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. (Please note the following work contains offensive language.)
Petra Cortright’s "VVEBCAM" (2007) was a short (1:43) video presented on YouTube that mimicked the "camgirl" genre while dispensing with its usual tropes of erotic innuendo or direct address to the camera. Instead, the artist appears in the work as a computer user immersed in the consumer-grade visual effects her webcam software makes available, staring intently into the lens as cartoonish clip art figures float around her face: ghoulish lightning, dancing pizza slices, a strumming guitar, and hands playing Texas Hold'em.
Just as Cortright used the default effects that came with her camera, she also treated YouTube metadata as a readymade. She copied a string of terms often used by spam accounts on the platform, which were designed to draw in viewers who were trawling for titillating or offensive material, and pasted it into the keyword field for her own video. This led to numerous angry and confused commenters, with whom Cortright often engaged in all-out flame wars.
Cortright set the sales price for this piece based on the views it accrued on YouTube. Spam keywords, then, were an important element of this strategy, as they drove her video's view counts higher. This approach eventually led to YouTube’s decision to take down VVEBCAM in 2010.
"The essential part was to treat it not as a video, but as a performance on YouTube." - Dragan Espenschied on reconstructing VVEBCAM
The deletion of VVEBCAM on YouTube meant the work was inaccessible in its original form. For Net Art Anthology, however, Rhizome was able to reconstruct the work from parts found in public web archives. Using Rhizome's own Webrecorder tool and its archival extraction feature, Preservation Director Dragan Espenschied combined resources held primarily by the Internet Archive and the Library of Congress to reconstruct VVEBCAM's 2007-era YouTube page with images and a selection of comments intact. Espenschied then inserted the original video Rhizome stored in its own collection (web archives were unable to capture video in 2007). While a visitor to the work cannot explore YouTube in full—this is, of course, only a select reconstruction of one video on a massive platform— VVEBCAM is newly alive through its vibrant curation.
Aria Dean, Rhizome's Assistant Curator of Net Art, discusses "VVEBCAM" in this short video.
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.
Rhizome's preservation program is directed by Dragan Espenschied, with Lyndsey Moulds, software curator.
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.