Interview mit Mark Tribe dem Gründer der Medien Kunst Plattform Rhizome.org in New York.
Das Gespräch führte Jens Gebhart <info@i-lab.org>, Fotos von Katja Dell <katja@dells.de> für betacity.de

?: What is rhizome.org ?

Mark Tribe: Rhizomes are horizontal root systems that connect plants together into living networks, a metaphor for Rhizome's grassroots community and non-heirarchical structure. Rhizome.org is a non-profit organization that acts as a kind of a community platform to present new media art, to establish a critical dialogue about new media art and to provide access to new media art through an archive. Most of our programs are online:we have e-mail listserv, which has become quite popular, with discussions and announcements. We also have a big online database of critical writing, with over 1500 articles which are all indexed. We are starting to archive art works as well and we are also doing events where net artists show their work and talk about it.

?: Where is the network based?

MT: It's very international. When I started Rhizome in Berlin 1996, I tried to make it very international and not local at all. It's a community which is not defined by geography but by shared interests. We have subscribers from 75 countries and only 30 percent are from the United States.

?: Why did you start Rhizome in Berlin?

MT: When I finished a graduate program in San Diego, I applied for a residency at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin.I didn't get in, but I decided to go to Berlin anyway.  I got a job as a web designer at Pixelpark. It was in December '95 at the Dutch Electronic Art Festival where I got the idea for Rhizome.


?: What about the financial situation at Rhizome ?

MT: Rhizome comes out of the idea of the gift economy. We only recently started to have some success at raising money. A lot of the support is coming from individuals who participate in the project.Unlike Europe, there is a strong tradition of individual support for nonprofits in the United States. For example, there are radio stations in the States which are almost 50 percent paid by the listeners. What we do is to ask our subscribers to make contributions. We have received funding from Absolut. And we recently got some grants from foundations: one from Rockefeller Foundation, one from the National Endowment for the Arts and a third from the Daniel Langlois Foundation.


?: So the Rhizome network is getting more and more established?

MT: It's a real shift. When we first started Rhizome, we couldn't get any funding, we had no track record, we were not recognized in the field by funders. That’s really changed, even in the last six months. But I don't think it changes the character of what we do. Everything is still free.

?: What are the specific offers of the Rhizome project?

MT: Rhizome produces two free email services which distribute information provided by and for the Internet community: Rhizome Raw (unfiltered) and Rhizome Digest (edited) both containing announcements of new media art projects, events, festivals, conferences and exhibitions, press releases, calls for work, reviews of new media art projects, interviews with new media artists and commentary on related issues. Raw is rather important because it's this kind of unfiltered, unmoderated new media discussion thing, and there are around 350, kind of hard core subscribers.  The Digest is for everybody else who is too busy to read 40-50 emails a day from the Raw, it is filtered in the Rhizome TextBase, a searchable library of over 1500 articles. You can do a search on gender or interactivity, person reality or flash and you will come up with articles and also artworks. We indexed every article with keywords, the name of the person who wrote the article and topics, the type of the text, review, interview or commentary.



?: Do the people know that they are listed in this TextBase?

MT: This depends on whether or not they’re paying attention. When you subscribe, you execute an agreement that gives us the right to archive anything you post in the TextBase. If someone objects to it, we will take it off. It’s a quid pro quo: we provide a platform and an audience, and you provide the content.


?: What is the difference between Rhizome Raw and Nettime for example?

