Funded by a grant from the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, Net Art Anthology is Rhizome’s ambitious project to retell the history of a field of artistic practice in which even the most influential works often fade into obscurity as a result of technological obsolescence.
Net art is Rhizome’s preferred term, because it is well-suited to selfies and Twitter poems and similarly informal practices. It also has been more commonly used by artists, while institutions and critics more often describe it as “Internet art.” Rhizome considers “net art” to describe not only an artistic medium but also a subject matter and platform for a wide range of artistic gestures. The term has been stylized as “net.art,” but this evokes a specific group of mid-1990s artists.
Net Art Anthology will take the form of an online exhibition with one work re-presented and re-performed each week for two years. The project will be accessible via a microsite, where easy-to-navigate caption information will allow users to explore a growing collection of net art projects.
Each project will be accessible via an external link, with careful consideration given to the mise-en-scène for each work. This will be developed in dialogue with Rhizome’s digital preservation team, under the directorship of Dragan Espenschied, leveraging its pioneering research in emulation and dynamic web preservation. (See examples below.)
Storytelling will be a major component of the project. Net art is often misrepresented as a field of high-tech innovators, but its practitioners come from all backgrounds. From online guerilla actions organized in New York on behalf of the Zapatistas to sex-positive manifestos written in the heat of an Adelaide summer, Net Art Anthology will tell offer a glimpse into the context from which each work emerged.
A central aim of the project is to offer a selective cross-section of a field of practice whose richness and breadth is rarely grasped, even by scholars and practitioners. It will emphasize multiple trajectories, including literary, performative, and conceptual approaches. These approaches may be contradictory, but unlike traditional artistic movements, net art is constituted by its ability to incorporate such contradictions.
Works will span the 1980s through the present day, exploring the ways in which ideas that are of interest to artists today have played out through time, from staging the self online to internet poetry.
Rhizome’s credibility to take on a project like the Net Art Anthology, and the project structure itself are bolstered by its connection to the New Museum, Rhizome’s institutional partner since 2003. A non-collecting museum, the New Museum has long challenged how contemporary art histories are formed and narrated, and Rhizome’s position in its art/tech umbrella (including its exhibitions like the 2015 Triennial and the First Look series, and the NEW INC incubator) offer a powerful context for an ambitious effort like this.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, Rhizome has defined the conversation around art on the internet since its founding online in 1996. This project acts as an anniversary capstone for the organization’s founding commitment to art that engages our networked culture.