This special issue of Shift: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture is dedicated to exploring how the ascendant imagery and language of networks have manifested in the arts and visual culture. Today, the network takes many forms. While online social networks facilitate ever-accelerating patterns of image dissemination and reformatting, artworks and visual culture objects themselves have recently been conceptualized as interacting in ways akin to the “network.”[1] In response to the “linguistic turn” in the humanities, frameworks such as new materialism, actor-network theory and ecological criticism have allowed theorists to probe questions about the agency and affective power of objects, materials and images, and to consider how such “actants” might influence one another or their environments.[2] Such methodologies add nuance to our discussions of the ways in which artistic practices and material cultures function within such multivalent contexts as globalization, biopolitics, climate change and the rise of global terrorism. When we conceived of “Networks” as the theme for Issue 9 of Shift, several possibilities came to mind: the predominance of digital networks and social media in current events, for instance, is undeniable. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been integral in catalyzing the Arab Spring and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As we have seen most recently, such networks have come to play an unprecedented role in steering the 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns and perhaps the election itself.[3]

The “social network” has lately emerged as a dominant methodological framework for art historians and curators, who have adopted it as a conceptual tool to trace artistic interactions, milieux and influences outside of apparently outdated frameworks like nation-state and style. Likewise some critics have abandoned the discourse of art’s institutionality to describe the art world instead as a vast network organized around peripatetic routes and temporary projects, in which value is measured by quantity of social and professional connections.[4]

Our feature articles demonstrate diverse approaches to the theme of “Networks” within a variety of historical contexts. Megan Driscoll traces the complex physical and virtual relationships that fostered the growth of early internet-based art during the 1980s and 1990s. Elvira Blanco discusses the economy of audiovisual piracy in contemporary Venezuela in relation to artist Hito Steryl’s theorization of “the poor image.” And Jordan Famularo situates a fifteenth-century Italian reliquary cupboard within cross-Mediterranean networks of material circulation and cultural resignification.

Several of the texts in this issue were commissioned in response to recent examples of scholarly works or curatorial projects that have employed the “network” as a way to reorganize or restructure histories of art and visual culture. We facilitated a Roundtable Discussion among members of our Editorial Committee and invited colleagues to discuss a recent number of exhibitions that have aimed to offer global or transnational perspectives on canonical modernist or avant-garde movements. We also feature an interview with curator and writer Claire Brandon, about her recent exhibition “Shahzia Sikander: Apparatus of Power” at the Asia Society Hong Kong. In conversation with Shift Co-Editor Allison Young, Brandon speaks to the show’s engagement with colonial trade networks and the experience of curating in an international context. Sean Nesselrode Moncada contributes a review of the first two sessions of the four-part conference, “Crossing Boundaries: Making World Art History.” This event was an informal series of workshops held at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU among scholars and curators representing diverse geographic and historical specializations, professional titles and institutional affiliations. Tina Montenegro reviews the exhibition “Carambolages” at the Grand-Palais in Paris, wherein curator Jean-Hubert Martin demonstrates a playful or cross-associative approach to artistic themes and visual tropes, while eschewing historical or geographical specificity. Uchenna Itam reviews Kobena Mercer’s recently published anthology of writings on black diaspora art practices.

In this issue, we wanted to explore the unique possibilities that digital scholarship can offer, and to experiment with new presentational modes for both academic research and artistic practice. Embedded data visualization tools, for example, are key components of Driscoll’s project. Additionally, the cover of “Issue 9: Networks” is, for the first time in Shift’s history, a dynamic, web-based artwork rather than a static one. It is an extension of Atif Akin’s 2015 project, Empire Front, which originally took the form of a gallery installation comprised of a grid of printed photographs and a video component. Hillit Zwick contributes a reflection on Akin’s work, which compiles a series of Instagram images, searchable in the public domain, using an algorithm to identify photographs taken nearby U.S. military bases abroad. The project speaks to the history of war photography, drone technology, military surveillance and social media, and it breaks through what Zwick refers to as a previously “invisible network,” now made accessible online.

Given that some parts of the issue are intended to be viewed online, and not in print, we have decided to present all of the texts within the Shift website for the first time. With the exception of Driscoll’s contribution, all of the texts that comprise Issue 9 are also available in a downloadable pdf format.

The theme of “Networks” is, in a final sense, a nod to the identity of Shift itself. Not only does the journal live online, but in its institutional mobility, it has managed to connect graduate students representing a variety of academic disciplines under the broad heading of the humanities and visual culture studies, from several university departments and across two continents.

Jonathan Patkowski and Allison Young, Co-Editors

Jonathan Patkowski is a PhD Candidate in Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His doctoral research focuses on questions of politics and cultural identity in post-war UK art, with emphasis on moving image-based practices. Currently Transmedia Associate at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, he previously taught art history at Hunter College, served as Social Media Fellow for The Graduate Center’s Art History Department and Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at Dia Art Foundation. His writing has appeared in publications including Rutgers Art Review and he has presented research at institutions including the University of Toronto, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Whitechapel Gallery, London.

Allison Young is a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. As a historian of modern and contemporary art with a focus on African diasporic artists, her research addresses the historiography of the “global turn” in contemporary art of the millennial years, and also traces transnational flows of artists, social movements and visual culture networks between Africa, Europe and North America. Allison’s research has been supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Historians of British Art, NYU Provost’s Global Research Initiative, and the NYU Africa House. She has been a Lecturer in Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons School of Design at The New School since Spring 2015, and writes art criticism for Artforum.com, ART AFRICA magazine, Apollo magazine, Wallpaper* and Africanah.org.



Host Institutions
Institute of Fine Arts, NYU & The Graduate Center, CUNY

Editorial Committee
Hilarie Ashton, Queens College
Daniella Berman, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Molly Davy, NYU Steinhardt
Elizabeth Lee, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Dana Liljegren, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Sean Nesselrode Moncada, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Tina Montenegro, NYU Department of French
Sam Omans, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Julia Pelta Feldman, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Rachel Valinsky, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Rachel Wetzler, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Chloe Wyma, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Editorial Board
Emily Burns, Auburn University
Rebecca Corrie, Bates College
Luis Duno-Gottberg, Rice University
Katherine Manthorne, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Steering Committee
Mary Eileen Wennekers, English, Western University
Daniel Martin Benson, French, New York University
Jon Weier, History, Western University
Luke Arnott, Media Studies, Western University
Amy Gaizauskas, Art History, Western University

Jonathan Patkowski, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Allison Young, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU

Cover Artwork
Atif Akin

Issue Design
Jonathan Patkowski

Shift Logo
Alex Dodge

[1] See David Joselit, After Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012) and “On Aggregators” October 146 (Fall 2013): 3-18.
[2] See Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); W.J.T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009) and Sarah Nuttall, Entanglement (Wits University Press, 2009)
[3] Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013) and Ecology without Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology,” Special online supplement of Third Text ed. T.J. Demos.
[4] Recent historical exhibitions exemplifying this trend: Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, Paris (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2006); Inventing Abstraction (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012-2013); and Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2015).