One evening this past May, ARLIS/NA New York and METRO members met at Rhizome to learn about its digital preservation initiatives. Rhizome is an affiliate in residence at the New Museum and an anchor tenant of NEW INC, New Museum’s arts and technology incubator. Rhizome was founded in 1996 and is a leading international organization dedicated to the creation, presentation, and preservation of new media art. Central to its digital preservation program is the creation of free, open-source tools to preserve legacy materials and the dynamic web.
Rhizome’s executive director Zachary Kaplan welcomed the group and made opening remarks before passing the mic to artistic director Michael Connor. In his presentation, Connor introduced the group to a number of tools developed to maintain Rhizome’s digital collections platform ArtBase. Tools discussed included: Emulation as a Service, a cloud-based emulation framework; oldweb.today, a tool connecting legacy browsers to web archives; and webrecorder.io, a platform for dynamic web archiving.
Connor illustrated why emulation tools are necessary to digital preservation by showing examples of art Rhizome presents. “Bomb Iraq,” a work Corey Arcangel built using Macintosh TV—a product Apple produced briefly in the early 1990s—demonstrated how the Emulation as a Service tool allows viewers to interact both with the work and aspects of the hard drive on which it was built. Connor presented a work Theresa Duncan originally created as an interactive CD-ROM narrated by David Sedaris, which Rhizome has made fully accessible online.
Connor demonstrated the value of oldweb.today using Alexei Shulgin’s Form Art Competition. The Form website is still accessible via modern web browsers. However, when viewing the site through oldweb.today, users can see how the project originally appeared on Netscape 3.0 in 1997. Created by the Jodi collective using Google Earth, Geo Goo, shows how artists are using commercial applications as a medium and illustrates the importance of preserving the original software environment in order to fully access and comprehend new media art.
Perhaps the most exciting new tool Conner presented was webrecorder.io, a free platform for hi-fidelity, symmetric web archiving. The tool is intended to make web archiving accessible to anyone by providing a secure and easy to use archive-as-you-browse interface. Eventually, webrecorder.io will allow individuals and organizations to easily build an archive of web content pertinent to their collections. In the meantime, users are invited to test the platform in its beta version, which can be found at https://webrecorder.io
Indeed, these types of archival tools are critical to Rhizome’s core mission. Nevertheless, even those who deal primarily with physical collections should be grateful to tech savvy Rhizome for developing these digital preservation tools and making them openly accessible to all.