Mute in Conversation with Rhizome (Mark Tribe) (Digital Publishing Feature)

By Pauline van Mourik Broekman, 10 January 1997

You mentioned in the talk organised as part of DEAF by V2 that Rhizome came about after conversations you'd had at last year's ISEA to do with the need for discussion fora for new media that could create a sense of community. Could you tell me a bit more about the inception, history and general aims of Rhizome?

Right. Rhizome grew out of a discussion I sat in on at DEAF in 1995. A bunch of people, I think Jane Prophet and some guy that built the Future Sound of London site, were talking about what makes Web sites work. Well, I had been doing some Web stuff, and I realised that a Web site for the community of people who were there at DEAF - the international new media art community - really made a lot of sense. It's a group of people who are already almost all online, who are spread out around the world, and who are interested in something that's happening largely online.

Could you also tell me a bit more about your emphasis on the rhizome model for the workings of the site and archive?I'm not sure that Rhizome is actually any more rhizomatic than most other email lists. But I do think that the rhizome is an excellent metaphor for the kind of living network I had in mind.

What advantages do you think you have publishing Rhizome's text on the internet and how do you think they might compare to Rhizome's advantages as a resource for its readers?

It's hard for me to answer this question because honestly it never occurred to me not to do Rhizome online, or do a print version. It's partly about efficiency and about being able to do a lot with limited resources, but it's also about taking advantage of the Internet's many-to-many communication structure to create, or perhaps 'unleash' is a better word, a new kind of publication without an editorial core and without a unified vision or voice. I think the advantage for readers is instant, 24/7 access to the searchable archive, to the subscribe/unsubscribe forms, to the images, and to the links to other sites.

What were the main subject areas you felt needed to be covered or looked into when you first started. How do you feel about that now that you have been up for a while? Has Rhizome developed in ways that are surprising to you?

I didn't approach it in that way. I never had a theoretical or editorial agenda. My goal was to provide a forum for people to exchange ideas and information in the field of new media art, and my strategy was to put a lot of energy into encouraging people to participate in various ways.

One thing that came out of the discussion with Pit Schultz, Armin Medosch and yourself was how important it was with such online lists and 'journals' that there is also regular real world contact - for want of a better word - between subscribers/contributors and organisers. I also thought the idea that, beyond a certain size, these groups may cease to be as effective was pertinent. How do you feel about these issues vis à vis Rhizome?I agree with Pit and Armin that face-to-face (I wouldn't say 'real world' in this context) meetings are important. But while a meeting of bodies is great if you can make it happen - if you all happen to live in Europe where everything's bunched together and there's great public transportation - what's really important is a meeting of minds. And that can happen very well online.

I suppose something connected to that also is the fact that you are based in New York. What do you think, if any, is Rhizome's geographical orientation? Having worked in Berlin before, what do you think are the most apparent and/or significant differences in the way that new media are being discussed in Europe and America?Rhizome's geographical orientation (and I like that concept, geographical orientation, as opposed to geographical location) is hybrid, plural and nomadic. The movement so far has been sort of a Westward flow, kicked off with a rather languid circulation around Eastern and Northern Europe, heading then across the water to the US, but not particularly New York, and now it seems to be taking a mellow left turn into Southern latitudes, with new subscribers in places like Ecuador and Brazil.

Something I am very interested in and that only raised its ugly head sporadically at the discussions at DEAF are the different -and ultimately still geographically grounded - cultural and funding contexts that all these things have to fit within. For example, in England, though the climate has changed immensely and it is much more difficult now, it is still possible to get a grant for an arts project, similarly in Holland and Germany. I get the impression this is quite anathema to many artists in the US and means that they have to tackle these things differently. How do you feel about this; you mentioned you approached venture capitalists at the outset; what was the thinking behind that?

A lot of Americans do seem to have this frontier self-reliant disdain for government handouts, along with a naive faith in the wisdom of markets. And the downturn in arts funding has been particularly severe in the U.S. But in my case, it was basically a gamble that I'd have better luck convincing angels or VC to kick in than I would competing with established non-profits for dwindling funds.

Mark Tribe <mark AT>www.rhizome.comtel +1 212 406 8710fax +1 212 406 1399368 Broadway #403, New York, NY 10013

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>