Tag Archives: network realism

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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A case of network realism

This post contains spoilers–please stop reading if you think you want to try this application (and I think you should!)

Go to this site (http://www.tackfilm.se/) and upload a picture of yourself. Then come back and read further!

I encountered this site via Hanna Wyrman’s updates on Facebook on Friday. She kindly informed me that this was an ad to encourage Swedish residents to pay for their license and support public television (I’m assuming that it is the same system as the UK/BBC).

Here’s what happens: after uploading a photo (I think the point is to upload your own, playing the vanity card here), a film starts. Its esthetic is that of a highly edited news report, with high production values. The stage is set for a press conference, interspered with multiple shots of people getting together around various media, tuning in to the news in different ways. An identity is going to be revealed, and, quite predictably, the main speaker at the press conference pulls out a photo out of an enveloppe and, voila, there is your picture! YOU are this mystery person.

But then the fun starts, as the ‘reporting’ continutes. And the ‘hero’ is celebrated in the range of settings foreshadowed in the first part of the film. And, the fun part, the photo continues to travel and shows up across a wide variety of settings, from public to intimate, from institutional to counter-cultural, from commercial to private. In the process, it’s hard not to get at least a bit caught up in the iconization of the image that is going on.

Of course, this is a highly artificial pastiche of how images circulate and are valued. But this little interactive media production does capture something that I think is crucial to contemporary visual culture: the effect of the combination of circulation and reinscription of images in different settings, and a combination of digital and optical approaches to photography, which amounts to ‘network realism’.

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