Rhizome ArtBase Preservation - Notes

Over at Rhizome.org, Ben Fino-Radin poses some questions about two works of internet art but doesn't answer them (at least in the same blog post). Let's see if we can do it.

Q. Were Globalmove.us [JODI's elaborate patterns of animated icons floating over actual Google Maps - ed.] 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?

A. One couldn't.

Q. In the instance of a work such as Joel Holmberg's Legendary Account [a performance piece where Holmberg asked faux-ingenuous, troll-y type questions on Yahoo! Answers -ed.], what is to be preserved? Is the context of the Yahoo! Answers platform vital to one's encounter?

A. Yes.

Q. 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?

A. No.

Q. Is this experiment in internet phenomenology best encountered naïvely in its natural setting?

A. Yes.

Fino-Radin has also written a paper on archival preservation of works in the ArtBase [PDF] where he does actually answer these questions, somewhat differently than above. His conclusion about JODI is more or less the same as here: the piece is fuX0red as soon as Google changes some basic code--and they change it all the time. With the Holmberg piece he believes the screenshots-on-an-HTML-page documentation is adequate.

One wonders, though, why these two works are given such prominent attention since neither is in the Rhizome ArtBase. Fino-Radin uses four artworks as test cases in his paper: Globalmove.us, Legendary Account, and two from the ArtBase: Paul Slocum's Dot Matrix Printer (not a piece of internet art by any means) and a Golan Levin applet-based work called Floccus. Let's reiterate: half of the primary examples considered by Fino-Radin aren't in the collection he is writing about! A screenshot of the JODI piece is even used as the cover image of his paper, and in the Rhizome post.

Not only are the two pieces not in Rhizome's collection, neither JODI nor Holmberg has work in the collection. Is all this institutional attention a bid to bring them in? In any case, what does it say about the quality of the ArtBase that examples must be drawn from elsewhere? There's not enough good, soon-to-be-obsolescent work to consider? One thing I never knew about the ArtBase is that it's completely vetted by the Rhizome staff. I was always under the mistaken impression it was democratic, a la the artist slide registries maintained by certain alternative spaces. On page 14 of his paper, Fino-Radin says that any artist may submit to the Rhizome ArtBase "for consideration of inclusion" and that works considered "of great importance" are also actively sought.

I recommend reading Fino-Radin's paper but to me its primary purpose is to "narrativize" the four artworks under review. Almost none of them can actually be preserved on the internet in anything like their original form so we have Fino-Radin's writing as some of their most thorough documentation.

(And not that it matters but yrs truly took the uncredited photo of the Slocum printer piece used in the PDF.)