Digital Art Organization Rhizome’s New Blockchain Program Is An NFT Dotted Journey Through The History Of Generative Art

Seed’s first NFT drop is already sold out.

Postcards from StarryNight #13. Thanks to Rhizome and TRLab.

In 1999, programmer Alex Galloway, artist Mark Tribe, and researcher Martin Wattenberg built a comprehensive online archive for Rhizome. The platform had been launched three years earlier as an email list for new media art discussions, and the trio’s approach to capturing the dialogues was appropriately visual, relying on digital technology. Titled Starry nightthe resulting interface allowed users to navigate a constellation across a digital night sky, each of which was linked to a keyword and associated emails.

Unfortunately, despite its significance as a piece of net art, Starry night would eventually become non-functional, the text corpus would be lost for over a decade – until now. Rhizome, now affiliated with the New Museum, has brought the interface to lifepartially restoring text content and making it possible to run on operating systems later than Windows 1998. And in a next step, the team has brought the work up to date with the Web3 era.

Postcards from StarryNight #100. Thanks to Rhizome and TRLab.

On June 28, Rhizome, in partnership with Web3 platform TRLab, launched “Postcards from StarryNight”, a now-out-of-print collection of 151 NFTs, punched from museum-quality screenshots of the restored version of Starry night. Each of these still images relates to a specific keyword – from “meme” to “performance” to “social space” – making them unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Proceeds from the sale, now totaling 5 ETH (approximately $9,848) in volume, will go towards supporting Rhizome’s archiving and commissioning work.

“That project is very important in our history,” Michael Conner, co-director of Rhizome, told Artnet News Starry night. “We are very proud to share it in this way to tell the story of our conservation work and history to a wider community.”

The NFT drop heralds Rhizome and TRLab’s new Seed joint venture, positioned as an educational journey through the history of generative art or more broadly, creative coding, which Starry night deployed. Visitors to Seed website can dig into a brief history of the generative space as seen through Rhizome’s archive of Net art, in which are scattered “Seedlings” or digital collectibles that can be added to their digital wallets.

Screenshot of Seed’s history of generative art. Thanks to TRLab.

As a born digital organization, Rhizome itself is no stranger to the NFT space. The flagship event Seven on Seven has incubated Kevin McCoy’s in particular Quantum (2014), widely regarded as the first art NFT. However, Seed marks his deeper involvement in the Web3 space which Connor says has been deeply considered.

“In 2021, we looked at the boom with a lot of knowledge and perspective, but not necessarily an understanding of how best to deploy as an institution. We took it easy and I think we still do,” he explained. “But we’ve seen a lot of really sustainable communities in crypto that we want to partner with as Rhizome.”

In doing so, Rhizome leaned on TRLab to create an NFT experience supported by an educational aspect, just as it did for The Calder issue, a project launched with the Calder Foundation that aimed to teach visitors about the American sculptor while inviting them to purchase NFTs. With Seed, the subject goes deep into the heart of the digital art space and marketplace, which have widely embraced the generative medium.

“Within the digital art collecting community, there are many newcomers who are not yet familiar with the long history of generative art or how it relates to internet art,” Audrey Ou, co-founder of TRLab, told Artnet News. “As the term becomes more commercialized, it’s an ideal time for Rhizome to share its educational and visual content with those who want to learn how the foundational artists got us to this moment and where it could go.”

This fall, following the release of “Postcards from StarryNight,” Seed 2 will feature a generative art collection that serves as the genesis artwork of Rhizome and TRLab, before Seed 3 unveils a series of artist commissions that also focus on generative forms. The point, Connor added, is to underline even more “an incredible community of practice” that is here to stay.

“People sometimes say ‘oh this is a hype cycle’ but in my eyes there is so much power and so much passion [in generative art],” he said. “Obviously there are people who care about software and code and will support this practice in the long run. I really respond to that.”

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