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.
Videotex—referred to in Brazil as videotexto—was a pre-internet telecommunications network rolled out in the late 1970s that offered public information and a user-to-user messaging system via special terminals. At a time when private telephone lines were relatively rare, the network was primarily accessed via special terminals in public spaces such as libraries. Minitel, accessed through the terminals shown here, was a proprietary videotex network available primarily in France and Brazil.
As a text-driven medium, videotexto was well-suited to Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac's interest in language and its limits. The artist created a number of works for it, such as "Reabracadabra," included in Net Art Anthology. The work is an animated visual poem composed of a large letter A, surrounded by orbiting consonants from the word “abracadabra”
The space of the Minitel network took on particular importance for Kac at a moment when, he recalls, the government was “suppressing freedom of speech and eliminating public space.” Just as a prior generation of Brazilian artists had turned to fax and photocopier to create work under conditions of political oppression, networked communication appeared to offer the potential to create new kinds of public space. Two terminals to see the work are visible in this exhibition opening photograph.
The data for the characters that made up "Reabracadabra" were saved on an 8-inch floppy disk, but Kac lacked access to the proprietary Minitel editing platform necessary to run it. When the videotexto signal went dark in the mid-1990s, the work became entirely inaccessible. Kac spent years researching ways to recreate this signal in order to view the piece on the hardware of the time. The work has now been reconstructed by the artist with the assistance of the PAMAL research unit at l'Ecole Supérieure d'Art d'Avignon—using a legacy machine and mimicking dial-up download speeds—but the network it was a part of is no more. Rhizome commissioned video documentation for Net Art Anthology.
In this video, the artist discusses the context and creation of "Reabracadabra."
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.