ABOUT THE PROJECT
WHO NAMED WHOM
WHO WAS NAMED
ABOUT THE PROJECTI am contacting you about the project I am currently working on. The goal of this project is to map the current art scene (the convoluted mosaic of relationships which exist here), while keeping in mind two things:
1. context is absolutely fundamental for contemporary art (the context in which work is created, exhibited, reflected…)
2. artists today are much more capable of reflecting upon the scene in a well-founded and oftentimes more sensitive manner than curators (and are continually assuming more of their role)
I have asked artists themselves who is most important in our current cultural landscape for the context of their work. I selected the first few artists of the youngest generation myself, but after that each person named five artists who were personally the most important for them. I then contacted these five artists, without revealing to them who had named them and so on. I presume that a map-network will take shape featuring a few hub points, clarifying the situation somewhat. It could result in an interesting exhibit, but then again maybe not. I don’t know – it’s an open-ended adventure.
Your name has now appeared on the map and so I would like to ask you to think about who the most important person is for the context of your present work. Please name 5 artists (or groups) who are active in the current Czech art scene. I am not interested so much in your role models, but rather the circle of people with whom you would like to exhibit, with whom you can discuss your projects, or simply artists whose work you consider important for the perception of your own work.
Thank you for your cooperation
From the e-mail which I sent out to artists who had been named from January to December 2007
Map of the Contemporary Czech Artistic Landscape
„Art does not actually exist. Only artists exist.“1 E. H. Gombrich
In one of the introductory sentences in the catalog for the Insiders2 exhibit I wrote: „The contemporary Czech art scene, at least that part which is interested in current art, is so small and closed that it is essentially like a community of insiders." This, of course, was a great mistake. At the beginning of 2007 when I conceived the artscape project, I had the notion that I could map this "little" contemporary scene in a few months. I wanted to reveal the immediate context in which artwork is created. I wanted to map all mutual ties and the relationships upon which each local art scene was based.
I started out with two basic thoughts:
I then asked artists themselves who is most important in our current cultural landscape for the context of their work. I selected the first few artists of the youngest generation myself, but after that I systematically contacted only artists which had been mentioned.
I sent out hundreds of e-mails and dozens of letters. The project functioned like a pyramid scheme for the entire year of 2007. Each person named five other persons active in the contemporary Czech art scene. I wasn't trying to get individual artists to list their role models, but rather to get them to define the circle of people with whom they would like to exhibit, with whom they discuss their projects, or simply artists whose work they consider important for the perception of their own work. I abstained from all intervention in the project or critical manipulation, strictly performing the function of a correspondence office attempting to contact each person mentioned. I worked on the project from January to December 2007. With a few exceptions (death, foreign artists, artists from other fields, and a few for whom I could not find any address) I contacted every person mentioned. The results were varied.
For a number of artists it was difficult to select only the five closest, most important people. Many of them wrote that this was only a temporary selection, that tomorrow it would look entirely different. So these are not "cold hard" statistics. Rather, in its own way this is very intimate information which on a large scale acquires a certain objective descriptive value. Quite soon there began to appear "key personas" who were named again and again. Forming around these people of course were certain clusters of strongly interconnected artists. In this context it is absolutely fascinating how a network of relationships generated in this fashion corresponds to Barabási's theory of scale-free networks. This theory was formulated around 2000, even if it is based on considerable previous research and thought. Among the most important of these is certainly Mark Granovetter's essay The Strength of Weak Ties, which was published in Current Contents magazine in 1986. In this article he argues that society is grouped into highly bonded clusters or firmly cemented circles of friends where everyone knows everyone else. A few external ties connecting these clusters together prevent them from being isolated from the rest of the world. The theory of scale-free networks is an even more precise (even mathematically expressible) model of real networks. Scale-free networks are held together by a few highly interconnected centers (hubs). Their system looks like a map of airline connections, where a large number of small airports connect to a few large centers. There is no central control hub. It's a living organism, just like the internet or the landscape of the Czech art scene, where the independent activity of individual hubs and ties may result in grand emergent behavior.3
As I already wrote in the introduction, I originally thought that a few months would be enough to render all the important figures of the contemporary Czech art scene. I had assumed that there would only be a few dozen. However, it turned out that this "insider" scene exists within a virtually boundless art scene and everything began to become complicated with regard to location and generation. Appearing in the responses were dozens of names which I had never heard of, and yet these were names of figures who were absolutely influential for someone else. Even after processing hundreds of responses (I contacted nearly 400 named artists and received almost 200 responses), I let the chain run for the entire year, since there are still a number of influential figures of the contemporary Czech art scene who had not appeared on artscape. Of course to a certain degree this could be due to chance or reflect certain hermitic-like tendencies of these figures. After all, artscape was not a "top ten" list but rather an examination of mutual ties, context, and situation. It does not mean therefore that the persons named the most are the best artists, but rather it is a comment on their standing within the functioning of our local scene.
