Networked Art Forms and Tactical Magick Faerie Circuits (NAF:TMFC) was a series of events inspired by computer culture. The project was developed by Hobart-based artist organisation Miss Despoinas and presented at Contemporary Art Tasmania (formerly CAST Hobart), and broadcast on radio and the Internet. Artists, programmers and thinkers whose work responds to the emergent conditions of a networked world, a realm increasingly transmitted through fiber and code, were brought together in Hobart. Described as a ‘technological coven disguised as an art project’1, NAF:TMFC consisted of creative mechanisms and outputs including symposia, exhibitions, performances, radio broadcasts, workshops, roundtable critiques and social gatherings. The project comprised local and international practitioners from the frontline of the ‘maker’ aesthetic. An intensive three-day ritual kicked off the month-long project. It included: the exhibition opening, a series of eight presentations, performances (both live and remote) and keynote forums by Florian Cramer (NL/GER), alongside two 3-day workshops.
NAF:TMFC was formulated with the aim of extending kinship groups (revelry), critical discourse (theory) and participant’s hands-on skills-sets (practice). Artists worked with an experiential prototyping framework as a model for art-making. This approach is an active creative engagement that looks simultaneously at technology and the signs it produces. Experiential prototyping is a dynamic model embracing a playful attitude toward artistic production, championing the amateur in the realm of the professional. It advocates home-brewed methods for collective gain (think of self-organized digital literacy circles) and eschews hierarchical assignations of value2. The realization of this practice model was supported by access to a 24/7 tinker-studio/kitchen/gallery/library/chill-out room at Contemporary Art Tasmania, which allowed contributors (invited and self-motivated) to engage and experiment through informal dialogue. Eminent international media artists and thinkers were paired with eight early-career Tasmanian artists. This interaction resulted in Notorious R&D, an exhibition of work by the local artists inserted into the spatial and conceptual fabric of the pre-existing NAF:TMFC exhibition at Contemporary Art Tasmania.
Working within an experiential prototyping framework, performative presentations were a core element of the Notorious R&D program. Constructive peer-critique helped to mold and unfold anticipated audience responses to each artist’s work. Artists were asked to consider their work through;
Notorious R&D participant Nick Smithies constructed an aleatoric system prototype, Networked Sound Device 1.0, a chance-driven audio apparatus. In considering the topologies of networks and global flows and retention of data, he set out to explore what little control and understanding the typical end-user has of the process of data exchange. He writes:
Rather than seeing Networked Sound Device 1.0 as simply a music machine for computer agents driven by human agents to play on, I believe I have created an environmental artwork, a system that produces sound or music through analysing its environment (the Internet) taking samples of activity within that environment and using these as system inputs. When one is using the system and the sounds within the work become more frenetic and build in a crescendo, what we have is an abstract indication of activity within the network environment.3
Gaining direction from the NETworkshop, led by critical engineers Julian Oliver (NZ/GER) and Danja Vasiliev (RU/GER) (see fig #2 and 3) Smithies chose to focus on networked interaction rather than the ‘look and feel’ of the work as a starting point in the prototyping process. This approach provided insight into, and functional knowledge of, the emergent agency of computers. Computer-mediated communication and computer agents (script automation) were identified as key social actors and communicative partners in the human domain.
Benchmarking the Deranged, a performance lecture by artist and theoretician Rosa Menkman (NL) encapsulated experiential prototyping approaches to contemporary art practice as manifested across NAF:TMFC. Menkman’s practice focuses on the visual artefacts created by accidents in digital media. Her video scapes ‘are the result of glitches, compressions, feedback and other forms of noise.’ Although typically perceived as ‘negative experiences’, Menkman emphasises the ‘positive consequences’ of these properties.4
[W]hat happens when instead of choosing “best practices” as a point of reference, we chose an unreasonable benchmark? What can we expect from these deranged logics at work?5
Menkman’s performance The Collapse of PAL (Eulogy, Obsequies and Requiem for the planes of blue phosphor) reflects on the PAL (Phase Alternation Line rate) signal and its termination.6 This broadcast format was recently switched off Australia wide and its eradication provoked widespread dumping of analogue Television sets (see figs. 05 & 06), not to mention a spate of nostalgic exhibitions fetishising the defunct signal.
