The Networked Condition

The Networked Condition

Arts organisations: Fast Familiar, Abandon Normal Devices (AND) and Arts Catalyst are pleased to publish collaborative research-led project The Networked Condition, which explores the often-hidden environmental impact of the creation and delivery of artworks using digital technology.

The project features a series of case studies about digital arts production internationally, as well as a newly commissioned, free-to-use carbon calculator, to help artists and arts producers understand and reduce the impact of digital production.

For the past 18 months, the partner organisations have explored digital arts through an environmental lens, as part of The Accelerator Programme (led by Julie’s Bicycle and Arts Council England), which works with organisations to advance sustainable practices and share insights with the wider sector. This collaboration has allowed Fast Familiar, AND and Arts Catalyst to frame questions, test ideas and explore potential solutions to inform industry practices and processes for artists, creative producers and commissioners.

Recent years have seen an explosion in the use of digital technology in the creation and dissemination of artworks, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The associated carbon footprint of these works is more hidden than in traditional artforms, often occurring in remote server farms or obscured by complex global supply chains and distribution networks which further exacerbate the disparity in environmental damage inflicted on the Global South compared to the Global North. The ecological and ethical costs involved in the extraction of materials, manufacturing processes and designed obsolescence of digital technologies can be huge.

By speaking with artists, researchers and organisations, the project has produced a series of case studies, providing useful insights to help make these hidden impacts more tangible. Mapping aspects of and approaches to the creation, manufacture, distribution and disposal involved in digital cultural production, the case studies provide a window into creative practices which critically engage with the social, ethical and environmental implications of digital production cycles - as well as the vast and often invisible infrastructures of which they are a part. The first four case studies, feature conversations with artist and researcher Joana Moll; academic, researcher and artist Vladan Joler; cross-disciplinary studio Invisible Flock; and digital artist Kyle McDonald.

You can read the case study with Vladan Joler on our site here. 

Alongside this research, a newly commissioned carbon calculator is the first in a series of practical tools to help artists and commissioners working in the fields of digital art and creative media to better understand the carbon footprint and other impacts of the generation and distribution of their artworks, and to help them plan projects in a more sustainable way. The tool has been built by computational artist Armando Gonzalez Sosto with support from London South Bank University's Centre for the Study of the Networked Image. The tool is a prototype that the partners hope to continue to improve and develop, if funding is available.

The tool can be accessed for free at https://thenetworkedcondition.com and includes links to simple guidance on the practical steps producers can take to reduce that footprint.

The project launches on Thursday 16 September with a demonstration and discussion as part of the AMA’s London Regional Meeting. Fast Familiar will present the project and the Digital Arts Carbon Calculator to arts marketing professionals, within a workshop on Sustainable Marketing.

“As organisations, digital devices, technology and media are central to the work we do, and this, combined with the urgent need to address issues of sustainability within all areas of our work, means that exploring these often hidden environmental costs is an essential part of the way we work and what we produce” says Dan Barnard, Fast Familiar.

Becky Hazlewood, Environmental Sustainability Project Manager at Julie’s Bicycle says: “We’re delighted to be supporting this project as part of The Julie’s Bicycle and Arts Council England Accelerator Programme. Every 18 months we mentor, train and support up to 10 organisations to achieve sustainable goals, and we believe The Networked Condition will have an immediate and lasting impact on sector understanding and action.”

Further case studies will be published in the coming months, including interviews with artist, experimental filmmaker, musician and computer scientist Memo Akten; and artists Jean Katambayi Mukendi and Maarten Vanden Eynde, who initiated transnational research project On-Trade-Off which explores a broad range of questions surrounding raw materials for technological industries, financial speculation, and the history of electricity. There are also blogs on Fast Familiar's website about how they made their website use 50% less energy and the process they went on to create their first carbon-neutral project.

Insights and learning from the project will continue to be shared with the wider cultural sector, helping to inform sectoral change through encouraging more responsible, sustainable and creative uses of digital technology. The tools and resources developed through the project will support critical decision-making in the early planning stages of any project, as well as contributing to and advocating for sustainable practice within the creative community.