Lauren Cornell recently became the executive director of Rhizome.org, ‘an online platform for the global new media art community’ founded in 1996. She took over for Rachel Greene who had been with the organization practically since its inception and exec. director since 2003.
With all that’s going on with Rhizome, i.e., the change in membership policy, the Rhizome ArtBase 101 show at the New Museum and the launch of a blog (a modified version of Eyebeam and Stamen design’s reBlog), we thought this would be a great time to chat with Lauren about the organization and Internet art.
Occupation: Executive Director, Rhizome.org
Place of Birth: Manhattan
Current residence: Brooklyn
Length of time in New York: 25 years
Online guilty pleasure: I really don’t have one, my work is the net, so…
One of the first things you did as executive director of Rhizome.org was announce the new membership policy that now allows anyone who signs up the ability to post or access Rhizome content from the last year, whereas before there was a charge associated. What was the thinking behind the change?
During her time as director, Rachel recognized that the previous membership system was inhibiting participation in Rhizome’s programs. She designed the new policy—in close collaboration with Francis Hwang and Kevin McGarry of Rhizome--in response. I started just in time to hammer out some final details and oversee its implementation.
I am very happy to come on board at a moment that is essentially a fresh start for the organization. It is also a risky time of course--because we still very much depend on our members for support--but the risk is already paying off. Site usage is up exponentially, and so is positive feedback.
For you, why Rhizome?
I have always been interested in contemporary art that engages technology and the media. I started out focused more on film and video, and got increasingly involved in new media. Rhizome was one of my main resources for learning about the field, and I wrote for them quite a bit in the last year. I was already quite committed to the organization before I took the position, and excited about the possibility of taking it in new directions.
What’s your vision for the organization?
The ongoing challenge for Rhizome is to live up to our mission of supporting ‘art that uses new technologies in significant ways.’ We need to make sure we do justice to the full breadth of new media art that is being made on and offline. We can do this by consistently enhancing our site (we launched our blog just this week), by reaching out to new artists and initiatives, and by serving our current constituency.
There is a tremendous amount of creative and critical energy on the part of the artists, writers, curators and others involved in our network – and it’s of the utmost importance to leverage their work.
Vladimir Kovacevic has not been a huge fan of Rhizome. In an article he wrote back in 2004 he called Mark Tribe an “evil genius” and expressed dissatisfaction about the membership policy. How does the organization feel about some of his gripes?
I haven’t read Kovacevic’s article actually; and, in general, I am distant from Mark-era community relations primarily because I wasn’t actively involved in Rhizome at that time. I do understand the frustration over the previous policy, but Rhizome would not have survived what was a very difficult moment had it not been instituted.
Since it is a membership organization, how do you usually address the concerns of the community?
During my time here (almost 3 months now), I have found all the issues raised by Rhizome’s community to be very valuable. It’s pretty astounding actually how many engaged, formidable people are in the Rhizome network. We take their feedback very seriously; it informs our process and our priorities.
Let’s talk about the show you co-curated at the New Museum (an affiliate of Rhizome), Rhizome ArtBase 101. The exhibit, up through September 10, “surveys salient themes in Internet-based art-making.” What was the curatorial process like?
Again, this is something that Rachel started and I finished, except in this case, I did the bulk of the work. Rachel conceptualized the show as selections from Rhizome’s online archive, the ArtBase, organized around themes from her book Internet Art . I took it from there, selected the themes – adding a couple of my own – chose the artists (with much help from Kevin McGarry) and oversaw the installation.
The intention of the show is to demonstrate how dynamic the field of Internet art is and how it has transformed over the past decade in tandem with larger social and technological developments. The challenge was choosing a group of works that represent how diverse the field is, and contextualizing them in a way that was compelling to people familiar with the field, and also for those who are not.
Can you talk about the notion of bringing “Internet art” into a museum?
Well – first of all, not all Internet art needs to be exhibited in a Museum. Sometimes it exists purely online, and it’s not appropriate to bring it into a Museum context.
In terms of work that is meant for a gallery or museum space, let’s think about “Internet art” in more expansive terms, as work that engages with networks, computers, the visual culture of the web, or as work that addresses how technology configures our relationships, our communities, our identities--more broadly I suppose under the rubric of new media. All to say, Internet art or new media doesn’t necessarily have to be shown on computers though that is a valid format for exhibition.
Can you give an example of what you mean?
Currently on exhibit in Rhizome ArtBase 101 is a sculpture by Paper Rad and Matt Barton, which surrounds digital collages of animated gifs with mechanized toys found in thrift stores. It’s a big, colorful materialization of the animated gif-- the lo-res moving image graphic that was popular in the 90s and has now been outdated by programs like Flash. The piece is one part nostalgia for an earlier, less slick iteration of the Internet, one part critique of the rapid obsolescence of technology. Audiences have responded very positively to this piece because it surprises their expectations of what Internet art can look like.
A piece in the show under the public spaces theme is Nike Ground (2003) by 0100101110101101.org. What is this piece about?
For Nike Ground, the 01s tricked the citizens of Vienna into believing the city government was going to build a massive monument of a Nike Swoosh in a central public square. The artists convinced the population through a fake website and fake press releases that were circulated online.
What’s its significance?
The project is significant for using the web to create fictions that have ‘real-world’ affects. It also hit a collective nerve as it played on fears and feelings of helplessness around issues of globalization, local culture and corporate imperialism. What does it say about Vienna in 2003 that people would believe their city government would erect a monument in homage to Nike?
It’s interesting to imagine how the project would be responded to in different cities. What would happen, say, if Bloomberg were to erect–-or allegedly erect--a Nike Swoosh monument in Central Park? I think there’s a possibility it might have been given a much warmer welcome than the Gates ever were. Or what about in the Tuileries? Total upheaval perhaps?
What sort of conclusions can you draw about the current state of Internet-based art from working on the show?
Its future is bright. Rhizome Artbase 101 was a pleasure to work on, and the response has been tremendous, largely because the arts world isn’t often exposed to works that fall under categories such as, software art (see C.E.B. Reas, RSG or Mark Daggett), or iPod art (see Marisa Olson or Francis Hwang) or analogue-digital mash-ups, such as Paul Slocum’s Dot Matrix Synth (2003), in which the artist turned a dot matrix printer into a synthesizer. New media artists work with the materials, systems and information that mediate our everyday lives.
Sarah Boxer wrote about Rhizome ArtBase 101 for the New York Times. Her pieces often receive mixed reviews. What do you think of her column?
Sarah Boxer writes in a style that is very visceral, very sort of fresh and wide-eyed. This is not the predominant style of the field on which she is writing. She occupies the uncomfortable position of being both an outsider and an expert. Her column effectively opens up the subject of new media art to readers who might be wary of it (my parents for instance ‘finally got’ what I do after reading her article) and often offends new media arts practitioners who find her criticism devoid of context and background. At the very least, I think the column has provoked very interesting conversations on both sides.
When you aren’t working at Rhizome, what are you doing? What are you passions? Any side projects?
Currently, I am passionate about summer. I missed it somehow last year – and I am trying not to do that again.
My summer side project is a documentary called ‘Cribs’ that I am working on with my friend Cory Arcangel. It’s a play off of the MTV hit show ‘Cribs’ which presented the palatial homes of rap stars – except our version focuses on starving artist types who are maximizing all the limited resources they have. We have been to Philadelphia and to Brooklyn. We are going to Baltimore next. Really, it’s an excuse for the both of us to relax and take day-trips and visit friends. Sometimes, it takes working on a project together to spend time with friends in this town. I am passionate about the other three seasons as well.