Net Art Archive Going Offline, Raising Preservation Concerns

by Rea McNamara on May 10, 2016 · 1 comment Newswire

Documentation of "Kill Box", a 2015 commission by Joseph DeLappe with Malath Abbas, Tom deMajo and Albert Elwin. Credit:'s Facebook

Documentation of “Kill Box”, a 2015 commission by Joseph DeLappe with Malath Abbas, Tom deMajo and Albert Elwin. Credit:’s Facebook

An important internet art archive will soon shutter., an online project that has commissioned new net art and networked hybrid artworks since the mid-1990s, announced over the weekend it would be going offline on December 31, 2016.

According to the announcement — made via a mass email to past and present artists, as well as in a public Facebook update — the organization can no longer sustain the operating costs needed to maintain its online archive.

For over twenty years, the satellite project by the non-profit New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) was one of the few artist-led initiatives to commission new works by emerging and established artists. This was vital, especially given that much of this work operated for so long outside institutional confines.

One of those commissioned artists was Yoshi Sodeoka. Back in 2004, the New York-based video artist and musician did a few projects with Turbulence, including “ASCII BUSH” and “Prototype #44”. “I was so psyched to receive a decent amount of funding through them to work on those,” he says via email. “It was really rare for anyone to be receiving funding to work on net art projects back then and it still isn’t that common now.”

Since 1981, NRPA has been a registered 501(c) non-profit. Originally, its focus was on radio and sound art, but that shifted when was founded in 1996. Most of Turbulence’s funding — which comes from the Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts — supports new commissions. Sodeoka recalls he was paid a $4000 commissioning fee back in 2004, which Thorington confirms is the same today.

Despite the handsome commissioning fees, NRPA co-founder Helen Thorington notes their grant funding has been limited to program-specific projects, and doesn’t cover the necessary operational costs.

“The main problem here is we don’t get support for our own labor and the maintenance of the site,” explains Thorington in a phone interview with AFC. In 2014, the NEA gave two NEA Art Works grants totalling $45,000 to cover five artist commissions and a redesign of their website. Four years before that, the funder awarded the organization $25,000 to develop an offline archive with Cornell University Library’s Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. Since then, they have not received any NEA funding for any other project.

Despite a flurry of activity among past and present artists to cover the cost of hosting the project for the next 10-20 years — which is approximately $1000/per month — it still remains to be seen what the archive’s fate will be.

GIF from Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer's "Flight Lines", another 2015 commission. (Credit: Ellie Irons)

GIF from Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer’s “Flight Lines”, another 2015 commission. (Credit: Ellie Irons)

Currently, the site is run on open-source software Red Hat, and the works are hosted on two servers: a cloud server for newer works, and another for older works. The servers are based in Los Angeles, and maintained on a part-time basis by system administrator Jesse Gilbert, who has worked with the organization for the past twenty years.

But maintaining essentially two versions of the same site holding over 300 gigabytes of material and 230 works “becomes overwhelming,” says Thorington. And while Thorington is appreciative of all the offers to help, the organization is still determining the project’s technical demand.

“It’s a big, big project,” she says. “Before anybody can really make an offer, they have to know what they’re in for.”

Ultimately, an institution like the Whitney or Rhizome needs to step in if the archive is to be preserved. Thorington confirms that while they haven’t heard from the Whitney, Rhizome has been in touch offering preservation support.

“The news that Turbulence is closing is very sad,” artistic director Michael Connor says via email to AFC, confirming the organization’s involvement. “They’ve been stalwart in their support of net art practices, and the Turbulence archive is a testament to the strength and coherence of their curatorial vision over many years. The news is a symptom, in part of a broader lack of recognition of the cultural importance of web archives.”

As it stands, Thorington acknowledges that the end of is likely the end of New Radio Performing Arts: “I think I’m going to have a long conversation with my board of directors about the organization, and we’ll work out over time what we’ll do.” While she’s validated that more institutions are now showing more of this work, she notes “they are doing what they always do, and making their selections from name people or people they would like to see. We just simply haven’t worked that way. We have some work on Turbulence that is pretty mediocre and some that’s even a little below that, but that’s the way it happens, in my opinion. You don’t have a list of exceptional artists, and fund them only.”

Nonetheless, Thorington notes that despite the organization’s sad news, she’s been touched by the show of support has received.

“It’s an emotional time, but we’ve been very happy about all the people who responded. A lot of them are artists who have talked about how important it was to have this encouragement in their early new media art days,” she says. “I’m grateful to know and see it in print.”

Correction: May 12, 2016

An earlier version of this article stated the commission fee paid artist Yoshi Sodeoka in 2004 was $1000. Sodeoka was in fact paid $4000. According to Thorington, the $1000 rate was distributed once in 2008 to four artists for short works created for the organization’s networked performance blog. The commissioning rate for new works has always been $4000. 


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