The nature of networks : an aesthetic model for the connected condition

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This research abstracts a history of human-machine interaction to map the look, feel and sounds of a networked environment and what it is to exist within it. To do this, a cross-disciplinary examination of systems theory, art history, computational design and contemporary philosophy has been employed to chart the aesthetics of the network and to critically understand deterministic forces in the architectures of connection. With so much discussion about networked technologies predicated upon its future, it is vital to turn our heads back to historical examples of both technological innovation and how artists have engaged with it. This thesis examines key events in network culture, such as the implementation of the telegraph, the advent of the database, cybernetics, the Macy conferences and the world wide web alongside contextual responses from historical and contemporary art. What cultural influences are at work in the construction of the digital architectures set to shape this century? What is the aesthetic language used to explore and communicate these ideas? What is the form that information takes? This thesis explores the ways in which art making practices can help us understand the connected condition and the politics of a lived experience that is fundamentally embedded. It comprises a written thesis with documentation of an accompanying body of work, contextualised with historical and contemporary contributions to the fields of art, computational history and philosophy. I argue that knowledge pertaining to the semantics of innovation, the nature of information storage and the aesthetics of new systems in cryptography and transmission are being revealed in current art making practices and bring important, valuable insight to understanding the connected condition. This research determines that key characteristics of network aesthetics draw upon the cybernetic ideas of self-reflexivity, dissonance, poetic technicity, dynamic behaviour, the telematic and metaphor, but also stresses the importance of understanding less visible relationships between gender, labour and ethnicity in technological innovation.
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