Tag Archives: conference

Network realism in the States

Coming up: the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual conference in Indianapolis (28-31 October), the Reimagining the Archive conference at UCLA (12-14 November), and a two-week stay in San Diego (UCSD) in the middle. I’m looking forward to all three!

The first talk, in Indianapolis, will focus on the production, handling, and dissemination of images of art at the Rijksakademie for the visual arts in Amsterdam – a setting where new, networked technologies blend with existing documentation practices. I am interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s image database. In addition, I focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. And how do these documentation practices relate to other electronic settings and networks in which the images might circulate (artist’s website, Flickr, sites galleries, etc.)?

The talk at the science studies colloquium at UCSD will center around our project label “Network Realism:” a new form of visual knowing, taking place at the intersection of digital images and computer networks at the point where they purport to convey the ‘real’. I will discuss results from our fieldwork at four sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (an ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr as used by scholars who study street art. At each of the fieldsites, images are part of databases and circulate in complex electronic networks in ways that are not reducible to, but are intimately related to their digital format. The manipulation of digital images in networks enables other kinds of knowledge than those possible by physical co-presence with the objects represented.

At the  UCLA conference, our contribution will focus on networked knowledge and epistemic authority in the development of virtual museums, based on the fieldwork pursued at the Tropenmuseum. In light of the popular claim that new technologies will radically reconfigure existing socio-technical relations and dramatically alter the basis for scientific and scholarly authority, we will argue that it is important to draw attention to emerging forms of epistemic authority in relation to pre-existent institutional and infrastructural elements.

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Constructing the Flickr site (2)

A few days ago, I wrote about some of the conceptual aspects of creating our fields. In today’s post, I reflect on the nitty-gritty of identifying what is relevant, and on the potential conservatism of my approach so far.

Of the four case studies in Network Realism, three are already underway. Sarah de Rijcke has been doing fieldwork on the practices around digital images of the collection of the Tropenmuseum, and has just started fieldwork on the practices around the documentation of artwork at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, I’ve been developing fieldwork on the use of Flickr by researchers and curators who study street art. One of the important dimensions of the Flickr case is a relation to ‘research’ or academic work. This is partly to link up the project to other work at the VKS (which focuses on academic knowledge production). But the use of a resource such as Flickr by academics is also interesting in its own right, since it was not developed to support research: How does Flickr get inserted into academic work? How do academics present themselves and their work on this platform?

In developing fieldwork, I’ve tried a number of approaches. Most successful so far has been to identify researchers who work on street art and make use of photography. I’ve found these researchers from websites such as artcrimes, which has a section with l(inks to) publications and from searching journals, such as Photographies. From these, I have identified scholars doing relevant work. I’ve contacted them by email, and traced their activities on the web and in publications–and of course on Flickr. I’m also using citation patterns to identify, in a snowball way, other relevant academics. (For example, following Schacter’s publication ‘An Ethnography of Iconoclash’, in the Journal of Material Culture.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing these scholars about their work practices. (When Sarah and I travel to London later this week, we will take part in CHArt‘s annual conferece (Sarah’s abstract is here) and meet up with colleagues and informants (Edgar Gomez, Rafael Schacter, and maybe Lane DeNicola?).)

These past few weeks, as I have been constituting the field, I keep coming back to the question: what would it mean for Flickr to be used for research? At this point, I can’t look at a photostream, and say, yes, this is produced by a researcher, or this collection is linked to a piece of research, or look at the membership of a group and say, yes, this one has a high percentage of scholars and curators. And I can’t say either whether these would be meaningful questions. As I learn about what these scholars do and how they use Flickr (or not!), academic or research-oriented activities on Flickr will become increasingly visible to me.

This uncertainty about what practices would look like underlies the motivation for following this ‘successful’ strategy of taking scholars and publications as starting points. While starting from traditional output such as publications introduces a conservative bias in the way I’m constituting the field, I’m well-aware of this and will be interrogating the effects of this starting point as fieldwork develops, and in the course of the analysis.

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Data Riches and Visualization

Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. to present our work at the annual conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Here is a link to our abstract. The session we were in was organized by Catelijne Koopmans, National University of Singapore, under the title “Data Riches: The Practices and Politics of Exploiting Digital Data Sets’. There were lovely papers by Simon N. Williams, Cardiff University (on the democratic use of digital data in electronic public engagement), Catelijne herself (on how in practices of data handling notions of ‘riches’ are maintained, illustrated via the case of visual analytics), Corinna Bath, Humboldt University Berlin (on gendered orders of knowledge in the semantic web), and Martin HandAshley Scarlett, Queens University (on epistemic and ethical performativity of images in web-based photo-sharing practices). One of the session participants, Denisa Kera, wasn’t able to attend the conference, so unfortunately we had to do without her presentation on data realism of visualizations and application mashups.

Lane DeNicola was kind enough to act as session discussant. Lane works as a lecturer at a newly developed program in digital anthropology at UCL. He did a great job of tying some of the themes together that surfaced in our respective presentations. For our Network Realism project, the digitization processes Lane mentioned as a distinct point of intersection was indeed interesting. He gave the example of the British museum, where a high resolution scanner is used to make 3d visualizations of parts of the collection. These are not only used in the museum, but also for digital repatriation, where the vizualizations are offered for use by indigeneous people. As Lane argued, the process also raises the question of what exactly is left in the artifact itself that the BM wants to hold on to. Lane also raised the issue of the interface, what it does to data when it is presented in visual form, and how that relates to the interpretative power of the human. In addition, he noted that the terminology of data mining presupposes the ‘riches’ we refer to in our session title, while obscuring the interpretative process, and who controls production.

