Network Art at the Birth of the Internet
Venue:Stockholm School of Economics, Soros Auditorium
This paper describes the first of a series of network art pieces that I made and showed in the early 1970s. It was a time when networking was in the air. The first public demonstration of ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet, was given in 1972. In the same year electronic mail began. The paper describes the first network art that I made and that was first shown in the year before these momentous events, in March 1971. “Communications Game” was part of the Invention of Problems II Exhibition at the City of Leicester Polytechnic. Participants interacted with one another through the work. They could not see one another and acted independently but the artwork was their interaction. The paper describes the origins of the ideas, which were both in human psychology and computer science, together with the details of how the work was made and used. The first work had six stations and there were three networks of lights and switches connecting them. Later exhibited versions had fewer stations. Screens kept participants from seeing one another. Each participant operated one or two units. The illumination of a light on one unit was controlled by other participants’ switches. It was all done in a way that was like a very low bandwidth exchange in which the language of communication was not specified and could only emerge through experience. This was where the psychology came in as inspiration. The process resembled the early grasping for communication by a newborn infant.
Ernest Edmonds is a pioneering digital artist and international expert on creative human-computer interaction. He has exhibited computer-based and systems art around the world since 1970 and supervised many practice-based digital art PhDs since 1976. He has published extensively about his digital and systems art and about the emerging role of research in such art practice. Ernest Edmonds has vigorously extended the concept of art as Visual Research within digital and interactive art by developing a new approach to practice that has research as an integral and core activity. In this quest he has created internationally recognised research groups at Loughborough University, in the UK, and then at the University of Technology, Sydney. Now in his 70s he is continuing to develop new art forms and he still contributes to art research through two part-time positions, Professor of Computation and Creative Media in the University of Technology, Sydney and Professor of Computational Art at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Transactions, fast track, section of the leading MIT Press journal Leonardo and a Co-Editor of the journal.