The Distributed Artists Network

Logo from “Our World,” the first live, international, satellite television production, broadcast on 25 June 1967

“The program concept was to link up the world, to demonstrate that we are all part of “our world”… the ground rules for the show included everything had to be live, and that no politicians or heads of state must be seen.” – Our World, 1967

Since the first satellites were launched into space in the 1950s, interconnecting the globe and establishing the planetary locational grid that is GPS, systems of human communications, interactions, enterprise, entertainment, commerce, warfare, and terrorism, have all become increasingly decentralized and distributed.

We are becoming a more networked culture, altering the way we build and operate systems. For example, the taxi monolith Uber does not own a single taxi; nor does Airbnb own a hotel or any rental property whatsever. Each has created decentralized networks of providers and users, enabling taxi drivers, homeowners, and vacationers to transact with one another via apps and intelligent database systems. This is what Thomas Friedman refers to as the “Supernova” in his recent book, “Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” an historical account that explains how Moore’s Law in computing has driven the rise of digital networking as a transformative social and economic force.

The Supernova might also explain Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’ visionary Electronic Café formed in the 1980s as a café situated in the shared third space of networked social relations. They pioneered the idea of a distributed artists electronic network that decentralized the programmatic activities of the alternative art space, conceptualizing a new organizational framework based on communications networks as a platform for the integration of exhibitions, performances, conferences, cultures, and geographically dispersed participants engaging in artistic interactions:

“If there is one word that defines the Electronic Café, it is integration: integration of technology into our social fabric; integration of distinct cultures and communities, the arts, and the general public; and integration of art forms.”

Turning to open source communities, who have used distributed production processes to create powerful tools and information systems including Wordpress, Wikipedia, PD, Arduino, etc, these networks of like-minded technological and cultural producers have often surpassed the effectiveness of centralized, commercially-driven proprietary companies with their investors and IPOs. As Geert Lovink writes in his recent book, “The Principle of Notworking: Concepts in Critical Internet Culture“:

“As large top-down organizations have proved to be inflexible… distributed networks are more open to change.”

Distributed networks, by nature, have revolutionary potentiality in their unique ability to operate below the radar, using the raw energy and creative spirit of collective enterprise to challenge the prevailing status quo. This holds true for varying types of distributed organizations with both artistic and destructive intent: from terrorists – such as Al Qaeda’s September 11th attack on the World Trade Center carried out by an international cellular operation – to artist collectives such as the Guerrilla Girls, a network of over 50 feminist activist artists who have staged political interventions since the 1980s.

Decentralized organizational structures, in the arts, politics, business, commerce, etc., are becoming increasingly the norm, freeing up participants from the need to be physically together with costly overhead infrastructure. While exorbitant architectural structures may still have caché in the art world, bottom-up, alternative, grass roots efforts catalyzed by networks and social media, are innovating pop-up, maker, and DIY events in the most unlikely locations: abandoned warehouses, restaurants, basements, and perhaps most significantly, networked third spaces. Rhizome, a virtual alternative arts space associated with the New Museum of Contemporary Art, has an ongoing two-year Anthology of Net Art exhibition that only exists online.

Which leads me to the Third Space Network, a new project I am now initiating, conceived as a distributed, virtual, third space for networked live performance and creative dialogue. If in fact you can rent apartments or provide taxi service without owning any property or vehicles, then most certainly, you can create a performance venue without a physical theater.

The Third Space Network is a rethinking of theater space as a decentralized network made up of artist-broadcasters and their studios, laptops, Webcams, IP cameras, mobile devices, and a cloud-based software platform for scheduling, recording, and viewing streaming broadcasts. Furthermore, if you distribute the production of event programming to a network of artists who each take responsibility for coordinating and staging their own work, then you eliminate the resource intensive operation of lighting designers, sound operators, stage and house managers, and other theater labor that puts performance far out of reach of most artists. If viewers enter the virtual arena designed as a many-to-many medium of social engagement, you can remove the hierarchical fourth wall between stage and audience, an invitation to become active participants in the social dynamic of network-specific works created for the third space.

The rest is left up to our imagination.