Book review: Creative Networks by Rasa Smite

“When a Process Acquires Form and Becomes a Canon.” Review of Rasa Šmite, Creative Networks (Riga: RIXC Publishing, 2011).

Published in Studija 81, no. 6 (2011).

Download article pdf.

View the article on Studija magazine online archive.

About the book:

Creative Networks explores the dawn of the Internet culture in the age of network society from the perspective of Eastern Europe. From a theoretical angle the networks are introduced and interpreted as complex socio-technical systems. The author analyzes the development of these networked self-organized formations starting off with ‘virtual communities’ of ‘creative networks’, which emerged during the early phase of the Internet, up to the phenomena of today’s online ‘social networks’. Along with the translocal case studies of Nettime, Syndicate, Faces and Xchange networks (as well as with the other important facets of the 1990s network culture in Europe), the author studies also local community networking case of alternative and digital culture that evolved around E-Lab in the 1990s in Latvia. By focusing primarily on the network culture of 1990s, this study reflects those changes in the social structure of today’s society that are occurring under the process of socio-technical transformation.

The book’s English version, Creative Networks in the Rear-View Mirror of Eastern European History, is available as a free pdf here.

(My review is about the first Latvian edition.)

When a Process Acquires Form and Becomes a Canon

Excerpt:

Rasa Šmite, being an artist, organizer, curator and theorist, has to a large extent shaped the new media art and research scene in Latvia since the mid1990s. Together with Raitis Šmits and a number of other activists, Rasa has taken part in the promotion of new media art as a separate discipline: the year 1996 saw the setting up of an electronic media art laboratory, E-Lab, which was restructured into the New Media Culture Centre RIXC; since 1997, international art festivals have been held, countless art projects carried out and collections of articles and publications have been prepared. In her book Creative Networks, Rasa presents a critical and analytical view of this process over the course of about fifteen years. The living process and creative quest have now acquired academic form (the book is based on Rasa Šmite’s doctoral thesis, defended at the Riga Stradiņš University in February 2011). It is significant that Rasa has successfully combined academic discourse with personal experience. The research paper stems from practical activity, and everything described in the book is related to actual experience.

First, the aspect of originality in an international academic environment. The majority of sources used by Rasa were published shortly before or after the year 2000. This places ‘Creative Networks’ (which should definitely see an English edition) at the world vanguard of theoretical publications. When E-Lab began working in the mid- and late 1990s, such activities did not yet have a theoretical basis. That was proved by the experience of this review’s author who endeavored to defend her bachelor’s paper, “Virtual communities on the internet as a form of global communication” at the University of Latvia in 1998. Although much was possible in practice (for instance, two Art+Communication festivals had already been organized in Riga, new media art festivals and exhibitions had been visited in Europe, and E-Lab’s ideas fully and organically fitted in with these stirrings), it was too early to theorize about it. The impossibility of testing results, the lack of academic literature, theory, methodology and precedents made the initiative difficult to carry out. This example could be a reminder of how fast the E-Lab and adherents to its cause arrived at the most progressive art territory of the time (and, for instance, without any particular cultural shock regarded as a matter of course Stelarc’s performance in Rotterdam in 1996), although the existence of this territory had not yet been scientifically proven at that moment.

Read more — download full article pdf.