Artistic activity on the Internet has taken off as quickly as the Internet itself and, already, after a mere seven or eight years, artistic projects created for the Internet are posing major conservation problems. That's where Rhizome's ArtBase comes in.
Rhizome was started in 1996 by Mark Tribe as a platform for discussion among the growing artistic and critical community for media art. It had three main aims: encourage communication and critical exchanges about this art form, open up media artworks to a larger audience and preserve works so they would be accessible in the future.
Rhizome quickly staked out its terrain as an essential meeting place for this community. Other sections were progressively added to the discussion forum, like the "Splash Pages," projects that are used as Rhizome's start page, created by artists such as Robbin Murphy, Jodi and Olia Lialina. More recently, Rhizome added alternative interfaces where users can choose from various interfaces to access Rhizome's resources.
ArtBase is Rhizome's most ambitious project to date. It will act as an archive of Internet-based art projects, and has several key objectives :
- Preservation of on-line works. ArtBase aims to institute both technical and methodological measures to maintain future access to works. The great diversity in both project type and technologies poses monumental challenges, to be sure. But what makes ArtBase interesting is, on one hand, its ability to rely on the Rhizome community's expertise and, on the other hand, the committee of experts it has brought together to work on methodologies for conservation of on-line artworks.
This committee is formed of artists, critics and curators who are, for the most part, among the pioneers of artistic practice on the Internet. They are Benjamin Weil, who in 1995 started one of the first Web sites dedicated to on-line art, äda'web (1)
, and is now a curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Peter Weibel (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany); Gerfried Stocker (Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria); Roger Malina (editor of the magazine Leonardo); Barbara London (Museum of Modern Art, New York); Jon Ippolito (Guggenheim Museum, New York); Max Anderson (Whitney Museum, New York); and Steve Dietz (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), among others. Alain Depocas is on the committee as well, representing the Daniel Langlois Foundation. Rhizome is also actively researching archival practices and standards (like the Dublin Core metadata protocol) from various research groups like Conceptual & Intermedia Arts Online CIAO and the Art Museum Image Consortium AMICO.
- Documentation of on-line works, with particular emphasis on information from artists and creators that provides insight into their intentions and enables viewers or researchers to characterize the work's particular nature. This kind of information is crucial for preserving works and allows selection of the most appropriate preservation strategies.
- Indexing of works along four broad lines: type (text, sound, video, etc.), category (telepresence, participative, off-line, documentary, etc.), technology (HTML, Java, Flash, etc.) and keyword (desire, body, artificial life, interface, etc.). As well, the ArtBase project searches Rhizome's vast text bank and offers links between works and pertinent texts, allowing users more ways to contextualize work and the issues it calls into play.
ArtBase was launched as a pilot project in late 1999 with more than 70 works on-line. Users can find works there by, among others, Mark Amerika, Simon Biggs, Natalie Bookchin, Heath Bunting, Vuc Cosic, Critical Art Ensemble, Ken Goldberg, I/O/D, Jodi, Lev Manovich, Mark Napier, ®™ark (RTMArk), Alexei Shulgin, Victoria Vesna and Annette Weintraub.
Support from the Foundation helped Rhizome complete and update this essential tool in the field of conservation and preservation of digital works. Conservation of Internet art is still in its infancy, and ArtBase is one of the first major initiatives in this area.