First Look: Capturing Emerging Digital Art with Webrecorder

Amye McCarther
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


Established in 2012 and co-organized by the New Museum and Rhizome, First Look is a digital art commissioning and exhibition program representing the breadth of art online—from interactive documentary, to custom-built participatory applications, to moving image–based works, and art for mobile virtual reality (VR). Encompassing over 35 works, First Look explores the formal, social, and aesthetic possibilities of emerging technologies on the web. These experimental works are representative of the host of challenges that electronic media conservators face in preserving the performance of networked artworks as their native technological environments rapidly obsolesce. Several entail complex external dependencies, such as content that is contingent on real-time data feeds or applications that mine social media sites for images, videos, and GIFs. Some are custom built by the artist and lack sustained support, while others employ freely available proprietary platforms and applications, such as tumblr, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram, and may involve user-specific content. Capturing these works for long-term preservation requires nuanced technological and aesthetic considerations, and raises questions regarding appraisal and stewardship where aggregations of real-time data and content are integral to the experience of the work. The New Museum Archives and Rhizome are collaborating to document and preserve past First Look artworks using Rhizome’s free, open-source web archiving tool, Webrecorder, in concert with other archival extraction techniques and emulation environments. Webrecorder is both a user-friendly tool to create high-fidelity, interactive web archives of any website and a platform to make those collections accessible. Webrecorder’s ability to capture dynamic web content, including embedded video and interactive animations, has made it an indispensable tool for collecting intricate websites and user-specific content. The conceptual and aesthetic underpinnings of works created for First Look are highly individualized, but their prolific use of emerging and extant technologies mirrors the evolving media landscape, fraught with heterogeneous and ephemeral modes of production and display. This presentation will use a range of use cases to demonstrate how Webrecorder addresses this continuum in complement to the New Museum’s digital and moving image archiving workflows, highlighting obstacles and successes encountered while preserving artworks on emerging digital mediums with open-source tools.

Keywords: software-based art, net art


Amye McCarther
New Museum
New York, NY