The Making of Rhizome's Net Art Anthology: Yael Kanarek's "World of Awe"

A groundbreaking artwork utilizes the GUI as a narrative tool

Screenshot of Rhizome's Net Art Anthology, Rhizome, From the collection of: Rhizome
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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 "World of Awe" by Yael Kanarek, Yael Kanarek, Rhizome, 2000, From the collection of: Rhizome
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"World of Awe" is an ongoing multi-platform project by Yael Kanarek. Centered by three chapters created between 2000 and 2006, the work follows an unnamed character known as the Traveler through a desolate virtual world, Sunset/Sunrise, which is accessed through a portal in New York’s East Village. 'Chapter 1: Forever' was presented as part of Rhizome's Net Art Anthology. It tells the story of how the Traveler searches for a lost treasure, while writing love letters and journal entries on a laptop that they have rebuilt from electronic scrap.

Screenshot of "World of Awe" by Yael Kanarek, Yael Kanarek, Rhizome, 2000, From the collection of: Rhizome
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Entering "World of Awe," the user lands on a simulated computer desktop environment which houses a rendering of a desert landscape—the parallel world of Sunset/Sunrise, where the Traveler journeys. Visitors access the Traveler’s story by opening their files, reading accounts of their journey and their love letters. Kanarek's work brought a ubiquitous, utilitarian cultural interface—the computer desktop—to a timeless narrative genre, the travelogue, and to the enduring artists’ task of world-building.

Screenshot of "World of Awe" by Yael Kanarek, Yael Kanarek, Rhizome, 2000, From the collection of: Rhizome
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In the Language of New Media, critic Lev Manovich argued that the GUI was a new kind of cultural interface. Like the printed word or the motion picture, the GUI can organize access to information. In the case of "World of Awe," it allows the story to be read in a nonlinear way, interspersed with fictional software tools.

Screenshot of "World of Awe" by Yael Kanarek, Yael Kanarek, Rhizome, 2000, From the collection of: Rhizome
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To present "World of Awe," Rhizome utilized the Emulation as a Service (EaaS) framework pioneered with the University of Freiburg in Germany. Though the work only requires a browser with Adobe Flash, EaaS allows the piece to be shown via Internet Explore 4.5 running on Mac OS 9. As Kanarek's work so thoughtfully engages GUI vocabulary contemporaneous to its creation, its wholesale context is as crucial to accessing and understanding the work as the performance of objects created by the artist. True access to net art often requires a careful reconstruction of context.

Screen capture of World of Awe w/ narration, From the collection of: Rhizome
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Aria Dean, Rhizome's Assistant Curator of Net Art, discusses "World of Awe" 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.

Rhizome's preservation program is directed by Dragan Espenschied, with the assistance of 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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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