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<nettime> artfcity: Turbulence.org Going Offline
nettime's_wandering_archivist on Tue, 17 May 2016 16:48:25 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> artfcity: Turbulence.org Going Offline

< http://artfcity.com/2016/05/10/net-art-archive-turbulence-org-going-offline-raising-preservation-concerns/  >

Net Art Archive Turbulence.org Going Offline, Raising Preservation Concerns

by REA MCNAMARA on MAY 10, 2016

An important internet art archive will soon shutter. Turbulence.org, an
online project that has commissioned new net art and networked hybrid
artworks since the mid-1990s, announced over the weekend it would be
going offline on December 31, 2016.

According to the announcement -- made via a mass email to past and
present artists, as well as in a public Facebook update -- the
organization can no longer sustain the operating costs needed to
maintain its online archive.

For over twenty years, the satellite project by the non-profit New Radio
and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) was one of the few artist-led
initiatives to commission new works by emerging and established artists.
This was vital, especially given that much of this work operated for so
long outside institutional confines.

One of those commissioned artists was Yoshi Sodeoka. Back in 2004, the
New York-based video artist and musician did a few projects with
Turbulence, including “ASCII BUSH” and “Prototype #44”. “I was so
psyched to receive a decent amount of funding through them to work on
those,” he says via email. “It was really rare for anyone to be
receiving funding to work on net art projects back then and it still
isn’t that common now.”

Since 1981, NRPA has been a registered 501(c) non-profit. Originally,
its focus was on radio and sound art, but that shifted when
Turbulence.org was founded in 1996. Most of Turbulence’s funding --
which comes from the Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment of the
Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts -- supports new
commissions. Sodeoka recalls he was paid a $4000 commissioning fee back
in 2004, which Thorington confirms is the same today.

Despite the handsome commissioning fees, NRPA co-founder Helen
Thorington notes their grant funding has been limited to
program-specific projects, and doesn’t cover the necessary operational

“The main problem here is we don’t get support for our own labor and the
maintenance of the site,” explains Thorington in a phone interview with
AFC. In 2014, the NEA gave Turbulence.org two NEA Art Works grants
totalling $45,000 to cover five artist commissions and a redesign of
their website. Four years before that, the funder awarded the
organization $25,000 to develop an offline archive with Cornell
University Library’s Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. Since then,
they have not received any NEA funding for any other project.

Despite a flurry of activity among past and present artists to cover the
cost of hosting the project for the next 10-20 years -- which is
approximately $1000/per month -- it still remains to be seen what the
archive’s fate will be.

Currently, the site is run on open-source software Red Hat, and the
works are hosted on two servers: a cloud server for newer works, and
another for older works. The servers are based in Los Angeles, and
maintained on a part-time basis by system administrator Jesse Gilbert,
who has worked with the organization for the past twenty years.

But maintaining essentially two versions of the same site holding over
300 gigabytes of material and 230 works “becomes overwhelming,” says
Thorington. And while Thorington is appreciative of all the offers to
help, the organization is still determining the project’s technical

“It’s a big, big project,” she says. “Before anybody can really make an
offer, they have to know what they’re in for.”

Ultimately, an institution like the Whitney or Rhizome needs to step in
if the Turbulence.org archive is to be preserved. Thorington confirms
that while they haven’t heard from the Whitney, Rhizome has been in
touch offering preservation support.

“The news that Turbulence is closing is very sad,” artistic director
Michael Connor says via email to AFC, confirming the organization’s
involvement. “They’ve been stalwart in their support of net art
practices, and the Turbulence archive is a testament to the strength and
coherence of their curatorial vision over many years. The news is a
symptom, in part of a broader lack of recognition of the cultural
importance of web archives.”

As it stands, Thorington acknowledges that the end of Turbulence.org is
likely the end of New Radio Performing Arts: “I think I’m going to have
a long conversation with my board of directors about the organization,
and we’ll work out over time what we’ll do.” While she’s validated that
more institutions are now showing more of this work, she notes “they are
doing what they always do, and making their selections from name people
or people they would like to see. We just simply haven’t worked that
way. We have some work on Turbulence that is pretty mediocre and some
that’s even a little below that, but that’s the way it happens, in my
opinion. You don’t have a list of exceptional artists, and fund them

Nonetheless, Thorington notes that despite the organization’s sad news,
she’s been touched by the show of support Turbulence.org has received.

“It’s an emotional time, but we’ve been very happy about all the people
who responded. A lot of them are artists who have talked about how
important it was to have this encouragement in their early new media art
days,” she says. “I’m grateful to know and see it in print.”

Correction: May 12, 2016

An earlier version of this article stated the commission fee
Turbulence.org paid artist Yoshi Sodeoka in 2004 was $1000. Sodeoka was
in fact paid $4000. According to Thorington, the $1000 rate was
distributed once in 2008 to four artists for short works created for the
organization’s networked performance blog. The commissioning rate for
new works has always been $4000. 

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