Networked: Forced Exposure

Kazys Varnelis

40 Fairfield Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
kazys@varnelis.net
http://kazys.varnelis.net

Forced Exposure: Networks and The Poetics of Reality

Abstract                 

This chapter begins with the premise that network culture is not limited to digital technology or to networks but rather is a broad sociocultural shift much like postmodernity was in the 1980s. In other words, although maturing digital and networking technologies are inseparable from contemporary culture—just as the spectacle of the television was from postmodernity—they must be read within a larger context. Looking only to cultural production found on the Internet ghettoizes that cultural production while isolating the impact of networks and digital technology on culture as a whole. For this chapter I am interested in how a poetics of the real has come to dominate cultural production, both high and low—and those categories are more blurred than ever, if not nonexistent—from reality television to blogs to MySpace to YouTube to the art gallery. To be clear, 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 life that also manifested itself in the newspaper. In the newspaper and novel, authorized authors delivered a carefully coded and assembled idea of reality to the public and later to the masses. Today, however, both novel and newspaper are in rapid decline and their codes are being replaced by new codes. In their stead are more direct forms of reality-based cultural production based around immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and remix using readily-available technology.  

Tags

Reality, Remix, Network Culture, DIY, YouTube, Myspace, Blogs


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 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, Heath Bunting made art that was (often deliberately) like 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 promoting a populist projection of the audience’s desires, today we have the production of art by the audience, the blurring of boundaries between artist and public.

This work has a specific context within a broader project I am devoting myself to during 2009. In 2005, I was senior visiting scholar at the Annenberg Center for Communication, working to coordinate a team of 13 scholars studying the topic of “Networked Publics.” I built a collaborative Web site for the project, now at http://networkedpublics.org, which comprised a blog, online articles, online video of lectures, and other material. On this site, we also launched a book project, in which we divided our group up into four teams and wrote chapters collaboratively online, using Writely (now Google Docs). We put the first draft of the book online and solicited comments on the text and incorporated those comments along with peer-review at MIT Press. Based on the positive reaction to my theoretical conclusion on network culture, in 2008 I began a book for MIT Press on network culture entitled The Meaning of Network Culture: A History of the Contemporary. In this book I will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather how the concept of the network unites changes in society, economy, aesthetics, and ideology.  

I expect to publish The Meaning of Network Culture as a peer-reviewed book at MIT Press and upload it the draft as it is written to varnelis.net, using online comments to augment the peer-review for the book. I have for some time engaged in simultaneous collaborative, online writing. I co-wrote the book Blue Monday written with Robert Sumrell using online collaborative software as well as the essays “Beyond Locative Media” with Marc Tuters, “Place: Networked Place” with Anne Friedberg and “Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps” with Leah Meisterlin. I have also engaged with dialogues with readers on my blog varnelis.net and at networkedpublics.org. So the thought of having an essay that could potentially be completely rewritten by readers fascinates me. Not only would the Turbulence grant allow me the time and resources to pursue this material for part of the chapter on poetics in The Meaning of Network Culture, I am very excited about the input that I could gain as a result. I should stress, however, that I fully intend this chapter to be expressly for Networked.

 



[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


Academic Work Experience                 

Columbia University, Director, Network Architecture Lab, 2006 –
University of Limerick, Ireland, Senior Lecturer, History and Theory, School of Architecture, 2005 –
Annenberg Center for Communication, University of Southern California, Visiting Scholar/Senior Research Associate, “Networked Publics” Group, 2005 – 2006
University of Southern California, Adjunct Faculty, Public Art Studies Program, 2004 – 2006
Southern California Institute of Architecture, Faculty, History and Theory of Architecture, 1996 – 2005
Visiting Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Art Center College of Design

Education

Cornell University, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. in the History of Architecture and Urbanism, 1988, 1990, 1994
Simon’s Rock College of Bard, Associate of Arts in Social Sciences, 1986

