The growing interest in the collaborative models, participatory practices, and sociological aspects of networks is linked to and forms part of a broader global process of cultural, social and economic change.
Beyond its participatory, interconnected aesthetics, the collaborative model of networks is also taking hold thanks to the current economic crisis – or reassessment or reformulation – and the resulting systemic restructuring of our lives. Sharing has become a means of saving, of redistribution, of intelligent and sustainable exploration and exploitation of resources, materials, relationships and knowledge.
Although the network-system – and its evolution – is obviously linked to various technological aspects, talking about networks today does not just mean focusing on the technical and communicational elements that form them. Rather, it means talking about people, about individuals and collectives, about building human relationships, and about the economic, political, social and cultural ties that bind us.
We are making social and communicational headway towards an open, plural, shared model thanks to the enormous opportunities for forging relationships and making contacts (professional, personal, etc.), instantly and conveniently, through the Internet and its many online tools.
“Being connected” seems to have become the most essential universal condition on the planet. As the academic Juan Martín Prada argues, “Clearly, in our societies, being almost constantly connected and belonging to social media and platforms is ceasing to be an option and becoming an imperative, a prerequisite for non-exclusion” .
The dilemma of whether virtual participation in networks leads to real inclusion, or, on the contrary, to social exclusion; the matter of whether we are actually seeing the rise of plurality or a profound and unfathomable panorama of individualities; the question of the effects of new means of communication on identity and being in the digital era, and other similar issues may still require some time and distance before they can be formulated and analysed correctly. In any event, there are certainly many answers, and we will always encounter both enthusiasts and naysayers, technophiles and technophobes, when these matters are discussed.
The French philosopher and sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky has written that the individual “seems to be more and more opened up and mobile, fluid and socially independent. But this volatility signifies much more a destabilisation of the self than a triumphant affirmation of a subject endowed with self-mastery” .
The position of strength and/or weakness of an individual in contemporary society, the specificity of the “connected individual” and his actual or supposed freedom to access or communicate through the Internet, are matters that remain unresolved and must be taken into account in any research process into the links between culture, society, and information and communication technologies.
The sometimes invisible codes that predetermine online communications, and the enormous influence of corporations, multinationals and the devices of capitalism in the construction of new social models are other fundamental aspects to take into account. As Prada says, “although the expansion of connectivity has enormously increased the possibilities for communication and contact, these possibilities are also being conditioned by a handful of models and patterns of intervention designed and managed by an ever-shrinking number of companies. This is why many people argue that the whole thing has shaped a techno-social order defined by the generation of a strong dependence on the new technological systems and devices, and by communication inflation processes expressed through predesigned forms of social and emotional interaction” .
Nonetheless, while recognising and bearing in mind the requisite questions and controversies that can help us to understand and challenge the changes affecting identity and the individual in the digital age, it remains clear that ICTs, the Internet and the myriad contemporary digital tools have opened up an enormous world of new possibilities. New forms of creativity, new interests, new cultural knowledge and exchanges, and new collaborative and interactive practices are part of a horizontal, universal landscape linked to cyberculture, which is generating ever greater amounts of new shared knowledge. As the researcher Margarita Rodríguez Ibañez writes, “The emergence of the Web as a space of intercultural synergy is closely linked to the concept of cyberculture, in as far the new cybernetic space does not just offer new cultural interests, but also the capacity to connect users with disciplines that they may not have been actively interested in, but that they can become connected to when new links are formed, thus creating a more extensive and participatory culture. Cyberspace interconnects different types of thought, uniting people whose only ‘binding’ element is some shared interest, building a cumulative force of knowledge for humanity” .
As this new arena for action expands, it triggers a radical paradigm shift that affects the forms, practices and essence of knowledge, and also stimulates interculturality, promotes participatory creation – or co-creation – that favours knowledge sharing and dissemination, and promotes new models of collaboration. As Jesús Martín-Barbero writes, “Digital convergence brought about a radical change in the communication model in cultural politics, in as far as we have shifted from the one-way, linear, authoritarian ‘information transmission’ paradigm to the ‘network’ model, in other words, to the model of interaction and connectivity that replaces the mechanical form of remote communication with that of the electronic proximity interface. A new paradigm that generates policies that favour the synergy among many small projects over the complex structure of big, unwieldy technological and management systems” .
