Rhizome Forever Party Turned the Digital Visceral

Rhizome Forever Party Turned the Digital Visceral

By Tobias HessMay 17, 2024

We were high in the clouds of a FiDi high rise when the dragons flew in. Pink and made of hand-stitched found materials, the monsters and creatures moved with looming terror above an eager crowd of onlookers. Shocking as they were, their entrance was maybe the third most surprising occurrence of the Rhizome Forever Party, a dinner and night of performance organized by multimedia performance series 29 Speedway and held in the WSA, a new cultural hub that stands tall above the Brooklyn Bridge. The night was raising funds for digital arts foundation Rhizome. More importantly, though, it was a chance to convene some of the internet and art world’s most forward-thinking practitioners.

The dragons were courtesy of Poncili Creación, a Puerto Rican experimental puppet troupe founded by twin brothers Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro, whose interactive sculptures evoke a sense of both play and foreboding, as if they come straight from a hand-stitched story book.

Alongside the Del Hierro twins' demons and creatures were other, similarly evocative becomings such as a performance by Young Boy Dancing Group, a Swiss dance troupe whose work pushes the limits of the body. During their performance, Young Boy Dancing Group’s dancers roamed around the largely empty space, while packed-in onlookers moved alongside them. Their dance swung wildly from a wax-drenched slip-and-slide to a communal juicing of a watermelon to a particularly evocative techno purification ritual.

Later, elekhlekha อีเหละเขละขละ presented "Jitr จิตร: extended gong ensemble," an experimentation of live coding and hardware, “stable diffusion-based laser projections” from artist Laser Days and a set by the co-founder of Discwoman, UMFANG, whose longstanding engagement with the ideas of Technofeminism was well-situated within a night that intersected the digital and physical. The event was made possible by sponsr Zora — an NFT and media marketplace who seeks to make creating on the internet free and valuable.

The diverse, kinetic night of performance and communal hobnobbing was reflective of Rhizome’s ethos. Rhizome, an affiliate in residence at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, champions born-digital art and culture through commissions, exhibitions, scholarship and digital preservation.

“Since Rhizome's inception [in 1996], net artists have sought to define and defend their right to appear in the physical environments of more traditional art institutions,” says Bri Griffin, Rhizome’s community designer who co-curated the event with NYC-based performance series with 29 Speedway. “The artists we engage with don't easily fit into conventional categories or white boxes, and our in-person events reflect this. Varying from web surfing competitions and meme-laced screenings to exhibitions and conferences, Rhizome’s IRL events adapt to the endless, yet necessary shapes required to engage with the internet.”

“WSA’s gutted 30th floor was a welcome blank canvas. The flexibility of the space and the mystique around what might happen within its walls contributed to the energy of the night, a kind of controlled chaos,” adds 29 Speedway label head and founder Ben Shirken (also known as Ex Wiish). “Each performer had a completely different vision for how their performance would be oriented within the space. The audience moved between shifting rooms, the evening’s capriciousness visible from a quiet corner of the vending hall via a large, LCD screen with a live iPhone feed lost amidst the crowd.”

More than just another night of pomp and spectacle in New York City’s art world, the night was a true convening, a chance for the larger creative community to celebrate and experience something novel. "By programming a diverse array of artists into an evening, the show becomes an experiment in coalescence," Shirken adds.

“Rhizome Forever started out as a benefit dinner to raise money for Rhizome’s micro-grant program this year. By the end of the night, the space was unrecognizable — we want to say this was by design but there were so many different types of people and collectives involved that there was no way to imagine what would actually happen,” Griffin reflects. “To us that’s really exciting. In New York, I think that’s how you know something ‘real’ is happening.”

Photography: Sidewalkkilla and Jae Kim

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