The New York–based digital arts organization Rhizome has been awarded a two-year $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue the development of its web preservation tool Webrecorder. The grant, the largest in the institution’s history, follows a previous two-year grant of $600,000 from the Mellon Foundation that it received in December 2015 to put the tool’s development into full gear.
The additional money will help Rhizome partner with institutions to use Webcorder to record materials in any format online, as well as to support its ethos of having the tool, which is free and open-source, be accessible to all. As part of this development, Rhizome has hired Anna Perricci, an archivist and educator, as associate director for strategic partnerships.
“Two years into its existence, Webrecorder is buoyed by initial success and primed for broader utility and impact,” Zachary Kaplan, Rhizome’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its major support of our vision for decentralized, high-fidelity, user-friendly web archiving.”
Since its founding, in 1996, by artist Mark Tribe, Rhizome has focused on preserving digital art. Even at that time, works were beginning to be deleted, inaccessible, or non-functioning because of the constantly changing technologies and protocols that underpin and operate the internet. The organization first developed a tool to archive the exchanges on its email list, and then in 1999 established the Artbase to archive net art works (as the genre was then more commonly known) before they disappeared from art history.
Webrecorder, which officially launched in August 2016, represented a continuation of this legacy, looking to help institutions and everyday web users to preserve their work and conversations, particularly on social media sites which are subject to the whims of its founders and developers. A prescient example of this is Rhizome’s work with the Football Museum in Liverpool to help archive fan-created videos of soccer matches on Vine. (In October 2016, Twitter announced that it would discontinue Vine.)
Originally developed as an independent project by developer Ilya Kreymer as pywb, Webrecorder uses a proxy system to intercept the data coming from websites and record them as almost identical re-creations, which are stored in a user’s library on webrecorder.io. Its list of institutional users includes the New Museum, the Frick Art Reference Library, and the City University of New York, as well as artists Cory Arcangel and Constant Dullaart.
The impetus for this type of project was the deletion of Petra Cortright’s VVEBCAM (2007) from Youtube. While the video still exists, the numerous reactionary comments on the video-streaming service were lost. Since 2015, Kreymer and Rhziome’s preservation director Dragan Espenschied have helped to preserve the website VVORK and Amalia Ulman’s 2014 Instagram performance Excellences & Perfections.
To show some of the possibilities of Webrecorder, Rhizome launched a two-year online exhibition titled “Net Art Anthology,” which aims to tell a non-linear history of digital art since the 1980s through a variety of works, some of have been preserved using the tool.