The Making of Rhizome's Net Art Anthology: Muntadas' "The File Room"


Screenshot of Rhizome's Net Art Anthology, Rhizome, From the collection of: Rhizome

In 2016, Rhizome launched Net Art Anthology, a major online exhibition exploring the diversity of practices called "net art" through the research, restoration, and exhibition of 100 important works. On January 22, an exhibition of seventeen works from the Anthology premiered at the New Museum in NYC. This Google Arts & Culture exhibit is one of five discussing preservation challenges in bringing the Anthology to life and making net art accessible for years to come.

Screenshot of homepage of "The File Room" by Antoni Muntadas, Antoni Muntadas, 1994, From the collection of: Rhizome

Antoni Muntadas’s "The File Room" is a gallery installation and a collaboratively compiled online database that contain records of censorship cases from around the world. Its mission—to reintroduce deleted and suppressed material back into the public record—could, by definition, never be completed, and so visitors were invited to add their own instances of artistic and cultural censorship to an open-ended archive. Topics include the censorship of political thought, challenging artwork, and scientific disagreement from throughout history. Users can browse by topic, geographical region, or time-period.

Screenshot of "The File Room" by Antoni Muntadas, Antoni Muntadas, 1994, From the collection of: Rhizome

"The File Room" opened at the Chicago Cultural Center in 1994. At the center of a dark, oppressive room lined with filing cabinet drawers sat a computer where visitors could access and contribute to its ever-growing archive of censorship cases. The web-accessible database was was hosted in the servers of Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago from 1994 to 1998, in Media Channel, New York from 1999 to 2001 and the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York from 2001 to 2016. Since 2016, Rhizome has hosted "The File Room."

Screenshot of entry from "The File Room" by Antoni Muntadas, Antoni Muntadas, 1994, From the collection of: Rhizome

"The File Room's" aesthetic was somber and bureaucratic. Nevertheless, it claimed no objectivity, instead proposing an alternative model of community-driven knowledge collection and distribution that foreshadowed efforts such as Wikipedia. The entry at right highlights David Wojnarowicz, whose powerful activist work has made the artist a repeated target of censorship over the past four decades.

Screenshot of map interface from "The File Room" by Antoni Muntadas, Antoni Muntadas, 1994, From the collection of: Rhizome

Net art is often built with popular tools of its time, only to see those tools disappear and the work made vulnerable. The core functionality of "The File Room" -- the ability to browse, search, and add records to a database of censorship cases -- relied on IIS Windows Server 2003 with Adobe ColdFusion. Much of this ensemble was to be deprecated in early-2017, which would have rendered this work's interactive elements unusable.

Installation view of "The File Room", Antoni Muntadas, 1994, From the collection of: Rhizome

Preservation Director Dragan Espenschied oversaw the restoration of "The File Room," a first experiment with server-side preservation at Rhizome. To ensure total functionality, Espenschied created a full, interactive copy of the project’s server components, which enables searching and the submission of new cases to the database. An empty server was then developed using qemu (an emulation platform), along with a deployment based on Free/Libre Software. Since all components are now located within an emulated system, the work is contained and made easily accessible via the Emulation-as-a-Service framework.

Installation view of Antoni Muntadas’s "The File Room", Antoni Muntadas, 2012, From the collection of: Rhizome

An artwork and a resource, "The File Room" remains an essential net art. As former Randolph Street Gallery director Peter Taub said: "This project felt precedent-setting. It was a perfectly ironic application of the web—to create this open-source online library of censorship. 'The File Room' was subverting the definition of censorship—whether artistic censorship, political censorship, or freedom of expression censorship—as depriving things of their form. The project made these things as accessible as possible. In this sense, it wasn’t just a technical project, but also a conceptual one that questioned and challenged authoritarian power."

Aria Dean, Rhizome's Assistant Curator of Net Art, discusses "The File Room" in this short video.

Credits: Story

Curated by Rhizome’s Artistic Director Michael Connor with Assistant Curator Aria Dean, Net Art Anthology retells the history of net art through 100 works that define the field.

Major support for Net Art Anthology is provided by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation.

Rhizome's digital preservation is supported, in part, by Google and Google Arts & Culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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