A study of the redesign of the ArtBase, and the role of user agency in born-digital archives
This thesis critically examines the researcher’s embedded practice of redesigning the ArtBase archive of net art in collaboration with digital arts organization Rhizome.
Net art challenges the notion of artworks as single, self-contained objects. To be performed and experienced, net art depends upon alignments between hardware and software environments, network protocols, as well as user interactions. Therefore, the archive of net art operates as a network of relations between users—including staff, artists, programmers, academics—and digital infrastructure. This networked condition complicates a redesign of the archive’s interface, but also opens opportunities to rethink the agency of users within opaque, digital institutional environments.
To explore and expand the potential for informed user interaction and intervention, this research develops an original framework for the design of born-digital archives: Model–Database–Interface (MDI). MDI traces and makes visible the links between data model, database software, and user interface, reflecting processes of institutional and community-based classification, use, and maintenance.
This thesis demonstrates how MDI applies design prototypes, data visualizations, and user workshops to open up underlying data structures and processes to inspection and intervention. Further, it discusses how the ArtBase redesign adopts a Linked Open Data (LOD) model to support ongoing user engagement and collaboration. Thereby MDI is positioned as a conceptual and methodological framework that centers user participation and critical meaning-making beyond the redesign’s completion.
The development of MDI as well as its application in LOD environments, make distinctive contributions to interface design theory and practice. This study also contributes to the field of digital archiving by reimagining the ArtBase interface as a site for infrastructural inversion and user collaboration. Reaching beyond the particular case of net art, the strategies discussed in this thesis are applicable to a variety of digital interface contexts that place value on the role of user agency.
Full thesis will be available open access in late 2021.