MT: The main difference is that Nettime is focused on theory and politics and the culture mode of the net. Our focus is on new media art, the emerging social and cultural issues and critical concerns that intersect with contemporary art and emerging technologies. We don't moderate the Rhizome Raw List and sometimes it happens also that people use the list for their concerns. For example, during the war in Kosovo, there were a lot of postings about the war and it had nothing to do with art or new media. There have been activists that have used Rhizome as a vehicle. We just send messages in the background asking people to stay on topic. Rhizome is a platform for new media art; today we’re focused on net art, in a few years it may be genetic art...
Another thing that differentiates Rhizome and Nettime is that we offer two modes: one totally unfiltered and the other a weekly edited newsletter. Without Raw, the community would die. But without Digest, it would fail to reach critical mass because most subscribers don’t have time for Raw. Rhizome is also distinguished by the way we database our content. Nettime does that too, but what is important for us is the human keywording and the human indexing, at a certain level the search engine works much better if you have intelligent indexing. Nettime continues to operate on the gift economy while we’re transitioning to a funded organization.

?: What is the relation between Rhizome as a new media art platform and the institutionalized art world here in New York?

MT: The art world is definitely paying more attention to new media art than ever before. But it's a similar pattern to the video art in the early 70’s. There are always a few leaders, a few visionary people who pick up the interesting artists. For net art it was the Walker Art Center, and also the Postmasters Gallery, the first New York gallery to deal with net art.  Also Sandra Gering, who has been showing new media art for a few years. Or the Whitney Museum who is including net art in their Biennial Show.  But it even started in 1997 with Documenta X in Kassel. The museums. It will take a long time for them to learn how to deal effectively with net art. It's just like video art: it took 30 years.  I think it has also a good side. We have the time and the freedom to deal with the work in relative obscurity.



?: Is the democratic idea of net art lost?

MT: To some extent, net art is realizing the dream of video art. In video art there have been some wonderful projects like Deep Dish TV, Paper Tiger and other experiments, but they were always thwarted at a certain level by the high cost of the medium. I went to a panel a week ago at Sotheby's and there was a discussion about what was the most important thing in art last year. None of them mentioned 'net art,' and it was a little bit like the band was playing on the deck of the sinking Titanic. Because what net art has done is to develop a parallel art world, a completely independent network, and we don't need them. I think it's also good that net art is starting to deal with institutions, to get work realized.  The museums have a lot of resources that can be used for new media art and it provides an interesting form to make interventions. But I think it's a kind of wasting time, to say that they did not do their job. What do you expect. ... A month ago, this 16- year old guy who offered his body to sale on ebay.com, I think in a certain way, this was the most radical form of net art today. Maybe it's just an echo of the conceptual art from the 80’s, but what was interesting for me was, that this 16- year old boy got international attention in about 5 minutes.  There is a parallel communication network. It's like Eryk Salvaggio of one38.org, who collaborated with hell.com, with jodi.org and he got international attention and he lives in New Hampshire and he is 20-years old and that's totally outside the art world and that's interesting.


?: Is the net art community getting more and more American?

MT: Oh..., the internet started up in America. Yes I do think in terms of art, there is much more going on than a couple of years ago. But I don't think that there is any less European, it's just that in America its getting more and more exiting these days. Right now, in New York, there are around 30 or 40 interesting net artists working, I think it' s the most interesting place in the world in terms of net art. Actually I disagree that the internet is getting more Amercian, actually the fastest growing part of the world on the internet is Asia.

?: So, what is the future of Rhizome?

MT: Right now our community is growing very quickly, as is net art in general. We’re just focused on trying to keep up with the growth, to keep evolving and changing, and to stay independent.




Rhizome Communications Inc.
115 Mercer Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Tel. 212.625.3191
Fax 212.431.3631
http://www.rhizome.org

Staff:
Mark Tribe, Founder and Executive Director
Alex Galloway, Technical Director
Mary Beth Smalley, Director of Development & Communications
Xochitl Dorsey, Administrator

Board of Directors:
David Ross, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Jeffrey Cunard, Debevoise & Plimpton
Rachel Greene, America Online
Craig Kanarick, Razorfish
Scott Levy, Grant-Thorton
Prema Murthy, new media artist
Gloria Sutton, UCLA PhD Program
Mark Tribe, Rhizome
Thea Westreich, Art Advisory Services