In the field of culture and contemporary artistic practices, it is interesting to identify and analyse the proliferation of cases and projects that appear to be both innovative and original.
The impact of new technological applications and tools, the curiosity that they have always aroused and unleashed in the imagination of artists, and their potentially infinite scope in the creative process, have driven and continue to drive artists and diverse culture professionals to explore and learn the capacities and functions of these new devices. The use of new media is more a need than a goal: the need to broaden horizons and to release the full force of the creative imagination through all possible tools.
Experimentation at the intersections between new technologies, new media and art – like the radio experiments of members of the futurist avant-garde – have proliferated in recent decades, to the point that artistic creativity has embraced all the typical elements of communication. As the Italian art critic Germano Celant explains, in the 20th Century, “the dominant force of emergent technologies – such as photography and radio, telephone and gramophone, recording devices and television, cinema and the computer – has found its own ‘natural’ tempo, allowing such media to coexist and intertwine without difficulty. In fact, what all the historic avant-gardes, from Futurism to Surrealism, considered the future – that is, the 'de-codification’ of the imaginary as a result of the collapse of the limits and boundaries between art and technology – has become an established, recognised system. The realm of art, or better still, of creativity, can include all communicative and discursive elements” .
Yolanda Domínguez, Pose Nº5, 2013
The production of collective artworks, performances and artistic actions has certainly been reenergized and renewed thanks to the power of digital tools to convene, express and disseminate. The video Pose Nº5 by the artist Yolanda Domínguez is part of this space of creative action, for example. It arises from reflections about the power of collective action, and encompasses the critical and social participation aspects of art as well as its aesthetic dimension. The artist describes the project as a video of a collective action “in which anonymous women from around the world imitate the pose of Chanel’s 2013 campaign to highlight how ridiculous, artificial and contemptuous the image of women too often is in the fashion industry”. As well as its main criticism of the world of fashion and the way it churns out dubious representations, the video also defends collaborative creation as a very appealing and successful model: “I sincerely believe that there is something much more interesting in the success of the connected community than in their individual success, in the scope of a project when it transcends the creator’s proposal” .
Art is strengthening its links to information and communication, particularly when it comes to social and political critique; ethics and aesthetics merge, often in the course of an artistic research project. Art has become a hybrid, unlimited field that can interact with many different spheres. As Jesús Martín-Barbero says, “The convergence between traditional and new services that is introduced by virtual networks must be accepted as a challenge that is both about education and citizenship, given that what is at stake is the strategic links between information, creative interaction and social participation” .
The collaborative models that form part of so many artistic creations expand into and are reproduced in the most diverse fields of culture and other disciplines of humanistic and scientific knowledge. An interesting research project in the field of curatorial practices is #OpenCurating by the curatorial team Latitudes. Based on a reflection on Web 2.0, on “open journalism” practices, and on the demand for participation and transparency in today’s political, social and cultural spheres, “#OpenCurating investigates how contemporary art projects can function beyond the traditional format of exhibition-and-catalogue in ways which might be more fully knitted into the web of information which exists in the world today. #OpenCurating is concerned with new forms of interaction between publics – whether online followers or physical visitors – with artworks and their production, display and discursive context” . Through a series of conversational strategies (a Twitter discussion, a set of ten interviews and an open event discussion) the Latitudes team set out to examine new behaviours in art and communication, through the model of shared production and flow of knowledge.
Another example from the curatorial field that explores online collaborative models is the “Expanded Exhibition” project  organised by a group of cultural bloggers who used their constant presence on social media and their familiarity with the languages of online communication and contemporary art to transform their virtual spaces into an experimental collective curating project. A clear example of a collaborative model that uses digital tools and networks to create and convey shared knowledge.
The allure of networks and the fascination with the smooth flow of knowledge and with new collaborative models, has also had a strong impact on the world of contemporary art fairs. A recent and already quite well known example is the ARCO bloggers project organised by ARCOmadrid from 2013, which will be designed by different industry professionals each year. In 2014, the project will be directed by Martí Manen under the title ARCO(e)ditorial, and will reflect on “what it means to work with text, images and movement from the net in relation to contemporary art” .
