Review – Networks: Cells and Silos

April 24, 2011

Knowing full well the time honoured beginnings of my review, Oxford dictionary in hand, preceded by everything that has gone before me and with a sense of reckless abandon, I want to define network. A conjunctive term, it is comprised of net and work.

Net

  1. An open-work fabric made of twine or strong cord, forming meshes of a suitable size, used for the capture of fish, birds, or other living things.
  2. An open fabric of mesh-work (as in sense 1, or of other materials), used for such purposes as covering, protecting, confining, holding, etc.

Work

  1. Something that is or was done; what a person does or did; an act, deed, proceeding, business; in pl. actions, doings (often collectively = 3). arch. or literary in gen. sense.
  2. Something to be done, or something to do; what a person (or thing) has or had to do; occupation, employment, business, task, function.

Combining the two, it is a net that does something, that has a purpose. Logically, the very first definitions of network follow this line of thought. Relatively recently, it has come to be associated with the advent of a number of technologies, particularly the transmission of information through the broadcast of radio and television, fixed line and mobile phones and of course the most pervasive of all, the internet.

The definition of network implies a certain mesh-like aesthetic, lines that link points, or wires and waves that link nodes. In a modern, technological context, to spatialise or figurate the network is to give form to an invisible or implied structure. Some of the pieces in the exhibition lend an immediacy to this interpretation, particularly Sandra Selig’s heart of the air you can hear, Kerry Poliness’ Blue Wall Drawing #1 and Koji Ryui’s Extended network towards the happy end of the universe.

Before proceeding any further, I want to make a brief examination/interpretation of the subtitle; Cells and Silos, in the context of the exhibition. Cells, in a biological sense are the building blocks of life, the absolute unit of organic structures. Each is linked to the next, creating a structure. The boundary of each cell is a permeable membrane, allowing an osmotic interconnection between adjacencies. On the other hand, the silo is a structure that stores grains, where each grain is an individual unit, disconnected and isolated from the next. In the case of the cell, the structure is made from the individual units and conversely the silo is full of units, held together only by the employment of an external structure.

These somewhat reductive and interpreted definitions, establish a point of departure for more complex and nuanced projections. In the catalogue essay, Ned Rossiter and Geert Lovink describe the underlying structure of a network; “…the logic of networks is about relations not representations, processes not procedures.” The structure is very different to its manifestation. The network, as a model for relationships between people is inherently political and whilst not demonising its aestheticisation, they ask the reader to keep in mind a potential shift in focus; “…politics runs the risk of being displaced by aesthetics.”

With this in mind, it is precisely the job of art to aestheticise. In praxis, is it possible for art to display the invisible logic and process of the network, rendering it visible and sensory? The answer lies somewhere between the curatorial approach, the artists, their intentions, the viewer and their interpretation (which itself is an interesting network!).

The marvellous ambiguity of art means that anything can be interpreted and spun in any direction. The trio of aforementioned pieces, for me at least, are the most immediate and easily digestable in the context of the exhibition. I think that the more successful pieces have a foot in both camps, representing both cell and silo.

Aaron Koblin’s Flight Pattern shows a twenty four hour period of airline travel around the United States. Each flight is represented as a vector moving from departure to arrival point. The viewer can see and begin to comprehend the enormity of one day’s travel condensed into a brief, hypnotic minute. Each vector of travel could be consided a grain in the silo, and in reality, they are. Though on a screen, reduced to a moving line, each is a cell that generates a dynamic structure.

Masato Takasaka’s colourful and chaotic drawings were like a distant cousin of Daniel Libeskind’s Micromegas. When staring at the intially messy pieces, there are moments of structured and patterned order. Maybe this is what a network is, or layers of networks are, the viewer is only privy to a glimpse of what is occurring underneath.

Perhaps most successful is Natalie Bookchin’s Mass Ornament. Choreographing and aligning uploaded YouTube clips of people performing hundreds of similar movements, she shows people, undoubtedly informed by pop music culture, dancing on their own, yet potentially to the biggest audience in the world. At first glance, this seems to be in the category of silo, each person dancing in the physical isolation of their own homes, with no connection to anyone else. However, one should consider the way that Youtube works; anyone can watch, comment, and contribute to the site, there is an osmotic interconnection between each of these videos and users through commenting, linking, watching, replying and posting. From whatever point/s that it started, these processes start to create an structure, evolving from silo to cell.

I don’t think that the pieces exhibitied in Networks; Cells and Silos have answered the ‘big questions’ that Rossiter and Lovink have postulated, though to be fair, it wasn’t the purpose of the show. Where communications between people through virtually any type of media is increasingly being rendered visual, moving beyond the written word and trying to keep up with the pace of technological innovation, the exhibition is a like a small cell (or silo) in which to draw breath, and take stock. Which posits one final question: Why, given the content and curatorial aspirations of the show, was it limited to a physical, small gallery, on the perimeter of an Antipodean city?

A_M

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