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"Excellences & Perfections" (2014)Amalia Ulman

New Rhizome tool preserves net art for future generations

Colloq archives conversations and art created on social media platforms like Instagram

How do you preserve art created on social media? As more artists start experimenting with social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, the question has taken on new urgency. Some, like Richard Prince, quite literally print out their work to hang in galleries. But something inevitably gets lost in transferring art from the digital realm to printed matter – which is why Rhizome have created Colloq, a new online tool to help archive net art.   

The non-profit arts organisation was concerned that online art could disappear at the whims of its host site or went through a dramatic redesign (think Friendster or Myspace). Colloq works by replicating the basic interface of apps such as Instagram with a few modifications – you can't, for instance, scroll past the first image of the piece.

That means that artists are able to preserve the way their art was originally presented, regardless of whether the site changes in future. Artist Amalia Ulman's Instagram-based photographic series "Excellences & Perfections" is the first work to be archived with Colloq. 

"Social media platforms change their design and mode of operation frequently, and when they do change, they distort carefully constructed narrations or compositions within the platform," explains Rhizome digital conservator Dragan Espenschied. "'Content is king' is not totally true – the real king is more often than not the grid or the template that decides where the 'content' ends up."

Rhizome has yet to run into any legal trouble with reproducing Instagram's site. It says that Colloq can work on a wide range of web sites, and has applications beyond art preservation.

"Any kind of conversation or interaction on social media can be archived using this tool," executive director Heather Corcoran told us. "It would have been useful to have during #Ferguson... There are rich conversations happening on the web that will be lost."