There are also many projects from the museum, academia and research fields that explore issues such as innovation in culture, new forms of networked knowledge, and the different connections and synergies between disciplines and forms of knowledge. In the context of the city of Barcelona, some of these projects include the CCCB Lab ; the “New Frontiers of Science, Art and Thought” seminars that, in their last stage, were coordinated by the former Science department at Arts Santa Mònica, directed by Josep Perelló; and the Open Systems. Artistic Experimentation and Scientific Creativity project co-organised by MACBA, the Institute of Education at Barcelona City Council and the University of Barcelona, which is targeted at teachers, students, artists and scientists and aims to discover and collaborate in activities that entail the hybridisation and convergence of artistic and scientific practices .
The examples outlined here reveal a constantly changing scene. The artistic creation and curatorial fields, museums, public institutions, private entities, and so on, are increasingly adopting collaborative and participatory models that are capable of arousing new interests, disseminating new types of shared knowledge, and opening up new doors and new creative and professional opportunities. As Jesús Martín-Barbero says, “Digital networks are not just spaces for the conservation and dissemination of cultural and artistic heritage, but also a space for experimentation and aesthetic creation” .
The study of networks and their intercultural and interdisciplinary scope, the exploration of collaborative and participatory models, and the formulation and flow of shared knowledge, are a fascinating challenge that does not just encompass the fields of communication, art and culture, but the composition and structure of knowledge as a whole.
 PRADA, Juan Martín. Prácticas Artísticas e Internet en la Época de las Redes Sociales. Ediciones Akal. Madrid, 2012. P. 25-26.
 LIPOVETSKY, Gilles. Los tiempos hipermodernos. Editorial Anagrama. Barcelona, 2006. P. 88.
 PRADA, Juan Martín, op. cit., pág. 26.
 RODRÍGUEZ IBÁÑEZ, Margarita. Cómo la Red ha cambiado el arte. Ediciones Trea. Gijón, 2012. P. 75.
 MARTÍN-BARBERO, Jesús. “Convergencia digital y diversidad cultural”, in: DE MORAES, Dênis (ed.), Mutaciones de lo Visible. Comunicación y procesos culturales en la era digital. Paidós. Buenos Aires, 2010. P. 153-154.
 Free translation into English. Original text in Italian: “La forza dominante di tecniche emergenti, nel corso del ventesimo secolo, come la fotografia e la radio, il telefono e il grammofono, il registratore e la televisione, il cinema e il computer, trova oggi un suo tempo “naturale” che le fa convivere e intrecciarsi senza alcun problema. Di fatto quanto era considerato dalle avanguardie storiche, dal futurismo al surrealismo, il futuro, cioè la “decodificazione” del territorio dell’immaginario, risultato della caduta di tutti i limiti e I confini, tra le arti e le tecniche, è diventato nel ventunesimo secolo un sistema affermato e riconosciuto. Nel “corpo” dell’arte, o meglio della creatività, possono entrare tutti gli elementi comunicativi e discorsivi”. CELANT, Germano. Artmix. Flussi tra arte, architettura, cinema, design, moda, musica e televisione. Feltrinelli. Milano, 2008. P. 6.
 Yolanda Domínguez, Pose Nº5, 2013. Available online at: http://www.yolandadominguez.com/es/pose-n-5-2013.html [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 MARTÍN-BARBERO, Jesús, op. cit., p. 159.
 Researchers: '#OpenCurating', BCN Producció 2012, Barcelona, June 2012–April 2013. Available online at: http://www.lttds.org/projects/opencurating/ [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 Available online at: http://laexposicionexpandida.net [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 Available online at: http://arcobloggers.com [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 Available online at: http://blogs.cccb.org/lab/es [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 Available online at: http://sistemesoberts.wordpress.com [Retrieved: 30 October 2013].
 MARTÍN-BARBERO, Jesús, op. cit., p. 160.
* This article was previously published in: VV.AA. Innovaciones Artísticas y Nuevos Medios: Conservación, Redes y Tecnociencia. Universitat de Barcelona. Barcelona, 2013. ISBN: 978-84-695-9407-0