And who then are these key artists? The most frequently named was Jiří Kovanda (22) along with Vladimír Skrepl (21) (of interest is the fact that these two artists have together been running an atelier at Prague's Academy of Fine Arts), followed by Jiří Černický (17) and Krištof Kintera (17), then Michal Pěchouček (16), Tomáš Vaněk (14), Jan Šerých (14), Markéta Othová (14) and Josef Bolf (13). Other frequently mentioned figures were: Václav Stratil (13), Marek Ther (12), Jiří Skála (11), Jiří David (11), Dominik Lang (10), Eva Koťátková (10), Martin Zet (10), Ondřej Brody (10) and Rafani (11). Although this is probably the most interesting result of my research, there are also other phenomena which may be observed within the network. For example, who of the older generation appeared on the map? The most frequent names were Karel Malich (10), Zdeněk Sýkora (8), Jiří Valoch (7), Adriena Šimotová (7), Stanislav Kolíbal (6) and Milan Knížák (5).
Another interesting phenomenon is the existence of local centers outside of Prague. It was surprising for me that apart from Prague, in the Czech Republic today there is only one strongly interconnected local center, which is Ústí nad Labem. Here artists named other local people within their circle and only rarely did the chain return to Prague. The same cannot be said for Ostrava or Brno, where there are clearly strong local interconnections but the ties to Prague are dominant. Strong focal points, or to use Barabási's mathematical terminology, clusters, exist around individual ateliers at art schools. Students and professors logically influence one another and often create strong professional friendships.
I believe that artscape reveals a number of other phenomena which may be interesting to explore. It reveals what I believe is frequently overlooked in today's global world; that a local community of kindred spirits constitutes fertile ground for artistic undertakings. And it also confirms what I clumsily said in a conversation with Jana Kalinova, that it is possible to live without art but not without artists.
The creator of the following computer visualization is Marek Růžička from E-area. Without him the project would have remained merely a long list of named and naming artists. I myself furnished him with a very primitive excel database (see figure) which I completed around the new year during my ISCP stay in New York.
The software used created a network of relations using certain rules to weigh the attractive and repulsive forces of individual persons which named each other or mentioned the same names. Considering the number of persons and their mutual ties, the resulting network is very complex.
Particularly, it is not possible to clearly define individual clusters in the center. This is the case for the Ústí cluster (see figure).
The interconnection is too high, particularly due to key figures logically concentrated in the center. More interesting are the edges of the network, which are more discernable. It is possible to find a cluster around Trafačka (see figure)
or to examine the Internet generation and Radek Macek, who named himself (see figure).
It is also interesting that the majority of figures from the older generation are concentrated in the lower or right hand portion of the network. Marek's computer work provided this map of the contemporary Czech artistic landscape with contours, for which I am very grateful. The graphic design of the entire project was created by Adéla Svobodová. I also received assistance with this project at various stages from: Marcel Fišer, Martin Micka, Terezie Nekvindová, Josef Hlaváček, Federico Díaz and Tomáš Dvořák who I would also like to thank. Of course, my greatest thanks goes to the artists who took the time to respond and provide their 5 most influential figures. Thanks for your trust.
1 E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art.. Odeon, Praha 1989, pg. 15.
2 Insiders / Nenápadná generace druhé pol. 90. let, Brno, Dům umění m. Brna, Dům pánů z Kunštátu, prosinec 2004-2005; Praha, FUTURA, únor – květen 2005.
3 Emergent behavior does not follow from the characteristics of the individual components of a system, but appears as the result of the intricate interaction of its components. See Albert-László Barabási, Web without a Spider. Paseka, Praha 2005, pg. 210.
The main visualization of the artscape project came from a program primarily intended for depicting relationships between molecules, which in and of itself demonstrates the degree to which the project bridges various fields. The name of the program (Cytoscape) was inspiration for the title artscape. The positions of individual names in the subsequent diagram were calculated using a particle-spring algorithm. This simulates the physical system in which the bonds between particles behave like springs creating gravitational force based upon Hook‘s law and particles repel one another based upon Coulomb’s law as if they were electrons of the same charge. Calculations for the simulation are run until equilibrium is reached in the system. The output is shown as direct unmodified results of the simulation as well as a manually modified diagram for better clarity and legibility.
Cytoscape also offers many other possibilities for depicting similar diagrams. These may have descriptive value as primarily intended, or they also may be interesting from an esthetic point of view. All depictions are prepared in two dimensions, which has its advantages and disadvantages. In spite of all the problems the depiction is relatively lucid. 3D depictions presented on a two-dimensional screen or in print would not be that much clearer. In the ideal diagram, all the connections between nodes would be equal in length, which for the majority of projects would only be possible with hundreds of spatial dimensions.
The project visualization was inspired by the network theory of Albert-László Barabási. An assumption at the beginning of work was that based upon visualization there would be identifiable, nearly closed clusters of persons interconnected by strong ties. This has occurred however in only a few cases. Whenever it has been possible to identify any more closely knit group, there were almost always many other connections outside of it.
To observe and understand the connections within the artscape network the diagram was converted into an internet application creating using a Processing program. Visitors to the installation or the website have the opportunity to browse through the network themselves and to highlight specific relationships by clicking on certain names.
During the course of the work the possible use of a genetic algorithm was also tested, where the generated position of nodes would be gradually optimized based upon their mutual distance. The results obtained however were worse than those of the particle-spring algorithm in the Cytoscape program. It is possible that this approach could be effective given further development.
Aside from the computer operating system the work exclusively utilized freeware technology. I would like to thank Federico Díaz and Denisa Kera. This project would not have been possible without the support of Marcel Fišer (Galerie Klatovy/Klenová), a grant from Nadace současného umění Praha (Prague Foundation for Contemporary Art) and large format printing sponsor Athis Europeen.