Reviewed February 2018
Jolanda-Pieta van Arnhem, Scholars Studio Librarian
College of Charleston Libraries, College of Charleston
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Net Art Anthology, presented by Rhizome’s digital preservation department, is a two-year online exhibit presented in a series of chapters that will explore historical representations of 100 internet-based art works from 1984 to present day. The free online exhibition, launched in 2017 and still in progress, is split into five chapters and new work profiles are added in weekly installments. The first four chapters are chronological and the fifth serves as a reprise. Chapters one and two explore historical representations of net art from 1984-1998 (early network cultures and web) and 1999-2004 (Flash and blogs) respectively. Current installments for chapter three include content related to surf clubs, early postinternet art, and social media platforms (2005-2010). Viewers can sign up to receive notification when new content is added each week. Future chapters are expected to include the era of mobile apps and peak social media, as well as address gaps or artists whose work did not fit neatly into the previous periods or categories.

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The mission of Net Art Anthology is to showcase a “net art canon” in relation to a highly interdisciplinary set of practices. Artists have always experimented with emerging technologies, but in recent decades, as the digital revolution, personal computers, and the Internet have gained increasing importance in our lives, the field of art and technology has emerged as a dynamic and historically significant domain of artistic practice. The content provided in Net Art Anthology showcases the history and emerging practices of technology and art and covers a wide breadth of topics and viewpoints.

Criteria for the selection of artworks, as phrased by Rhizome, includes whether works give expression to emerging subjectivities, model new forms of collective practice, and exemplify positions that resonate artistically. Also taken into account is whether the artist’s content can be “restaged, reconstructed, or reperformed” successfully allowing the viewer to view the exhibition in situ and question and consider the challenges associated with archiving and curating art that embraces experimentation with emerging technologies.

The Net Art Anthology’s design reflects the aesthetics and design choices of the early web. As such, it may be confusing for some to navigate. The anthology’s chapters are presented with chapter three currently on top, with the remaining chapters beneath it regardless of sequence. Background colors change as one scrolls and text elements are left to overlap one another as the reader moves down the pages. Overviews of the works include backgrounds of the artists and the social and technological context in which the works were originally made and presented.

Being an anthology, the works here are of course highly selected. They are selected by experts and professionals with criteria openly communicated. Given the constantly changing nature of the web that makes the Net Art Anthology itself useful, archives of the original works, being websites themselves, are necessary. These are housed on oldweb.today, Rhizome Lab’s own web archive, which includes emulations of period browsers including versions of Netscape Navigator 3 and 4, Internet Explorer 4 and 5, and Safari 3. Artists, archivists and scholars understand the importance of context, and Rhizome’s attention to framing is crucial here. Presenting these works in the manner they originally existed helps users to understand them not only in terms of aesthetics but function.

Overall, Net Art Anthology provides a unique resource that can be used to further explore net art by scholars, practitioners and conservators. While a site like Whitney Museum’s Artport offers glimpses of current and historical internet art, Net Art Anthology is unique in offering full artworks. Rhizome has put together a solid group of exhibitions that are each thought-provoking on their own and give a good overview of the period when taken as a whole.