New Criticals

Rhizome has recognised the significance of performativity in relation to the archive of internet art, since aesthetic form and meaning production in internet artworks are often directly dependent on user interaction. One of Rhizome’s most significant preservation projects over the past few years has been the development of Webrecorder, a web archiving tool. Its core functionality is based on the two-way exchange taking place between client and server when we are browsing the web. Webrecorder records the dynamic traffic between the user’s browser requests and the responses from the online hosting environment, thereby facilitating the archiving of online artifacts as they are encountered by the user. Webrecorder’s browser-based app also provides the infrastructure to replay, or reperform, the archived artifacts within the browser. Through these two capabilities – record and replay – Webrecorder enables the archiving and reperformance of complex and dynamic internet artworks, such as Amalia Ulman’s Instagram piece Excellences and Perfections (2014), which explores the interactions between an Instagram user and their followers. Without a tool such as Webrecorder, preserving this artwork in its original environment and presenting it via a performative archive would not have been possible.

The preservation of a contemporary work of art, such as Ulman’s piece, was also made possible by the preservation team’s understanding of the artwork’s context of creation. The preservation and reperformance of historic artworks from the archive requires an understanding of the artworks’ provenance. The traditional concept of archival provenance, however, which specifies a single place, time, and creator for the archival record, does not translate well to the context of a digital archive, whose contents are complex and dynamic assemblages. Instead there is a need for a more “elastic” concept of provenance (Cook, 2001), which can account for various dynamic functions and processes. A key concern for the backend of Rhizome’s archive remains the development of a provenance framework, which can adequately describe not only the origin of each artwork record and the transformations that may have been applied to the record, but also the dependencies for the reperformance of the artwork and the context within which a reperformance happens, a context which also includes the audience / (user) experience of the reperformance.