Books

editor, The Philip Johnson Tapes: Conversations with Robert A. M. Stern, (New York: Monacelli Press and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, 2008)

editor, Networked Publics, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008)

editor, The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles, (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2008)

co-author [with Robert Sumrell] as AUDC, Blue Monday: Stories of Absurd Realties and Natural Philosophies (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007), [introduction by Reinhold Martin]

in collaboration with Center for Land Use Interpretation, Points of Interest in the Owens River Valley, (Los Angeles: Center for Land Use Interpretation, 2004)

Online                 

http://www.varnelis.net, blog since 2000, outgrowth of personal Web site, started in 1995

http://www.audc.org, two-person, radical architecture/media practice

http://projects.audc.org/index.php/Main_Page, mediawiki site, alas not open to public contribution

http://docomomo-us.org, non-profit news site and database for which I am designer and infrastructure maintainer

http://networkedpublics.org, collaborative blog/online presence that I designed and maintained for online group, work on site lead to book

http://pavoni.varnelis.net, site for espresso machine, since 1996, built on basis of information sent to me via USENET.

Selected Essays 

“Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, http://networkedpublics.org/book/conclusion, reprinted in Polly Staple and Richard Birkett, ed. Dispersion (London: ICA, 2008).

“Simultaneous Environments. Social Connection and New Media,” Vodafone Receiver, September 2008, http://www.receiver.vodafone.com/simultaneous-environments

 

URLs of sample writing

[with Anne Friedberg] “Place,” Networked Publics, http://networkedpublics.org/book/place

[with Marc Tuters] “Beyond Locative Media,” Leonardo, special Pacific Rim issue edited by Soh Yeong Roh, August 2006, http://networkedpublics.org/locative_media/beyond_locative_media

[with Leah Meisterlin] “Invisible Cities. Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps,” Adobe Think Tank, http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/thinktank/tt_varnelis.html

Yes, I do realize that although these were truly collaborative (by the end who wrote what was indiscernable to me) these aren’t networked in the full sense of the word. I wish these essays had developed long comment threads or been open to editing. This seems to me to be a question of audience and I am eager to work in that process through Networked.

 


Kazys Varnelis

40 Fairfield Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
kazys@varnelis.net
http://kazys.varnelis.net

Forced Exposure: Networks and The Poetics of Reality

Abstract                 

This chapter begins with the premise that network culture is not limited to digital technology or to networks but rather is a broad sociocultural shift much like postmodernity was in the 1980s. In other words, although maturing digital and networking technologies are inseparable from contemporary culture—just as the spectacle of the television was from postmodernity—they must be read within a larger context. Looking only to cultural production found on the Internet ghettoizes that cultural production while isolating the impact of networks and digital technology on culture as a whole. For this chapter I am interested in how a poetics of the real has come to dominate cultural production, both high and low—and those categories are more blurred than ever, if not nonexistent—from reality television to blogs to MySpace to YouTube to the art gallery. To be clear, 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 life that also manifested itself in the newspaper. In the newspaper and novel, authorized authors delivered a carefully coded and assembled idea of reality to the public and later to the masses. Today, however, both novel and newspaper are in rapid decline and their codes are being replaced by new codes. In their stead are more direct forms of reality-based cultural production based around immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and remix using readily-available technology.  

Tags

Reality, Remix, Network Culture, DIY, YouTube, Myspace, Blogs


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 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, Heath Bunting made art that was (often deliberately) like 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 promoting a populist projection of the audience’s desires, today we have the production of art by the audience, the blurring of boundaries between artist and public.

This work has a specific context within a broader project I am devoting myself to during 2009. In 2005, I was senior visiting scholar at the Annenberg Center for Communication, working to coordinate a team of 13 scholars studying the topic of “Networked Publics.” I built a collaborative Web site for the project, now at http://networkedpublics.org, which comprised a blog, online articles, online video of lectures, and other material. On this site, we also launched a book project, in which we divided our group up into four teams and wrote chapters collaboratively online, using Writely (now Google Docs). We put the first draft of the book online and solicited comments on the text and incorporated those comments along with peer-review at MIT Press. Based on the positive reaction to my theoretical conclusion on network culture, in 2008 I began a book for MIT Press on network culture entitled The Meaning of Network Culture: A History of the Contemporary. In this book I will explore how the network is not merely a technology with social ramifications but rather how the concept of the network unites changes in society, economy, aesthetics, and ideology.  

