world and make it more so, make it more of what it is.” Over the last few years, amateur-generated content has proliferated on the Internet, particularly in video sharing site YouTube and photo sharing sites like Flickr as well as on blogs. This essay will examine the rise of amateur-generated content as a form of cultural production while reflecting on its use by artists like Oliver Laric, who treats amateur videos as found media loops, or Daniel Eatock, who directly solicits contributions from his audience and posts them to his site. In this genre, as in network culture as a whole, we can see a key difference from postmodernist art: instead of the postmodernist promotion of a populist projection of the audience’s desires, today we have the production of art by the audience, a further blurring of boundaries between artist and public. 



[1] The title is an oblique reference to Forced Exposure magazine and the earlier DIY ethic and informal networks of subcultures, which would be covered as “prehistory” of this piece. I’d be delighted if people recognized it, but since they probably won’t, this should alleviate the mystery:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_Exposure

 

in praise of trees

 

cell phone tree at hunter mountain

I went skiing at Hunter Mountain in upstate New York for two days this week. It was a long-needed break for my wife and myself. We had a great ski instructor, Peter Dunh,am, and after just a couple of hours instruction, were skiing the advanced slopes with confidence. And, just to prove that the Infrastructural City is relevant anywhere, the top of the mountain was marked by a cell phone tree.

Warren Techentin's essay on our new relationship with trees changed my view of cell phone trees. I've stopped thinking of them as cop-outs or disguises. After all, they rarely hide. Inadvertently, perhaps, the cell phone tower has turned from a disguise into something else: whereas the antennas of old symbolized the specialized nature of telecommunications in our lives, cell phone trees celebrate the augmented nature of our reality. 

Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary

University of Pennsylvania
School of Design
Department of Architecture
 
Architecture 712 006: Network Culture. The History of the Contemporary
 
Spring 2009
 
Professor: Kazys Varnelis
Lectures/Seminars: Mondays 9-12, Furness 306
 
Description
 
The purpose of this seminar is to introduce students to a historical understanding of the changed conditions that characterize our networked age. We will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather is a cultural dominant that connects changes in society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology. As a history of the contemporary, the seminar is organized around a series of topics tracing a genealogy of present-day culture.
 
Requirements
 
Participation: 20%
 
Each class will consist of a presentation by the instructor on selected themes, followed by an in-depth discussion in seminar. Students are expected to prepare all readings in order to facilitate a discussion in which all students participate. Active participation by all students in each session is required. 
 
Students will also be asked to keep a social bookmark diary of their research at http://delicious.com
 
Presentation: 30%
 
Students will present original research on architecture and network culture in week 11 of the course. Students will present either individually or in teams, depending on enrollment. Non-architecture students may make arrangements with the instructor.
 
Book: 50%
 
The term project will be a research book, exploring a topic related to the subject matter. The book will be an original study on a topic selected with the agreement of the instructor and should constitute a contribution to knowledge. Students should envision this as a potentially publishable work. Material should not be formulated as a traditional research paper, but rather students should tell a story through the designed and composed sequence of images and texts lead by an original narrative. The book will be designed as a printed, bound object and published through a print on demand service. Design is integral to the term project. Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure.
 
Reading
 
There is one textbook. Kazys Varnelis, ed. Networked Publics (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008).
Other readings will be available separately.

 

01
01.26
Introduction
 
Mizuko Ito, “Introduction,” and Kazys Varnelis, “Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, 1-13 and 145-163.
 
02
02.02
Network Theory
 
Manuel Castells, “Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.
 
Albert-László Barabási, “Small Worlds” and “Hubs and Connectors,” Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 41-63.
 
Nicholas Carr, “From the Many to the Few” and “A Spider’s Web,” The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149 and 185-210.
 
03
02.09
Freedom and Control
 
Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control ,” October 59 (Winter 1992), 73-77.
 
Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.
 
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,” http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-californianideology-main.html.
 
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control,” Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.
 
04
02.16
Fordism and Postfordism
 
David Harvey, “Fordism” and “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation,” in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.
 
Ash Amin, “Post-Fordism: Models, Fantasies, and Phantoms of Transition,” Ash Amin, ed., Post-Fordism: A Reader, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 1-39.
 
Antonio Gramsci, “Taylorism and the Mechanisation of the Worker,” in “Americanism and Fordism,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, (New York: International Publishers, 1980), 306-307.
 
Mary McLeod, “’Architecture or Revolution’: Taylorism, Technocracy, and Social Change,” Art Journal 43, no. 2 (Summer 1983), 133-147.
 
05
02.23
Postmodernism
 
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146  (July/August 1984): 53-92.
 
Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface,” in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983), ix-xvi;
 
Jean François Lyotard, “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” Postmodern Conditon: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1984), 71-84.
 
06
03.02
Place, I. Nostalgia for Non-Places?
 
Kazys Varnelis and Anne Friedberg, "Place: The Networking of Public Space," Varnelis, ed. Networked Publics (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008), 15-42.
 
Marc Augé, “Prologue” and “From Places to Non-Places,” in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.
 
Hans Ibelings, “Supermodernism,” Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.
 
Ignasi de Sola-Morales Rubió, “Terrain Vague,” Cynthia Davison, ed. Anyplace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 119-123.
 
07
03.09
Spring Break
 
08
03.16
Place, II. Maps and Things

Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things,”Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357–363.

Jordan Crandall, “Operational Media,” Ctheory, http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=441.
 
Bruno Latour, “On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications,” Soziale Welt 47 (1998): 360-81,translated version, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9801/msg00019.html.
 
09
03.23
Culture, I. Networked Publics and Production
 
Adrienne Russell, Mizuko Ito, Todd Richmond, and Marc Tuters, “Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation,” Networked Publics, 43-76.
 
Yochai Benkler, “Chapter 1. Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge” and “Chapter 4. The Economics of Social Production,” The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 1-28 and 91-127.

Geert Lovink, “Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse,” Eurozine (2007), http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-01-02-lovink-en.html

 
10
03.30
Culture, II. Dissemination and Influence
 
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, October 2004,  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html.
 
Clay Shirky, “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality,” Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html.
 
Optional
 
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Coolhunt,” New Yorker (March 17, 1997), 78-88, http://www.gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm.
 
Grant McCracken, “Who Killed the Coolhunter?” http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2006/06/who_killed_the_.html
 
Duncan J. Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodd, “Influentials, Networks, and Public Formation,” Journal of Consumer Research (December 2007), 441-458.
 
11
04.06
Architecture of Network Culture Festival
 
Student Presentations
 
12
04.13
Subjectivity
 
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008, 56-63.
 
Kenneth J. Gergen, “Social Saturation and the Populated Self,”The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.
 
Brian Holmes, “The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique,” Transversal,
 
Warren Neidich, “Resistance is Futile,” Artbrain. Journal of Neuroasthetic Theory 4, http://www.artbrain.org/neuroaesthetics/neidich.html.
 
13
04.20
Politics, Urbanism, and Globalization
 
Saskia Sassen, “On Concentration and Centrality in the Global City,” Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor, eds., World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 63-78.
 
Saskia Sassen, “Electronic space and power,” Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.
 
Stephen Graham, “Communication Grids: Cities and Infrastructure,” in Saskia Sassen, Global Networks. Linked Cities (London: Routledge, 2002), 71-92.
 
14
04.27
Conclusion
 

  

Wrong About Architecture

I was wrong.

Previously, I've suggested that the architecture of the last decade (the decade of the Bilbao-effect) did little to embody network culture and I thought it peculiar that the best examples of architecture that fits network culture are from the 1990s.

Over at Strangeharvest, Sam Jacob suggests otherwise and he is right.

I was wrong. The emptiness of the last decade perfectly embodies the period.

The punch-line (but do read the article):

Tomorrows visitors to todays (or yesterdays) iconic buildings will feel the swoosh of volumes, the cranked out impossibility of structure, the lightheadedness of refection and translucencies. They will marvel at buildings that hardly touch the ground, which swoop into the air as though drawn up by the jet stream. They will feel stretched by elongated angles that seem sucked into vanishing points that confound perspective, and will be seduced by curves of such overblown sensuality. And in this litany of affects they will find the most permanent record of the heady liquid state of mind of millennial abstract-boom economics. We might rechristen these freakish sites as museums of late capitalist experience, monuments to a never to be repeated faith in the global market.

Well said.

This is going to take a lot of unpleasant work to unpack from a historical perspective, but it's part of this year's book project.

finding the flexible personality

What am I trying to do with the network culture book? Very much what Brian Holmes sets out to do in his essay the Flexible Personality. Toward a Cultural Critique. This is one of the best things I've read in a while. In an era that undoes its historicity, it's more urgent than ever to understand the present historically. In an era that undoes critique, it's more urgent than ever to critique.

Make no mistake, I don't set out to sing the praises of network culture.

There are plenty of people who do that. Sure, there are tactical necessities to arguing against increasing restrictions of copyright or for network neutrality or in praise of amateur cultural production. Don't get me wrong on that, but let's not lose sight of the big picture. This isn't a happy ending for class struggle. Or did you notice that the über-class is getting richer and richer while we live paycheck to paycheck? As Deleuze wrote in one of his moments of greatest lucidity, "The coils of a serpent are even more complex that the burrows of a molehill." Most definitely. 

