Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network (Proposal)

“The question of content must therefore be addressed to what might be called the Gesamtdatenwerk… and to its capacity to engage the intellectual, emotions, and sensibility of the observer.” – Roy Ascott [1]


This proposal asks the following question: how does one author a book that effectively chronicles a transient network culture moving at the speed of light? I view this problem as an opportunity to return to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk: rethinking the book as an interdisciplinary hybrid medium, a total synthesis across the spectrum of print, audio-visual media, virtual community, performance, and networked art: perhaps what Roy Ascott refers to as the Gesamtdatenwerk (total data work).

The subject of this experimentally conceived book medium is the transformative nature of the online environment as a wide-ranging catalyst for experimental network art, radically altered social relations, mutating identity, the collapse of space, what has become, essentially, a parallel universe we have collectively ventured into for better or for worse. As a result, this project is an attempt to understand the expanded human dimension of a medium that requires new definition and an alternative form of description, here entitled: The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network.

Defining the Third Space

What is the third space? The concept of the third space has been used as a sociocultural term to designate communal space, as distinct from the home (first space) or work (second space). The third space has been defined as a nightclub or sports arena or museum where the individual can experience a transformative sense of self, identity and relation to others.

With this social definition as a backdrop, the third space in the context of the online medium can be thought of as another form of transformative social space: a way of describing the social dynamics and culture of networked space. To further situate this transposition of the third space into the realm of the telematic, we can now redefine the first and second spaces as the physical (first space) and the virtual (second space). When we unite these two spaces into a blended hybrid, we find that the resulting space, inhabited by remote participants who are geographically dispersed, as constituting our new definition of the third space.

The third space thus involves the fusion of local and remote participants simultaneously or asynchronously inhabiting networked space. Furthermore, the experience of blurring real and virtual spatial dimensions (physical and digital) is heightened in the third space through distributed telepresence, when participants remotely engage with one another in a shared electronic space. Our new concept of the third space thus extends the model of the transformative social space into the online medium by suggesting a hybrid space that allows remote participants to transcend the limitations of space and geography as they engage with one another across distances.

This transcendence of the laws of the known world is what opens the door to the heightened, extra-sensory qualities of third space experience, altering our sense of identify, reducing inhibition, igniting self-expression, just as the nightclub or stadium operates as an arena for extended forms of behavior. Here lies the basis for our study: how our definition of the third space provides insight into rapidly expanding forms of individual creativity, social interaction, and artistic expression that have erupted in the age of the network.

Art & Culture of the Third Space

Our new concept of the third space as networked space has been an arena for evolving artistic forms since the 1970s, with the advent of broadcast and satellite works, Internet projects, and Web-specific art, reinforcing Marshall McLuhan’s prediction of a “global village” united through telecommunications. It is as though the network has provide license for the spirit of outré, an avant-garde attitude has reigned supreme throughout the history of networked art. The online medium has provided for experimentation in the social sphere, a new kind of networked Happening, a laboratory for constructing forms of collective narrative.

The network has been an invitation for subversive tactics driven by the ethos of hacking, manipulation, a celebration of the freedom of information and open source thinking. Through this activist stance, Net artists have launched a radical investigation of the underbelly of the online medium: it’s code, hidden mechanisms, artifacts, and secret treasures. From this determined cause celebré has emerged new languages and vocabularies: mashups, databending, remixes, and glitch, all expressions of aberration, deconstruction, and media transformation.

The critique of the human-machine relationship, or perhaps the technological post-human condition, has dramatically undermined the status quo and messaging propaganda of the technology industry. In the age of social media and Big Data, artists have turned to the network to expose the hierarchies of power, the surveillance of our everyday lives, our willingness to give up our data for corporate gain. The network has in many way offered a certain balance of power to the artist, who has not shied from using the leverage of global reach to critique and manipulate our techno-vulnerabilities.

The digital natives now coming of age in post-millennial Internet culture have never known a world without connectivity on a global scale. Today, Joseph Beuys’ claim of everybody an artist rings true. The border between the local and the remote has dissolved to the extent that now anyone with a mobile device is potentially a writer, a reporter, a broadcaster, or a pundit participating in the missives that explode virally across the network with every scandal, revolution or political event. In the hyper-social milieu of the third space we have become super-participants, documenting, sharing and redirecting information wherever we might be, authors of our own database narratives.

The Book as a Medium for Experimentation

It is in the spirit of collective authorship that I am rethinking the form and function of the book. I believe that the book as a platform for artistic, cultural, and theoretical expression is an open vessel for experimentation, just as the decorated medieval illuminated manuscripts from the medieval period explored the integration of text, illustration, and painting to convey complex religious and cultural themes. These antiquated manuscripts on parchment or vellum that presented so vividly the liturgical depictions of ceremony and ritual provide historical precedence for the need to expand and rethink the book as an ever-expanding medium for documenting contemporary thought. Using the technology of his day, Johannes Gutenberg invented his press as a response to the need for the increasing speed of information reproduction required during the religious and cultural transformation of the Reformation.

