Network Realism

Network Realism: making knowledge from images in digital infrastructures

Summary

This project investigates an aspect of contemporary visual culture called ‘network realism’. It seeks to understand how mediation and knowledge production are entwined in the use of databases of images. See the project blog [http://networkrealism.wordpress.com/] for more details.

Funding

Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and sciences

Researchers/institutions

Virtual Knowledge Studio, Amsterdam: Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke

Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
Rijksakademie for the visual arts, Amsterdam

Timeframe

2009 to 2011

Description

This project investigates an aspect of contemporary visual culture called ‘network realism’. It seeks to understand how mediation and knowledge production are entwined in the use of databases of images. Whether buying a house, evaluating an artist’s work, or planning a day at the museum, we often turn to databases of images on the web to pursue these activities. Increasingly, such activities involve a new form of visual knowing that can be labelled network realism.
What does this label mean? Realism designates rich and heterogeneous traditions across different media that have complex histories. As part of the label ‘network realism’, realism draws attention to the way these images are involved in practices that are factual, material and consequential. The term network invokes the novel contexts and practices around these images. Network realism is therefore used as a shorthand to describe practices, conventions and meanings that support this form of visual knowing.

This research conceptualizes and investigates a widespread but underexamined use of images, at the intersection of digital and networked technologies. How does network realism relate to and build on Western representational traditions? How is trust in images established, and how do new networked settings change the way it is achieved? How do we learn to know in this way and what are the practices and material culture that support network realism? Answering these questions will lead to a new understanding of this emergent and pervasive visual form of distributed knowledge creation. It will also shed light on evaluation and sharing of knowledge through information infrastructures.

The proposed research draws on concepts from the field that specialises in the study of knowledge in society, science and technology studies (STS), and from new media studies to analyze visual culture. The approach used is ethnographic fieldwork, at 4 sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr. Three projects will document network realism across these sites, investigate the dynamics of this form of knowledge, and examine its material embedding by users and institutions.
Network Realism is a research programme of the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam, and will start on 1 March 2009. For more information, you can contact Anne Beaulieu (anne.beaulieu@vks.knaw.nl).