Following a similar line of inquiry, Selena de Carvalho presented (un)popular culture, a work composed of two elements: a performance and an installation. In the former, the artist used a séance smartphone app, featuring a ‘medium’ attempting to make contact with ‘spirits from the other side’, in an attempt to make contact with the PAL television signal. In the installation component, which documented her experience at an electronics dumping ground, she responded to media ecologies embodied within the environment. This was framed through reference to ‘cargo cults’, a cultural ‘belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth (“cargo”)’, ‘to explor[e] the distance and the tension between technology and the voracious desire for technology’7. The work aspired to raise questions around our relationship with technology rather than formulate answers.
The experimental prototyping approach celebrates emerging artforms which are not premised on the ‘visual’ but none the less are often visually engaging, and whose abstract and not easily pinned down nature often sees them excluded from conventional exhibition platforms.8 In this way, experiential prototyping in a contemporary art context encourages the questioning of acquired responses and behaviors to artistic production and reception. For instance; it beckons an artistic understanding of the Internet as a cultural apparatus, where art can happen, rather than merely a platform for the presentation of existing work and a channel for self-promotion.9
A common theme that emerged during the event was an interest in and desire to regain control of technology. This deep and ongoing engagement with media design and its systems is a guiding principle of experiential prototyping. The prototype may occasionally bend and alter the very nature of the system it is embedded (and functions) within, generating unanticipated ripples and on-flows of influence far beyond the maker’s intent. The radical ethic of risk-taking that NAF:TMFC nurtured through this approach is distilled in a principle espoused by Linus Torvalds’ (winner of the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for the operating system “Linux” in 1999) Torvalds insisted that, rather than treading lightly for fear of a crash, the error should be embraced as it carries with it an interrupt signal that is an extremely positive opportunity for thinking alternatively, if not radically. At the kernel of experiential prototyping, these ‘interrupts are not hidden’10.
Networked Art Forms and Tactical Magick Faerie Circuits ran from 31 May – 30 June 2013. The Notorious R&D exhibition was included as part of the MONA Dark MOFO 2013 programme. For more information, visit tacticalmagick.net or miss-hack.org.
1. WARP Magazine April 2013. p.15.
2. For a comprehensive article on detailing experience protoyping, within the industrial design worldfield, see; Buchenau, Marion and Suri, Jane Fulton. (2000) Experience Prototyping in DIS ’00 Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques. New York : ACM. p 424-433.
3.Artwork textual correlation http://www.tacticalmagick.net/nicksmithies, accessed 11 September 2013
4.See more at: http://gli.tc/h/blog/author/rosa/, accessed 11 September 2013
5. Rosa Menkman, ‘Benchmarking the Deranged’ presentation abstract NETWORKED ART FORMS & TACTICAL MAGICK FAERIE CIRCUITS | 31/05 – 30/06 2013 http://www.tacticalmagick.net/rosamenkman, accessedCited 11 September 2013
6. http://rhizome.org/artbase/artwork/54452/, accessed 11 September 2013
7.Artwork textual correlationhttp://www.tacticalmagick.net/selenadecarvalho, accessed 11 September 2013
8. A pertinent article ‘The Push Pull Decade’ by Stephanie Britten, founder of Artlink, brings this optical centric habit of the contemporary visual art world to our attention; ‘Surprisingly the wider art-going public continues to prefer contemplating large paintings or objects of complex elaborated decoration in the hush of an art museum, the kinds of places where the quality controllers are thoroughly at home…less familiar modes such as work in the digital arena continue to be a small audience niche, underlining the need for magazines like Artlink, Art Monthly and others to continue to keep the conversation going about the reality of today, networked or otherwise, into the future.”’Artlink Australia,vol 30 no 4, 2010. http://www.artlink.com.au/articles/3535/the-push-pull-decade/, accessed 11 September 2013.
9. The conundrum is that recently visual artists have a propensity to uptake new technologies that are sometimes merely a response to consumer fetishism without the necessity to rethink culture and society. Florian Cramer discusses how ‘fine artists who create…white-cube installation works are the most avid networkers via blogs and social networks, more so than many net and media artists with their frequent reservations towards these systems. In sheer reader and posting quantity, e-flux for example has by far surpassed Nettime and all other net artistic mailing lists and has created a powerful network of artists, critics and curators. (2011;12). ‘Net Art Back to Square One’ in Nettitudes Let’s talk about Net Art by Josephine Bosma. Rotterdam Institute of Network Cultures; NAiPublishers.
10.Torvald, Linus (1991). Notes for linux release 0.01 http://ftp.funet.fi/pub/linux/historical/kernel/old-versions/RELNOTES-0.01, accessed 11 September 2013
Nancy Mauro-Flude is a Tasmanian interdisciplinary artist and theorist. Performativity, media experimentation and pedagogy form the basis of her work. Nancy draws on arcane hermetic...