An open letter concerning net.art cloning
We are in the process of archiving the many works of net art featured in the Rhizome ArtBase. Due to the nature of the medium, many of the works cannot be fully conserved from our end; the technologies, structures, and designs of net art tend towards highly complex works with many moving parts.
In the process of conservation, we found that your works in our collection - Progressive Load, Bardcode, and Artistic License - are unable to be conserved on our end alone. As PHP-driven works, they invoke backend data/functions to construct each page; thus, we cannot properly crawl the sites. For example, Bardcode passes arguments to getBar.php, which generates the barcodes - and is inaccessible from our end. Without these backend mechanics, it is impossible to create a functioning archival copy of the work.
Thus, we would like your help in creating an archival copy of your works to host in the ArtBase. Primarily, we are interested in the files and data used by the operating works. This will allow us to conserve and host them in the ArtBase as long-term archival versions. We are also interested in any further documentation that you could provide about the works, such as operational and aesthetic needs. We will gladly work with you throughout the conservatorial process to ensure that our archival versions match your original vision.
A fourth work of yours in the ArtBase, Panel Junction, is HTML-driven and thus easily archivable on our end. If there is any material or documentation that you wish to provide, we will be delighted to use it in archiving the work.
Thank you for your help, and for your contributions to the ArtBase.Alexander Duryee
Digital Preservation Fellow
To Whom It May Concern,
I write in response to Mr. Alexander Duryee's inquiry about Rhizome's technical difficulties in making archival copies of my net.art.
While I'm glad that someone is considering conservation of media art, it strikes me as rather odd that the inquiry is posed as a technical problem rather than as a negotiation over the control of intellectual property. The one project that is fully archived is, by no coincidence, a work that was commissioned by Rhizome. I continue to be grateful for Rhizome's support of my work, Panel Junction #1.
The other works mentioned were entered into the ArtBase as "Linked Projects," which is to say that Rhizome was given meta-data and nothing more. It is a leap to suggest that converting these linked projects to archived projects in the ArtBase is merely a problem of "backend mechanics." Personally I'm relieved that difficulties arose for several reasons. For one, it offers a good opportunity for the community concerned with digital conservation to reflect on what is transpiring. Perhaps I am not the only living artist who is uncomfortable with this appropriation? The works mentioned are still accessible at artcontext.net (more than can be said about my work on rhizome.org recently). Fortunately I am in good health, and I expect that they will continue to be accessible for years to come. While it may seem like an unmitigated good to have institutions like Rhizome engaged in archiving such work, artists have little control over cloned copies (such as exist already in archive.org). Will people be charged, now or in the future, to see the work? Will they be shown advertisements in the process of navigating to see it? The way that my net.art appears on the Web is still largely under my control, because most of my work resides only on my servers. I am able to choose how to adapt (or retire) each work when technical standards change. So you can see, where archiving is concerned, there are many issues that concern me other than the technical ones identified in Mr. Duryee's letter.
I know this may sound peevish. The inquiry is certainly polite enough. But let's draw a comparison. Suppose I make a drawing, and a photo of it is used on a website such as Rhizome's; and let's say I give meta-data about myself and the drawing, too. Does it therefore follow that ten years hence Rhizome can ask for the original drawing so that it can be preserved? I realize the analogy is not precise. In some respects it holds. If the works have historical value, why should the New Museum be able to acquire them for free? If Rhizome would like to have more of my work in its collection, the commission process is the best option.
So the answer to the inquiry, for my part, is 'yes' and 'no.' Yes, I would be happy to provide more detailed information about the works in question. No, you can't have them for free.
Further documentation as requested for
- + Bardcode (2000) Responding to the industrial movement towards content encryption, and "DRM" regimes of copyright enforcement in e-reading, Bardcode delivered the complete works of Shakespeare as barcodes. One central portion of the work mimics the audio streaming software of its day, showing a rapid stream of changing barcodes which encode every line in every work. This streaming player requires the Java plugin (but may be updated). The work was shown in numerous online exhibitions, as well as in some traditional exhibitions related to barcodes. Additional information about the work is available here, and in the original press release.
- + Artistic License (2009) Visitors to the first gallery presentation of Artistic License were rewarded for their play with laminated ID cards declaring their Artistic License. The play on words suggests empowerment in a format that usually renders us powerless and humorless — even to the point of forcing people not to smile in some cases. Coming at a time when the politics of border crossings and immigration are leading to more and more high-tech constraints on freedom of movement, the work, with its many collaborating artists, thumbs its nose at the new regime.
- + Progressive Load (2000) Announced in the apocalyptic tone of the fin de siècle, Progressive Load recycled the term 'progressive load' as used in JPEG display, applying the words simultaneously to political and emotional subjects. Presented at the Janco Dada Museum, and Tribes Gallery, among other places, Progressive Load addressed the experience of online imagery at a time when modems were quite slow.