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Keeping it Online

Today I am pleased to announce the publication of a paper that documents the past, present, and future preservation practices of Rhizome's archive, the ArtBase. This paper is the synthesis of years of research conducted by Rhizome and other leaders of digital preservation, in and outside of art institutions. What follows is an attempt to summarize a few key points. The paper in its entirety is available here: Sustainable Preservation Practices and the Rhizome ArtBase

"…if nobody sees a museum piece, what’s the point of having it or keeping it? Museums exist for a social purpose, for us humans."
Bruce Sterling, keynote address at “Preserving the Immaterial: A Conference on Variable Media,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2001.

JODI – Globalmove.us

What happens when an institution acquires a digital work of art? How does one preserve and ensure the longevity of an art object that is inextricably tied to infrastructure built and controlled by neither artist nor institution? How can a work that exists in a social space, or makes use of real-time external data sources, be documented? These questions have long plagued collectors, conservators, and collecting institutions, as well as artists themselves. At Rhizome we face these challenges daily in our effort to preserve and ensure access to a multi generational practice and legacy of work produced by the communities we are built upon. The first line of Rhizome's mission statement reads: "Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology." Of these tenets, one that perhaps occupies the least public awareness, yet constitutes a significant portion of our labors is preservation. It is at the core of Rhizome's mission of support.

Since it's inception in 1999, the ArtBase has undergone numerous stages of evolution. What began as a simple place for sharing links has grown into a comprehensive archive adherent to international archival standards, containing over 2,500 works. Parallel to the archive's evolution, we have witnessed the aging of these works, some dating to 1994. From broken links to obsolete plugins, we have seen it all. Slowly but surely we are migrating works to host on our servers so that we may provide stable URLs, understand the digital objects that a work is composed of, and create stable versions of works that will remain unharmed by technological innovation. We are on a deep level working to ensure true longevity for these works, that 30 years from now they will be accessible and functional. Rhizome is 100% committed to providing permanent, free, public access to this collection and its cultural context.

Theory, research, and practice of digital preservation has existed for decades in disparate fields such as computer science, information science, digital humanities, and over the course of the last decade or so, in the art world. It is inarguable that seeking long-term permanent access to digital works of art is drastically more complex than the preservation of other forms of data and information. An artist's aesthetic and conceptual intent, often unspoken, are integral components often creating the need to preserve the look and feel of a woefully ancient piece of software. Case studies of such situations were conducted in the early aughts by the Variable Media Initiative (of which Rhizome was a participant). Our mission is one deeply rooted in access. The interconnected technological infrastructure artworks exist within creates a tenuous relationship wherein the actions of external parties directly affect the ability to for an artwork to function. Without function, there is no access. A rather clear example of function being defined by a third party is clearly present in the above piece by JODI. Globalmove.us implements a combination of the Google Maps API and subversive javascript written by the artists to create frenetic drawings (earthworks even) built of Google Maps UI elements. The ability for JODI's hand crafted javascript to accomplish this feat is explicitly allowed and defined by code that is written, hosted and provided by Google. Were this work to be preserved by a collecting institution, how would one ensure that changes made by Google to their Maps API does not destroy the functions implemented by the artist's code?

Screen shot of an (until recently) obsolecent applet version of Golan Levin's Floccus

On a more systemic level, internet based digital works are affected by the most fundamental form of infrastructure: the browser. This piece of software is the user/patron/visitor's sole point of access to web based work, yet it is produced and controlled by neither artist, patron, nor collecting institution. Manufacturers of web browsers explicitly define what can and can not be accomplished within the browser window – a rapidly shifting paradigm. Software efficiency and the politics of emergent web standards is a concern secondary to our goal of properly supporting a chronological legacy of net.art, yet it is a reality we must face. Through growth in ArtBase infrastructure, research, and staff we aim to lift the burden of maintenance, in an effort to encourage experimentation and devotion to new work among creative communties online.

Preservation is challenged well beyond technical impetus when considering works that exist entirely within a web service, or social networking platform. Here the lines between digital object and performative action are blurred. In the instance of a work such as Joel Holmberg's "Legendary Account," what is to be preserved? Is the context of the Yahoo Answers platform vital to one's encounter? When exhibited as part of the New Museum's Free exhibition, the work was displayed as printouts of screenshots, and as well, the work exists as highly compressed screenshots on the artist's website. Do these forms of documentation suffice? Is this experiment in internet phenomenology best encountered naïvely in its natural setting?

Screenshot of Legendary Account by Joel Holmberg

Looking beyond initial innovations and solutions in documenting and preserving digital artworks, supporting the longevity of such work, and its accessibility to the public is a significant commitment. Even with adherence to international archival standards, the recurrent nature of obsolescence creates a continuum wherein after an obsolete art object is restored, it is only a matter of time before its solution is rendered obsolete. Without action, obsolescence and lack of documentation creates an air of mythology – an inaccessible history or digital dark age.

It is our hope that through the research presented in this paper, we may synthesize the progress achieved in disparate disciplinary silos, and further the theory and practice of preserving digital materials within the arts community.

As a footnote – Globalmove.us, and Legendary Account are not part of the ArtBase's collection, but are used as examples due to their inherent risks and challenges.