 

dispersion

I contributed a version of my essay on network culture to the catalog for Dispersion, a show currently on view at the ICA. I'm hoping to make it there before it closes, but do check it out if you're in London.

Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007. Courtesy the artist and Corvi-Mora, London.
Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007. Courtesy the artist and Corvi-Mora, London.

3 - 23, 27 - 30 Dec 2008, 2 Jan - 1 Feb 2009

Henrik Olesen, Hito Steyerl, Seth Price, Anne Collier, Hilary Lloyd, Maria Eichhorn and Mark Leckey.

Dispersion presents seven international artists who work with photography, film, video and performance. All of these artists explore the appropriation and circulation of images in contemporary society, examining the role of money, desire and power in our accelerated image economy – from the art market to the internet and art historical icons to pornography.

The works in Dispersion often take the form of archives, histories or collections, sometimes adopting an anthropological approach. In many cases, they are characterised by an interest in feminism and gender politics in the realm of sexuality and sub-culture. All the works however are informed by personal or idiosyncratic narratives, exploring the role of subjectivity in the contemporary flow of imagery and capital.

The title Dispersion is drawn from an essay written by participating artist Seth Price, which reflects on the role of 'distributed media' in avant-garde practice, from Duchamp to Conceptual Art. The exhibition has been curated for the ICA by Polly Staple, the recently appointed director of the Chisenhale, London and includes six gallery-based presentations as well as a special performance in the ICA Theatre.

more on then and now

 

My little experiment got a bit of attention on Archinect, but I can't say that the responses that contributed buildings (which is what I asked for, remember?) dredged up much work that I hadn't thought about. There's Siza and Zumthor, but that work is (how shall I say this in a nice way?) timeless. It doesn't engage with our contemporary era except by disengagement. I still recall a Zumthor lecture at SCI_Arc in which he said "I don't believe in images." That was the last audible line he had during his lecture. He proceeded to show very carefully taken photographs of his work and mumble the entire talk so that all we could do was sit and stare. He blamed the microphone (this too was audible, nothing else), but I was in the front row, directly in front of him! Prankster. 

Other good offices—such as FAT, Atelier Bow Wow, and Big—have appeared on the scene, but have not yet had their chance with the major commissions that might test their methods. Ana Maria Leon suggested that I should be searching for new forms of practice. That seems like a legitimate suggestion to me and I've often thought that's where the fertile thought lies. Still, I suppose it's possible to find alternative forms of practice throughout history. To name but three: there's Behrens's product design and branding at AEG, the Eames's furniture and films, and Archizoom's dystopian vision. Maybe we are in a longue durée of architects outside architecture? That would suggest that something strange has still happened.    

The significant architecture of the 1990s was often very much of its time, engaging with the world that it inhabited through architecture. I am thinking of Herzog and de Meuron's Central Signal Box 4 or Ito's Sendai Mediatheque or NL Architect's Wos 8 or OMA's Maison à Bordeaux or Herzog and De Meuron's Ricola or  MVRDV's WoZoCos or Sejima's Gifu Kitagawa or FOA's Yokohama Terminal or Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao. Many of these structures employed high technology or innovative design processes, but what really struck me is that they engaged with crucial issues of their day head-on: individual identity in a changing society, the role of technology and media, and the impact of globalization. 

I'm not saying that architecture breathed deeply of the Zeitgeist then and there is none now, but to me architecture in the 1990s was worth studying not just on its own terms but because it was capable of revealing so much about—and commenting on—our society. In that, it shared much with postmodernist.  Like it or not, postmodernist architecture was hugely significant culturally. Recall that Fredric Jameson, a literary critic, had to turn to architecture to understand postmodern culture. Architecture was at the forefront of cultural innovation then. So why is it that when I'm setting out to write my book on network culture, the architecture of our time doesn't have anything remotely resembling that kind of importance. I find this fascinating. I've done what I could to prove that it's my own fault, but failed to do that—in fact, my colleagues with whom I've discussed this offline over the last few years agree…and for the architecture fanboys out there, you'd be heartbroken to know that many of those include the very architects I suspect you're so enthused about. Architecture fanboys misunderstand yesterday's post as an attack on architecture. Rather, I was hoping to be proved wrong, but my suspicions were only confirmed. So now it's time for a postmortem: why did this happen? Is it an internal trajectory? Or is it external forces? Maybe societal conditions? Or some kind of interrelationship between these? This is what I have to puzzle out in the months to come.   