After the session, some of us talked further on how to pursue ethnographic work via networked interactions with our informants, and we discussed possible ways to stay in touch on the topic. There is of course much more to discuss and many more avenues to explore, as there were indeed interesting intersections between several of the presentations. This post is meant as a step in that direction, and as an invitation to all readers to share their thoughts with us.

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Databasing the arts

On Thursday 12 and Friday 13 November ’09, a conference will be held in London that seems very interesting for our project. It is organised by CHArt (Computers and the History of Art; Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London). This year’s topic is Object and Identity in a Digital Age. We hope to be presenting preliminary results from fieldwork at the Rijksakademie. In the paper, we analyze how artists and employees at the Rijksakademie invest themselves in practices of representation and documentation. We are especially interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s networked image database. Using recent STS literature on relational ontology (Marres, 2008; Mol, 2002; Stirling, 2008), we will argue that these entities are best understood as temporary outcomes of inter-related modes of engagement. In addition, we focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. When and how are art works recognized as such, do they get documented, databased? What purposes does the database have for different users/producers (i.e. resident artists, employees, visitors, curators, researchers)? How does the networked context in which the images function as digital representations, shape the status of art objects themselves? Is this status fixed or fluid? And how do these documentation practices relate to other electronic settings and networks in which the images might circulate (artist’s website, Flickr, sites galleries, etc.)? We expect that our ethnographic study of interactions with the Rijksakademie database will provide insight into the ways in which the images are produced, treated, and valued as things that can be acted upon in mediated, distributed contexts.

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Presentations at Visual Methods and 4S

We will be presenting on the project at two conferences in the Fall.  The first will be a presentation on the methodological approach we are developing, in a session organised byElisenda Ardévol and Adolfo Estalella, and with contributions by Sarah Pink (Loughborough University, UK),  Francesco Lapenta (Roskilde University, Denmark) as well as by the organisers. The title of our paper is Mediated ethnography and the use of digital and networked images, or ‘How to study ‘network realism’ as visual knowing’, and here is the abstract:

  • This paper conveys our methodological approach to the study of ‘network realism’. Network realism is investigated as a particular form of visual knowing around databases of images on the web. This approach was developed drawing on three bodies of work. With regards to visual knowledge, we use work in science and technology studies (Beaulieu, van Dijck,  de Rijcke, Daston & Galison, Hine); with regards to the study of visual material, we draw on visual anthropology (Pink, Banks, Edwards& Hart) ; and with regards to digital culture, we are inspired by scholarship on the cultural particularity of digital forms and of the internet (Elkins; Thurtle& Mitchell).
  • The project includes four different sites: Funda, a database of real estate in the Netherlands; Flickr as used by scholars of street art; the database of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam; and the database of the documentation center of the Rijksakademie for visual arts, Amsterdam.  We have developed an ethnographic practice in this project that embraces mediated interaction. This means that a range of forms of participant-observation is used in this project, including co-present and face to face interaction, observations of traces left by users in the various databases, and interaction with the various digital infrastructures.
  • This diversity enables us to examine four important dimensions of visual knowing:how these databases and the web form a networked context for users and viewers of these images; how images have an active function besides being ‘viewed’, since these databases configure images as interfaces to other kinds of information or to other kinds of activities; how images in these databases become involved in textual and visual practices, through tagging, commenting and annotating; how the use of these images is supported by a particular kind of materiality, (including screens, image file standards, html code, etc) and how these images relate to the collections of material objects at all four sites.
  • The presentation will contextualize and illustrate research on each of these four dimensions.

Our second Fall conference will be the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Sociat Study of Science, in a session organised by Catelijne Coopmans on “Data Riches: The Practices and Politics of Exploiting Digital Data Sets”.  We will speak on Network Realism as Engagement with Networked Databases of Images, and here are the main points from our abstract:

  • In contexts where visual representations are taken as evidence, debates around observation, knowledge and empiricism have always been complex. The development of infrastructures that enable new kinds of manipulation, interaction and circulation of images seem to further challenge their documentary role. Our paper will take as a point of departure the intersection of digital images and computer networks at the point where they purport to convey the ‘real’. It explores the ways in which digital images in networked contexts are produced, treated and valued as sources of knowledge about physical objects. Increasingly, such activities involve a new form of visual knowing that we label network realism. As part of the label, ‘realism’ draws attention to the way these images are involved in practices that are factual, material and consequential. The term ‘network’ invokes the novel contexts and practices around these images. Our paper conceptualizes and investigates this widespread but underexamined use of images, at the intersection of digital and networked technologies. We will discuss preliminary results from field work at four sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (an ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr as used by scholars who study street art. At each of the fieldsites, images are part of databases and circulate in complex electronic networks in ways that are not reducible to, but are intimately related to their digital format. The manipulation of digital images in networks enables other kinds of knowledge than those possible by physical co-presence with the objects represented. The ethnographic study of interactions with databases provides insight into the specific ways in which users and producers come to know through networked images, in contrast to other forms of visual knowing.

More details on the events page!

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