Beyond a href: Preserving Flash-driven Art

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As Digital Preservation Fellow with Rhizome, my work has focused on archiving works of net art from the live web into the ArtBase.  Net art, despite the benefits of being abstract - it rarely gets moldy! - is built on exceptionally fragile media.  A server failure, domain shift, or missing file is enough to effectively destroy a work of art.  As such, to properly preserve the pieces in the ArtBase, I work alongside Ben Fino-Radin to crawl, download, and adjust works for hosting in our archive.  The scope of the ArtBase - from hypertext experiments to Twitter-fed visualizations - brings me in contact with an array of technologies, media, and unexpected use cases.  While nearly every work of net art in the ArtBase founded on HTML, most go beyond it: embedded multimedia is very frequently used for a variety of purposes and effects.  As such, developing a system to download and preserve complex media objects is of tremendous importance to my work.

One of the most common multimedia formats used in the ArtBase is Flash, dating back to its origins with FutureWave and through its development by Macromedia and Adobe.  Of the myriad formats used in the ArtBase’s collection, SWF is the most prevalent and deeply used multimedia filetype: over a third of the archived works are founded on it.  Its combination of power (few formats offer its combination of browser-driven multimedia and interactivity) and ubiquity on audience machines made it the obvious choice for artists looking to go beyond the HTML and JavaScript-driven net art of the late 1990s. Hence, working with Flash is greatly important to Rhizome’s preservation mission.

Splash screen, Inflat-O-Scape (2001)

SWF, as a format, presents a number of challenges for art conservators and archivists.  As a binary format, it cannot be immediately parsed by text-friendly tools (such ...

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"In the Nostalgia District" by Lauren Cornell in Frieze Magazine's 20th Anniversary Issue

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Frieze has a massive new issue out celebrating its 20th anniversary with contributions from Bruce Sterling, Lynne Tillman, Kazys Varnelis, Simon Critchley, and Nina Power. Rhizome executive director Lauren Cornell also has an essay in the new issue: 

Since 2005, I’ve been the director of the online organization Rhizome, and have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why ‘Internet’ is such a gauche word in contemporary art. Here are a few simple reasons I’ve come up with. First, medium-specificity is out of style and the word ‘Internet’ suggests a medium – something separate, something cyber – even though the term can really be used now to describe the experiences that come with an expanded culture and communications system, not just its underlying network protocols. However, this perception of the Internet as a separate artistic territory persists, with its roots planted firmly in the 1990s. In step with Clinton-era rhetoric around globalization, and excitement for new information technologies, the first Internet bubble swelled in the ’90s and burst in the early 2000s, as did patience with ambitious but under-resourced ‘net art’ exhibitions (read: faulty browsers and error signs). Quickly, it was all but abandoned by the art world save for a few ambitious museum media lounges. It’s important to note that much of this ’90s-era ‘net art’ was preoccupied with the technology itself, not with celebrating it, but considering and subverting it. This focus made it somewhat impenetrable for the non-technologically inclined and challenging to exhibit off-line. In the last few years, however, the field of art engaged with the Internet has expanded to being both about new tools and simply how we live our lives – the humanity on top, so to speak.

A second reason for the slow response is that, unlike other industries, such as music ...

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