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Roz Dimon Aug. 10 2011 22:30Reply

This is a very worthy endeavor /idea that puts Rhizome on the living, breathing and larger map like never before – what would we know of past civilizations (ergo ourselves) without a conscientious dedication to archaeological research? It takes what might be mistaken as detritus and makes it into a comprehensible, fascinating story by connecting the dots and digits. WOW.
Sift that digital dirt and bring it to 'eternal life' folks by connecting the generations, the days, the moments; the evolving zone of pixellated ether; a parallel but different universe to our physical practice; one that is driving us to NEXT.
What could be more exciting? A living breathing digital Rosetta Stone. Something "larger than ourselves" - isn't this what art aspires to?

OMEGA DAY Aug. 11 2011 13:03Reply

What a telling portrayal of unrelieved apostasy the chapter gives us!

OMEGA DAY Aug. 11 2011 13:09Reply

Number 9
She Nags You Incessantly
Gone are the days when the two of you could communicate with harmonious precision. Now, every sentiment you express sets her off and she finds any excuse to lash out at you.
If such an about-face sounds familiar, she may be subconsciously trying to justify her little tryst. Nagging you helps eliminate or at least ease her nagging guilt. So if she habitually begins to point out your every flaw, you may want to get to the bottom of what's really going on because it's one of our signs she's cheating on you.

Rachel Howard Aug. 13 2011 11:47Reply

Love. Love is the greatest gift God ever gave man. Love is not wanting to go anywhere without her. Love is not caring what other people think about the two of you. Love is when you feel depressed and sickly when you're not with her. You feel like your life has no meaning or purpose without her. And that if she wasn't holding your hand you would float away to heaven from where she came. Love is caring for her physically and emotionally. It's telling her everyday, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, for no just reason that you love her. Love is telling her u want to spend the rest of your life with her. Love is wanting to marry her even tho ya'll haven't been dating that long.

Rachel Howard Aug. 13 2011 11:51Reply

To define true love, would be to ruin it's purity, therefore, It has no definition.

satoridragon Aug. 19 2011 03:43Reply

So replying to the comments, what makes Art eternal in "Art" matters, certainly is not love, what makes  the inprint in someones mind, to make it last? I've been working on memory reseach ( I might say do make fake Artcalls that just makes people look stupid,for facebook white hats, goverment officials in so many countries,where they do think Art is really well regarded, As the Art making profession). What makes Art everlasting, physical, digital, blogged, words, maybe each one of thoose can make eternal, but the collective memory is the main concern, press,fame, exposure, reception, I point out last because it has to be the right one.

For the love fans, genocide,hate, the berlin wal l(many Artists work with thoose themes), not only love makes something eternal, in societies, hate, pain, hurt, injuries,can stay in your memory forever, everyday. I do have some scar that tells me everyday they beated me up physically because what I do is Art, I'm good at it, also good in moving it. Art is never pure it's  filled with society issues raw fellings,etc. I do love Art, my love for that is pure, but that does not embrace all loves, convinience, what you get used too, does de-mystify what love is, if its romantic, familiar, or singular that which does  apply to the others definition, Also art reaches that subject.So we find here some conversation  that is directed to some couple instead  of the post importance, of Rhizome sublime job, of allowing us to reach digital Art, make digital Art, share other thoughts about Art, not only restrained to digital, I do remember when they did not have funds to sustain the platform years back, the calls for help, most impostant believers reached in to help, to sustain what might or might not be eternal, but the community that does Art belives in new mediums for doing it as society evolves.
What makes Art eternal, some rosetta stone? no, many characteristics or variables  to say it the rhizome way make Art eternal including words, to dismay the importance of lenguage, idiomatic subtances is naive, the way we communicate, is extremely valuable. Also to dismay the origins of conceptual art has no meaning in this post.
So concentarting on issues regarding Art eternity: Art questions, shows particular views of our humanity, as Art connot be fully defined by no one, maybe better to say what its not, using some episteme tools to find true knowlegde, it does not saves the world or people, but it does broaden thinking boundaries for thoose secluded in such, archiitechture, design, music, sound. It raises questions others have not thought of, well not military technology, the futurists, did reallygreat advances on the concept of harmony, noise etc. The aestheic discourse broden the spectator sensibility, cert5ainlynotfor all to grasp the whole meaning, but it  pushes people to think, when  the artist bears thoughts in some exhibition, when they  see the Rhizome archive of vision etc.
As many disciplines mya be close to ART, design, architecture, history they do have some other purpose, mianly on provinding elements to help our human exiatnce now, Art does different the unending questioning of how we live, how we are happy or how we are sorrow, engaging spectators, interator into that, well being conceited, as an Artist, they might take some press but they will never  our glory!

Adriana Ospina
Post scriptum
for the rachel posting her heartache, loving is setting free….
else 44 for rachel!

satoridragon Aug. 19 2011 04:01Reply

good thing I posted that  as  facebook note too… 17 August not 19,we all know the n is teen, I do not like  people hacking my pages, Mark tribe for this one…

GeorgeSummers Jan. 12 2012 04:18Reply

WOW, theres some great artwork on here. Loving the old epsom printer, I used to have one of those!