Lincoln Schatz’s ‘The Network’ — NO TOFU

Originally published at NO TOFU

With the constant rotation of new exhibits, it can be all too easy to overlook the treasures of any given museum’s permanent collection. At the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, one such work is Lincoln Schatz’s “The Network,” a video portrait bringing together 89 of the most influential people in the United States. The project was given to the museum by the artist as a gift in 2012.

To create “The Network,” Schatz interviewed participants from numerous sectors, including government and technology, for 45 minute sessions. Based on the topics discussed, he then compiled keywords that are used by a software program to string clips together into one long video. The footage doesn’t loop; the combination changes depending on what keywords the software taps into to generate the next clip. He calls the project a “generative video portrait.”

The result is a continuously evolving set of associations between people across political and social lines. Seemingly intractable obstacles are swept away, which can make those with entrenched political biases uncomfortable. By focusing only on the keyword, rather than the message or the context a person exists in, the project draws attention to similarities on key issues, such as innovation and government transparency. There is also weight lended to the project by the continuously shifting political sands on which many stand, including Eric Cantor, who recently fell from the top echelons of power by way of lost primary. Unintentionally, the piece has become a commentary on the fleeting nature of power.

“The Network” can be looked at as meaning two things. On one hand, it refers to the network of people who influence the world we live in through policy, business, and invention. But perhaps more significantly, it can refer to the interrelated nature of the numerous issues and challenges facing society. By linking clips through a formula, Schatz has fit together the pieces of a complex puzzle in a way that feels human and approachable even as it shines light on the powerful.

“The Network” is on view in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.

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