The ArtBase is an archive with over 2,200 artworks to date, primarily hosting works of net art, but also including works that employ media such as software, code, websites, moving images, games, and browsers. Rhizome’s commitment to the preservation of works in the ArtBase has grown alongside the archive’s expansion in size, scope, and complexity over the years.
The Rhizome ArtBase archive was established in 1999. Its vision and conception at the time was closely tied with Rhizome’s position as an influential mailing list with an active community, including some of the first artists working on the internet.
Initially, artists could submit works for accession into the ArtBase as either “cloned” or “linked” objects. In discussions with artists, Rhizome founder Mark Tribe developed a hybrid model of the ArtBase, where cloned works were stored as file and/or server copies on Rhizome infrastructure, and linked works were merely described in ArtBase while remaining under the stewardship of the artist. At first, this proved to be a flexible strategy, but ultimately, the unstable access to linked objects, which remained outside Rhizome’s custody and depended on artists maintaining access to the links, led to the decision to stop accessioning them.
Various access challenges related to both cloned and linked artworks led to changes in ArtBase accession policies, which can be grouped into three main phases: a) Open submission (1999–2010); b) Filtered submission (2010–2015); c) Closed / by invitation only (2015-2020). The changes in policy impacted the design of the archive, resulting in a series of frontend redesigns. However, these frontend solutions did not fully address the more complex underlying issues concerning data provenance, archive trustworthiness, and long-term preservation. For a more complete history of the ArtBase consult this research report, completed in 2020.
Since 2015, Rhizome’s primary archival focus has been on developing new tools and approaches to address the digital preservation challenges facing the ArtBase. Where museum-led efforts to preserve digital artworks focus primarily on in-depth restoration of a few masterworks, Rhizome—given our large archive—focused our effort on preservation methods that could address entire classes of artworks. This included:
- the Emulation-as-a-Service framework, developed with external collaborators, which allows artworks to be viewed online in legacy software environments, and
- Conifer, (Rhizome’s own hosted version of the Webrecorder platform), which allows network preservation of dynamic web content.
Throughout that time, Rhizome has also undertaken a complete overhaul of the ArtBase software infrastructure. Thanks to a 2020 grant from the National Endowment Humanities, Rhizome was able to finalize the first phase of this development. Launched in April 2021, the reimplemented ArtBase uses Linked Open Data (LOD), a set of standards for structured, machine-readable, and interoperable data on the web. Hundreds of artwork descriptions have been updated, and additional metadata related to artwork preservation has been added. With the relaunch, the ArtBase moves to a hybrid accession format combining targeted open calls with invitation-only submission.
Linked Open Data
Moving public archives to Linked Open Data has been an ongoing goal for many institutions in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) community. LOD makes it possible to express, discover, and connect heterogeneous data across multiple, distributed digital repositories. Adopting LOD for cultural heritage institutions means publishing their digital collections in a machine-readable, networked environment, rather than siloed webpages.
LOD has particular relevance for born-digital archives, which can be difficult to model using traditional collection management systems, schemas, and vocabularies. Digital culture, in contrast with more established forms of artistic expression, involves quickly changing materials and terminology, driven by the pace of software development and the rapid rise and fall of cultural practices. Because the LOD approach does not rely on a single, unified metadata standard, it can more aptly model processes that change dynamically over time, and can capture the interrelationships among artifacts and their contexts.
The current re-presentation of ArtBase data is facilitated through Wikibase, an open source data platform that is part of the Wikimedia application ecosystem. Rhizome’s custom Wikibase installation provides an opportunity to explore how LOD can benefit archiving and preservation in a heterogeneous born-digital archive. Crucially, Wikibase enables the ArtBase to remain under active development while users interact with it. This facilitates iterative improvement over time by allowing input from various user communities and the broader digital preservation field to be taken into consideration.
Licensing for artworks and artwork metadata
Rhizome’s ArtBase provides long-term access free-of-charge to born-digital artworks and related information with the consent of creators. Currently all artworks in the ArtBase are presumed to be copyrighted to the artists, unless explicitly stated otherwise by the artists. Artworks may be removed at the request of artists or copyright holders.
As a rule, artworks in the ArtBase or images thereof are provided for personal and research use and should not be included in public exhibitions or published without the permission of the artist.
Likewise, artworks that are hosted on Rhizome’s infrastructure should not be included in a public exhibition without Rhizome’s approval.
Questions about licensing and permissions can be directed to email@example.com.
Changes and Removal
Requests to make changes to ArtBase metadata may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests to remove artworks from the ArtBase may be sent to email@example.com and we will remove the works within sixty days at most. Rhizome also reserves the right to remove artworks from the ArtBase at our discretion. Artists will be notified of a removal.
Open accessioning—the ability for anyone in the Rhizome community to submit or nominate their work for inclusion in the ArtBase—has often defined public understanding of the archive. Thanks to its legacy of openness, the ArtBase now holds many works of value that would otherwise have been lost, but also suffers from omissions and biases.
With this in mind, the new accessioning policy for the ArtBase is hybrid. It includes accession by curatorial invitation as well as targeted open calls, generally devised around specific areas of focus and in collaboration with partners, often with particular goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion. To stay up to date about future open calls, sign up for Rhizome News.
Through this new policy, Rhizome aims to grow the ArtBase to include more historically under-represented artists and to better reflect the diversity of digital art practitioners over time. While it will always be partial and subjective, the ArtBase would better serve the field and support the memory of digital culture if it encompassed a greater diversity of practices from a wider range of communities. Alongside the intentional expansion of the ArtBase, we will also offer tools, knowledge, and resources that support other small and mid-sized archives of digital culture, ultimately positioning ArtBase as one of many archives within a larger ecosystem.
Partnership and Collaboration
Rhizome welcomes proposals for collaborative research and strategic partnerships, especially those that take advantage of our open-source tools and the built-in features of the Wikibase software as a collaborative working environment, following linked open data standards.
We’d like to hear from individuals or organizations interested in working with ArtBase data in order to edit and enrich the archive based on prior research, oral history knowledge, and/or the formulation of new research projects.
We’d also like to engage in collaborations that support other small and mid-sized organizations dedicated to stewarding specific aspects of digital art and culture.
Rhizome’s team is also available for joint development of project scope and grant applications. For consultations and inquiries email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ongoing development of the ArtBase is made possible in part by donations from our supporters. You can contribute to the ongoing development of the ArtBase on Rhizome’s website.
The 2021 ArtBase relaunch was made possible by a grant from from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.