I expect to publish The Meaning of Network Culture as a peer-reviewed book at MIT Press and upload it the draft as it is written to varnelis.net, using online comments to augment the peer-review for the book. I have for some time engaged in simultaneous collaborative, online writing. I co-wrote the book Blue Monday written with Robert Sumrell using online collaborative software as well as the essays “Beyond Locative Media” with Marc Tuters, “Place: Networked Place” with Anne Friedberg and “Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps” with Leah Meisterlin. I have also engaged with dialogues with readers on my blog varnelis.net and at networkedpublics.org. So the thought of having an essay that could potentially be completely rewritten by readers fascinates me. Not only would the Turbulence grant allow me the time and resources to pursue this material for part of the chapter on poetics in The Meaning of Network Culture, I am very excited about the input that I could gain as a result. I should stress, however, that I fully intend this chapter to be expressly for Networked.

 



[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


Academic Work Experience                 

Columbia University, Director, Network Architecture Lab, 2006 –
University of Limerick, Ireland, Senior Lecturer, History and Theory, School of Architecture, 2005 –
Annenberg Center for Communication, University of Southern California, Visiting Scholar/Senior Research Associate, “Networked Publics” Group, 2005 – 2006
University of Southern California, Adjunct Faculty, Public Art Studies Program, 2004 – 2006
Southern California Institute of Architecture, Faculty, History and Theory of Architecture, 1996 – 2005
Visiting Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Art Center College of Design

Education

Cornell University, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. in the History of Architecture and Urbanism, 1988, 1990, 1994
Simon’s Rock College of Bard, Associate of Arts in Social Sciences, 1986

Books

editor, The Philip Johnson Tapes: Conversations with Robert A. M. Stern, (New York: Monacelli Press and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, 2008)

editor, Networked Publics, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008)

editor, The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles, (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2008)

co-author [with Robert Sumrell] as AUDC, Blue Monday: Stories of Absurd Realties and Natural Philosophies (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007), [introduction by Reinhold Martin]

in collaboration with Center for Land Use Interpretation, Points of Interest in the Owens River Valley, (Los Angeles: Center for Land Use Interpretation, 2004)

Online                 

http://www.varnelis.net, blog since 2000, outgrowth of personal Web site, started in 1995

http://www.audc.org, two-person, radical architecture/media practice

http://projects.audc.org/index.php/Main_Page, mediawiki site, alas not open to public contribution

http://docomomo-us.org, non-profit news site and database for which I am designer and infrastructure maintainer

http://networkedpublics.org, collaborative blog/online presence that I designed and maintained for online group, work on site lead to book

http://pavoni.varnelis.net, site for espresso machine, since 1996, built on basis of information sent to me via USENET.

Selected Essays 

“Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, http://networkedpublics.org/book/conclusion, reprinted in Polly Staple and Richard Birkett, ed. Dispersion (London: ICA, 2008).

“Simultaneous Environments. Social Connection and New Media,” Vodafone Receiver, September 2008, http://www.receiver.vodafone.com/simultaneous-environments

 

URLs of sample writing

[with Anne Friedberg] “Place,” Networked Publics, http://networkedpublics.org/book/place

[with Marc Tuters] “Beyond Locative Media,” Leonardo, special Pacific Rim issue edited by Soh Yeong Roh, August 2006, http://networkedpublics.org/locative_media/beyond_locative_media

[with Leah Meisterlin] “Invisible Cities. Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps,” Adobe Think Tank, http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/thinktank/tt_varnelis.html

Yes, I do realize that although these were truly collaborative (by the end who wrote what was indiscernable to me) these aren’t networked in the full sense of the word. I wish these essays had developed long comment threads or been open to editing. This seems to me to be a question of audience and I am eager to work in that process through Networked.