Saturday, April 18, 2009

Circles of Participation

This weekend I'm preparing my 'short course' for HUMlab, entitled Net Art and Craft (or Circles of Participation). So rather than spending this glorious sunny afternoon walking by the river and visiting the art school exhibitions I am chewing over the connections between what we might call classic net art, and what might equally be called classic craft. But of course, we have moved beyond the classic modes of craft and net art. The overlaps between these established modes of operation have paved the way for an explosion in super-hip, gender encompassing, flexible circles of participation in which anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of pixels, sewing basket and bandwidth can take part.

These days ask young people what they think of participation on the web and they will tell you of the typical web2 sites, secondlife and the massive online gaming environments. But how many people think of the basic graphics and clunky interfaces of net art as innovative spaces for online creative participation? It's true that without the advertising friendly slickness of gender stereotyped avatars, we may feel a bit lost. But, I'm always more intrigued by the things people build in their sheds. Reliant on my own choices, and a more individual relationship with the intentions of the artist and the possibilities and restrictions of the programme, I am more inclined to try and find out how the art website works, rather than my natural desire to find the edges of the commercial programme, and try and break it.

One of my favourite pieces is Glyphiti by Andy Deck. I first came across this at Furtherfield's HTTP Gallery in London, where I became instantly hooked. Andy Deck has also created Screening Circle, which "adapts the cultural tradition of the quilting circle into online format" as described on the

Andy's work has the feeling that if you know a bit of programming, and you put your mind to it - you could do this too... if you wanted too. His work is an example of how people can be creative on the net without subscribing to a media giant. But what's really exciting about the web2.0 is its raised the stakes in user-friendlyness, and taught a large section of the population that the web is a space to participate and not just consume. In 2009 artists are creating websites and spaces which have the open principles of the net art generation, with the participatory dexterity of web2.0. The Open Source Embroidery exhibition anticipates this moment, tracing histories and presenting practices which make Net Art and Craft a potent combination for a sustainable culture.

So now to prepare the course!

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