artistic networks and scientific networks

one of the first things that come to mind when talking about network is the capacity of network technologies to connect people across the globe or, even, in a given area. Beyond projects such as  “wireless toronto” and “murmur” which enable people to stay in touch and to share experiences across  local areas within the city (Toronto in this case, but also Montreal in the case of “L’ile sans fils”) one should acknowledge the existence of specific networks that, this time, connect artists in the same field or in the same province.

as some of the readers of this blog might know, the “artists run centres” movement represents a successful story in Canada. Ryan Stec has been involved in building artistic communities through technologies since 1996 when he helped build “art engine“, then a virtual community, now a real space based in Ottawa, but stretching its network to the whole canada. As a virtual space, it has served as a net art platform, helping to build, and hosting netart projects by artists such as Germaine Koh and Paul Wong. In addition, it has also served as a residence space.

When the space evolved and acquired a 550 square foot gallery for workshops and exhibitions, it became the venue for the “electric field festival”  a music and media art festival. This festival, in addition to being a showcase for artists,  tried to address  the preponderance of videos and screen media in the artist run centre scene in Canada. Thus, its mandate was to use  electronic music and new media as a way to do outreach, and to make artists in the local area and in the province aware of what they could do with other media technologies and how these tools could be used.

recently, a hacked version of “art engine,” named “Art Enjun” made its debut stemming from the already existing network. Cheryl L’Hirondelle, an artist member of metis/cree descent had created a clone of the main website where first nation artists who could post there their profile. the website, along with a mailinglist has now become a substantial section of art engine.the website is bilingual: english and cree.

of course, one of the comparisons that come to mind here is how does art engine, with its “low budget” “open source” “social network” interface (website, mainilglist, youtube videos etc..) compare with the demanding platforms of some major institutions who decided to choose more complex media platforms such as Second life? one of the points made during the Q & A was that SL allows a global diffusion of information and wider collaborations. however, do we really need such complexity to establish global connections? and then, do we need to establish such connections even before we try and include the smaller, less tech savvy and more prone to Face-to-Face communication communities of artists? sure, using SL brings some sort of prestige to the institution, but there is something about institutionalization of indipendent centres that somehow challenges their very indipendence and freedom of choice.

similar, or at least, to me, issues were somehow indirectly raised when Michael Nielsen addressed the advantages of using blogs or twitter as a way to connect the scientific community and to improve theirefficiency and speed in finding solution. he made the example of a scientists who had posted a scientific question on his blog hoping that someone would be interested in helping him find a solution. apparently, the website was inundated by messages and the result was a collaborative artiscle where everybody involved in the discussion was credited fro the contribution. as someone pointed out, however, isn’t this sort of collaboration existing already within scientific communities? or are these forms of social networks projecting scientists onto a more global, expanded sphere neglecting to foster any collaboration between peers, say, in the same department or in the same city/university? is this form of collaboration helping the speed of research?