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The Rhizome Condition

Rhizome is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 that, among other activities, catalogues and preserves net art, and manages more than 2000 works in its ArtBase collection. These works are frequently displayed in online exhibitions as well as exhibitions in physical space, and are, under ideal conditions, accessible on the web at any time.

Rhizome’s preservation team treats artworks based on the fundamental idea that digital art needs to be historicized: a collected artwork cannot exist as something perpetually new or a mere concept that needs to be re-instantiated constantly. Instead, at the time a work enters a collection, it is regarded as a manifestation created for a certain environment, technically and culturally.

Another important consideration for Rhizome is the economic feasibility of preservation activities: no digital object is ever done being preserved. Maintenance is always required so that legacy software in the collection can connect to the outside world; for instance, an artwork may need to connect to the internet, but as time passes may not function in a changed landscape of devices and access patterns, as well as shifting expectations by users. The less maintenance is required—the smaller the “maintenance surface” is for any particular artwork, the more a collection of digital art can grow, and the more that collection will be able to represent the swiftly changing field of digital art and culture.

Rhizome has offices in New York, but also works in a distributed manner. All of Rhizome’s digital infrastructure is located on public cloud services; there is no physical space to store and maintain hardware. This means that Rhizome is heavily invested in preserving software, in all its possible manifestations.