 

george orwell in the sentient city

Yesterday's New York Times reports on something I've been saying all along: that the sentient city is also a surveillance city and the digital trail we leave as we move through it allows corporations and governments to spy on us like never before. Yes, there's a chance it's all for our benefit. But for how long? See You're Leaving a Digital Trail. What About Privacy?

on postindustrialism and thinking dangerously

Two "posts-" occupy my thoughts this morning. First post-criticism. I've suggested that the models of thought operative in post-criticism are tied to the economic collapse, but as always, I'm interested in the need for post-criticism to have emerged in the first place. Post-criticism came about out of growing frustration with how critical theorists deployed theoretical impasse to prevent new thought. Tenured critical theorists, eager to safeguard their own positions by ensuring that a new generation would never achieve tenure-track, let alone tenure, found it profitable to argue that any new theories were insufficiently theorized one way or another. Only microhistories or inconsequential theories would be permitted.

Take for example, a relatively recent colloquium at Columbia, when I proposed to our esteemed visitor (who remains nameless to protect his naive innocence) that the reason that we don't periodize is because our culture has lost the ability to think of history temporally. He responded brusquely that periodization was simply wrong and that was why we did not do it.

At the same time he still talked about the "modern" and the "postmodern" or the "baroque" and the "renaissance"  as if these were somehow universal categories and not historical periods, that is products of historiography. His desire to extinguish any new theories—no doubt founded on the fact that he couldn't up with a single idea with any traction in the last fifteen years—had become so dominant in his mind that he was unable to see that he had become thoroughly uncritical.

No wonder the post-critical crowd ran.

Or take another historical problem. Many Marxists became flustered by the idea of post-industrial society (the second "post-" in my thoughts today). For one, they suspected the enthusiasm of many of its proponents, who suggested that traditional class relationships were being remade under it. They also didn't understand how post-industrial society could fit into their historical framework. After all, Marx didn't account for it. And, after all, post-industrial society still requires industrial production to reproduce itself, right ?

So now we have a problem. The theory doesn't mess with the reality. Most of us DO live in post-industrial societies. Take a look at the CIA World factbook's 2007 estimates of the composition of GDP in world economies

 United States agriculture 1.2% industry 19.8% services 79% 
 China agriculture 11.3% industry 48.6% services 40.1%
 Japan agriculture 26.5% industry 26.5% services 72% 
 European Union agriculture 2.1% industry 27.1% services 70%
 World agriculture 4% industry 32% services 64%

In not adequately addressing the consequences of a world economy that has long since left manufacturing behind as the dominant sector of production, we shortchanged critical thought on the topic.

What does it mean to be living in an economy that has subsisted on froth for three decades?

Now is not the time for theoretical impasse and microhistories. But can historians and theorists dig themselves out of this situation? The theoretical shut-down of history and theory mimics other conditions of stalemate in society (more on these in a later post), but historians and theorists can think outside that shutdown by thinking not just differently but dangerously. Let's see if we rise to the occasion. 

 

 

sometimes sharing is not caring


Mark Evans feels digitally inundated today. The massive amount of constantly updated information, particularly from the firehose of data produced by social networking sites from Delicious to Flickr to Facebook) is crushing him. He points to a post by Techcrunch blogger Eric Schonfeld (curiously, someone I knew in college) about Friendfeed in which Schonfeld similarly calls for help (actually he says "kill me now"). 

To be sure information overload is a major issue for us today. But here's another danger with the "new economy": as we've converted to a service economy, we've produced so much "experience" that we're massively overloaded. Not only are we overloaded by all these feeds, we're overloaded by experiences. We pile signature work of architecture atop signature work of architecture, smash movie on smash movie, fashion on fashion, gadget on gadget. But we're bored of it. Crisis in capitalism are typically crisis of over-accumulation: too much money has been made (not by you) and people stop spending. This crisis is a bit more complex, but make no mistake, there is massive over-accumulation out there. Apart from all the cheap junk produced in China by exploited laborers, there has been far too much experience out there. Please, we don't want anymore. In high school in the 80s, stuck in a rural community in Western Massachusetts, I was bored to tears by the lack of information around me. Connectivity, at that point, was over a 2600 baud modem so you can imagine how limited that was. Still, it was a lifeline. Today I can be endlessly amused until the end of my years by what's already available online, I don't need anymore. Sometimes sharing is not caring. 

I called the collapse of the real estate market years ago (some day I'll check to see when, but I'm pretty sure it was before Nouriel Roubini, no offense intended). I'm calling the collapse of the experience economy. Moreover, it has already happened.

 

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