Artifacts of the Eternal Network


When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience which are works of art and everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience.

 -John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934 [1]

 Art is an unnatural thing-it flourishes on hypocrisy.

 -Crack-Up, 1946, directed by Irving Reis [2]


The rubric "Eternal Network" has come to be understood as being coterminous with "mail art" and/or "correspondence works." While some revisionist historians of the contemporary arts are currently attempting to challenge this assumption, they tend to do so by expanding the sets of objects that they believe are encompassable by Robert Filliou's term. Thus the Eternal Network is becoming an acceptable descriptor, not only for artists' stamp sheets, postcards, rubber stamp imprints, and other postal works, but also for the periodicals, photocopies, and other forms of production realized by members of international correspondence art networks. What is lost sight of in this admirable historiographic process is the fact that Filliou's Fête Permanente (constant feast or festival) was a permanent celebration, not of artworks, but of actions and events. Furthermore, for Filliou and his co-conspirator George Brecht, the Eternal Network had absolutely nothing to do with art as a privileged, unnatural thing, situated within a separate realm. For them (although admittedly not for all correspondence network participants), the artist was but one player in a wider network of everyday events, doings, and sufferings "going on around him all the time in all parts of the world." [3]


Anonymous, Masturbation Unit...Clitoral Stimulator...Fanny Tickler, n.d.


The primary defining characteristic of all correspondence art networks is that they are communication "cultures." In their pure transitive state (outside the museum, gallery, and alternative space system) correspondence works are overtly transactional; they serve as a means by which community is established and through which members of the culture interact. Because (despite Filliou's intention to the contrary) correspondence art networks are distinguishable from majority culture communities based on their self- determination as alternative "art" cultures, they fall heir to a primary defining principle of the historical avant-garde. In their critique of the institution of art as well as of larger cultural constructs, participants in correspondence art networks fulfill a fundamental prerequisite for membership in this venerated tradition of artistic activism.

The modernist concept of a cultural avant-garde was optimistically prophesied in 1825 by Saint-Simon during a period of utopian progressivism. The artist was originally positioned within a cultural committee of socially conscious individuals whose charge, mandated by the heirs of the Enlightenment, entailed a collaborative attempt to move culture ahead to a better future. The artist was not only to take his or her place alongside the scientist and philosopher, but was understood, by a society governed by idealism, to be particularly well qualified to make substantial contributions to the dissemination of the value structures of this new world. By the early twentieth-century, having long since become specific to literary and artistic actions, the concept "avant-garde" had come to be inseparable from the aesthetic basis of community building and "culturing."


Leonard Frank Duch, Art and Life, n.d.


The numerous artistic avant-gardes of the first half of our century were very much aware that the construction of culture was historically dependent upon the communication structures through which cultural "truths" and myths are disseminated. The unique insight of the diverse participants in numerous contemporary correspondence art networks is that the means by which information age cultures are constructed must inevitably serve as both subject and medium for artistic production. In the final analysis, it is the tracks of such ongoing contemporary avant-garde processes of culturing (and of cultural critique) that the exhibition Artifacts of the Eternal Network celebrates.

As a rule, all the materials included in this exhibition were intended to challenge formalist assumptions about the nature of the art experience. Even within an exhibition context, these artifacts cannot easily be accepted as viable candidates for passive contemplation and evaluation. Some address our cultural taboos; others make tongue-in-cheek reference to their self-proclaimed art historical precursors. At their very best, these artifacts retain their status as residue of art-based interventions in larger socio-political arenas. At very least, they remind us that, as an institutional construct, art itself is capable of serving as a culturally sanctioned arena for discourse and social interaction.



1. John Dewey, Art as Experience, New York: Perigee Books, 1980, p. 3.

2. This film noir classic about art forgeries is set within the artworld of the 1940s. As can be expected, the cited attack on the institution of art was not offered by the hero, but rather by one of his antagonists.

3. Robert Filliou, Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts, Köln/New York: Verlag. Gerbl. König, 1970, p.24. For a more detailed discussion of Filliou's coinage of the term, see Stephen Perkins, "Utopian Networks and Correspondence Identities," in this volume.


To: Subjugated Knowledges cover page.
To: Exhibition Checklist.