The weekend workshop in June 2009 was run by Valerie Kirk, Head of Textiles at the ANU School of Art, with myself as a secondary facilitator, explored types of nets, their uses and the participants’ associations.
It was difficult to avoid the close textile connections and textile metaphors that are use in nets. The overwhelming older female majority … Those whose arts practices, such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, are outside textiles were a little concerned at the point of departure. Networking skills physical, intellectual and web-based were on the agenda. What we are trying to achieve in the long term is to build skills in both familiar and new technologies that would enable to cast our nets much further.
Valerie Kirk led a brain-storming session, followed by discussion that captured ideas on the possibilities of nets and netlike structures, both real and virtual, and the infrastructures that support them. This was followed by some participants generously teaching their net-making skills in informal groups. Hands were dexterously knotting, knitting, looping and thinking.
Before the workshop I began to hunt out reading material for the participants. I enjoy chasing material on the net. I found it difficult not to provide textile based reading. I sourced older anthropological and archeological papers to highlight the importance of nets in indigenous societies and the formation of communities, hoping to spark creative visual processes. I worked my way through the web on databases, often finding material that was biased towards my own arts practice and intellectual interest in the histories of embroidery and a more recent fascination in lace-making.
On the afternoon of the second day, there was in a deeper discussion on nets between a small number of participants. We used the material from the brainstorming session of the previous day and we came to the understanding that for nets to function there needs to be a dynamic force at play. This ranged from the dynamism warm air/water to cool air; water flows to catch fish; the dynamism of tides; blood flowing through the body; through to firewalls that inhibit freedom of speech towards a wider audience in countries like China. Discussion then followed on the size of the net structure or holes – the parameters set by the netmakers. Michael referred to the Munk Institute (see blog entry below)
In reflecting on this discussion I began to think about nets as boundary mechanisms. Using cell biology, boundaries can be thought of as permeable, selectively permeable and nonpermeable. The permeable boundary is one that allows ready passage from one side to another; a non-permeable prevents passage. A selective boundary, in contrast, would allow some to pass and prevent others in doing so.
The relationship between my own work on fashion theory and nets initially seemed to be two distinct arenas. While I did have appreciation of the aesthetic potential of nets as an expression of various media used with in the visual arts, I did not connect it with the issues I had been working on in fashion theory.
An area I have been looking at is the invention of national costumes in the 18th century which coincides with rise of the nation state and the demise of the divine right of kings. This process which has continued since then has now manifested in the use of national flags wrapped around the body. It raises the question of how does a community imagine itself? Werner Sollors in Beyond Ethnicity (1988) articulates two ways of imaging communities: one based on immutable ‘facts’ of biology, genetics and inheritance and the other based on desire, volition and choice. He suggests the terms ‘descent’ and ‘consent’. One must be born into a community of descent, while one may choose to join a community of consent (however, there are selective permeable structures or nets in place).
Dressing the body in a particular way is one to indicate nationalism. Religious affiliation, class, ethnicity, birth place can also be used to indicate nationalism. Dress often is tied in with these notions. Dress can be viewed like a net – sometimes only those who are of ‘descent’ can wear traditional dress. In Australia, association with country of origin, has moved towards ‘consent’ as ethnicity is watered down because small numbers of migrants from home countries and through intermarriage.
Jennifer Michael’s paper (Ad)Dressing Shibboleth; Costume and Community in the South of France (1998) explores how a person can become a member of a community and how mechanisms are used as a filter. Indigenous Australians, those who identify as indigenous, can’t be identified by dress, religious affiliation, social class, not necessarily by region or birthplace but by the strong association to country and by community agreement as to who belongs. Communities throughout the world have these network systems which are never transparent to those who are outside the community. Seeking and maintaining ‘authenticity’ can be paramount and can cause conflict.
The world of devices that screen flows - of light or sound, of water or information - their attraction, their impact, their strengths & vulnerabilities
NETS Project CoordinatorsValerie Kirk
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THINKING ABOUT NETS
The function of any net is to separate defined items of interest from a specific flow. They are intrinsically mysterious.
Is the function of a facial veil to screen out or to invite the external gaze?
Blinds and net curtains are covert street surveillance systems, sometimes revealing pretty images, other times odd behaviour. If insiders leave the light on, they are exposed and the outsider hidden from view.
When do those nets that are being strung across the flows of cyberspace - the 'firewalls' - change over from being defensive (stopping 'incoming') to being aggressive? How can the misdeeds of their creators be detected by the outsider?
Nets of lies and half-truths are woven over events, winding up as 'history'. Before becoming spoken words, means of expression are continually modified by a host of personal and institutional restraints.
Micro-nets block contagions. Fishing nets haul in 'by-catch' (marine 'collateral damage') with their targeted prey. Good nets, bad nets?