Since then, the evolution of the book has reflected changes in society, as various avant-garde movements of the 20th century – from the Futurists to Dada to the Bauhaus, Constructivists and Situationists to Fluxus – have engaged the medium of print as a platform for declaration, radical design, and subversive aesthetics conveying radical thought. Throughout these movements, books emerged as an essential means for publishing drawings, photographs, writing and manifestos. And yet, with the advent of digital publishing in the late 20th century and early 21st century, we have only scratched the surface: clearly, we are at the dawn of a new kind of illuminated manuscript, one that embraces the telematic reach of the information culture: distributed, immersive, collaborative and globally interconnected.

Today, the book, whether as a work of scholarship, fiction, history or art, is evolving into an open form that embraces the extensibility and social interaction inherent in the online medium. Essentially, the permanence of the printed page is being supplanted by fluid new media forms, which, when augmented by communications networks, create their own kind of Happening or social space for dialogue and even collaboration between author and reader. As such, the book need no longer be constrained by the limit of a single author, rather, with the incorporation of online networks, blogs and forums, the book is potentially a catalyst for transforming “author” and “readers” into a community of active participants generating dialogic systems of collective authorship.

The Multimedia Book Platform

The means for expanding the book into a medium for engaging the issues of network culture, its artistic forms, and collective aspirations is to situate it in the third space. That is the ultimate goal of this project: to host the project in the third space in order to best convey the history, aesthetics, artistic work, technology, philosophical aspirations, and social dynamics of Internet culture. This challenge has led me to formulate a new overall information architecture for the space of the book: how it is experienced, how it functions as a resource, and how it catalyzes discourse and collaboration. I describe below in detail my vision for a multimedia book platform: a communal space for art, research, history, and theory.

  • Third Space Network. The hub for the The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network is a Website located at Built with the open source software, WordPress, the site will serve as the third space network for the project, the information portal for texts, media, events, discussion, and third space social engagement. The third space network enables a virtual community of readers to respond to topical areas through a system of forums, Wikis, annotated commenting, and social media sharing, all of which are archived and searchable to form an extensive knowledge repository for the project. This form of “user-generated” content is an essential mechanism for engaging the viewer reciprocally as an active contributor, rather than as a passive recipient in the traditional one-way flow of information from author to reader.
  • Histories: Art & Culture of the Network. The print/pdf component of the project will be a “reader” in the more conventional sense: a collection of seminal essays by artists, engineers, and theorists chronicling the artistic, cultural, and technological histories of the online medium. Histories: Art & Culture on the Network edition will include a foreword, introductory essay by the author, as well as a broad overview of The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network. This text will be similar to the author’s book, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, a resource of seminal writings brought together for the first time into one volume. And like the companion Website for Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, the print volume will be accompanied by online images and video materials located on the main site, including a timeline of historical landmarks in the history of communications technology and network art.
  • HyperLectures. In our contemporary information culture, information is increasingly received dynamically, aurally, and visually. The main content of The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network will consist of a series of HyperLectures created by the author in his Washington, DC multimedia studio, staged performatively with extensive media illustration and hyperlinked references. Topics for the HyperLectures will include the following: The Third Space, Data Visualization, Media Transformations, Giving up Your Data, Identity Multiples, Social Networks, Collective Narrative, etc. These audio-visual lectures combining video, sound and interactive materials will be used to illustrate the brought range of media issues that can be best articulated through the media: a synthesis of forms drawn from the audio book, documentary film, interactive texts, and performance art.
  • Third Space Gallery. The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network will include a curated third space gallery of online projects by internationally renowned contemporary artists whose work broadens our understanding of networked culture. Each work will be accompanied by an interview conducted by the author, providing further insight into the artistic process and critical issues relevant to the Internet as a medium for art. Invited artists will contribute video works, audio compositions, performance, texts, and projects that are native to the online medium. The gallery will be an ongoing exhibition project created specifically for the third space. Invited artists will share and discuss their work through moderated online discussion.
  • Collective Narrative. The Third Space: Art & Culture of the Network Invited artists will share and discuss their work through moderated online discussion. Both the Histories and the HyperLectures will be a catalyst for online discussion and reader commentary. Additionally, since the third space network will be a WordPress multi-site, readers can create their own blogs and participate with more extended essays, observations, and critique of the materials. Readers will be able to follow community-generated published posts and commentary. The use of the multi-site database will engage readers in the creation of shared tagging and collaborative writing to participate in the ongoing collective narrative of the third space network.



[1] Ascott, R (1991). “Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace” in Packer, R., & Jordan, K. (Eds.). Multimedia : from Wagner to Virtual Reality ([Expanded ed.). New York: Norton 2001.

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