A Sociopoetic Art: Six Degrees of Davinio

Review by Craig Saper
University of Maryland Baltimore County

Title: Network Poetico_Net Poetry Reading in Web Cam
When: October 9 2009
Where: Press Conference Room (Auditorium 6) San Servolo, Venice

In the context of: 53. Venice Biennale
Collateral Event MHO_Save the Poetry
San Servolo Island

[1] Caterina Davinio's Network Poetico: Net-Poetry Performance, at the 53rd Venice Biennale in October 2009 and archived online, is an example of sociopoetics, and what is particularly interesting about the project was the discussions and networking projected at the event. While each poet waited to deliver their work at the opening event at the Venice Biennale, they chatted in IM, and then one by one Caterina would cue a poet, and they would leave the conversation. In those conversations, poets from at least three continents were comparing their work, and talking about the time difference, the weather, and possibilities for future networking projects. They were also promoting their work to a network that they knew little or nothing about. Davinio's work had to do with setting up this networking as an artwork about networked poetry. The conversation was projected to those at the opening of the event in Venice, and the networking became the canvas. Using Roland Barthes's category of the "receivable" (Barthes, RB 118), one could see the projected messages as something that is neither a traditional narrative (readerly), nor a modernist poem (writerly). Instead, as soon as one reads the transcription of the chat, one is inevitably part of it even if silently watching.

[2] The experimental tenor of these works resembles social scientific experiments. In that sense, the artworks often seem like actual social psychological experiments. Stanley Milgram, best known for his "shocking" work on obedience where volunteer "teachers" followed orders to inflict supposedly fatal shocks to "students," did less invasive work to study "communicative webs" in the late 1960s (Milgram). He wanted to study how people are connected, and his work closely parallels the work of artists' networks (and the publications that grew from those networks). He began with a randomly generated list of people living in Omaha, Nebraska. Each person on the list received a package containing instructions to write their name on a roster and send the package on to someone they knew, a friend or acquaintance, who might get the package closer to the final destination (someone who lived in Sharon Massachusetts and worked in Boston). Milgram used the mail system, and a chain-letter-like experiment, to investigate social connections. He found that it took on average only six steps to reach the final destination.

[3] Davinio's project uses a sociopoetic approach to creative work.

[4] The term sociopoetic describes artworks that use social situations or social networks as a canvas; intimate bureaucracies being a type of sociopoetic work. The term sociopoetic does not define my methodology. Instead, the term describes an aesthetic approach -- one that Davinio uses in her work. In short, instead of looking at formal issues, one now studies how situations function poetically sociopoetically) (Saper, Networked Art, 2001).

[5] The phrase, "six degrees of separation", and the implications of our links to large social webs have been explored in the play and film of the same name and in the party game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." In this sense, it is not Caterina Davinio that defines her work, but Six Degrees of Davinio.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill & Wang, 1977, originally published in French, 1975. The discussion of the receivable takes place in the section entitled, "Lisible, scriptable et au-delà -- Readerly, writerly, and beyond."

Milgram, Stanley. "The Lost Letter Technique." The Individual in A Social World: Essays and Experiments, Second Edition, John Sabini and Maury Silver, eds. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992. see also Milgram, Stanley. The Small World, Manfred Kochen, ed. Norwood, N.J. : Ablex Pub., c 1989.

Saper, Craig. Networked Art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.