Thursday 07/23/20 2PM

Phantom Threads: Restoring The Thing BBS

Cover Image:

The Thing circa 1992. Courtesy of Wolfgang Staehle.

This event is organized by the New Museum’s digital art affiliate Rhizome to mark the launch of a restoration of The Thing BBS, which will be presented as part of First Look: New Art Online. It follows on from an event exploring the community and culture of The Thing BBS on Tuesday, July 21 at 2pm. To receive access instructions and a reminder, please RSVP here.

Founded in New York City in 1991, The Thing was a Bulletin Board System–a forum where users could post and exchange messages–focusing on contemporary art and cultural theory. Among the tens of thousands of BBSes that flourished from the late 1970s to the 1990s, The Thing was notable for its design and community dynamics. Considered by its founder Wolfgang Staehle to be a kind of social sculpture, The Thing included features such as an anonymized chatroom, and it was a hub for online experimental writing. This history is little known, because most of the messages posted on The Thing BBS have been lost or otherwise inaccessible for many years.

During his tenure as Rhizome’s digital conservator, Ben Fino-Radin began a research project to locate missing archives from The Thing BBS. He succeeded in securing a WordPerfect file containing a screen dump of more than 400 pages of messages saved by a hacker named Blackhawk, former sysadmin of The Thing. With the support of a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Rhizome has undertaken a project to recover, make accessible, and study this material. This event marks the launch of a web-based interface to offer access to many of the recovered threads from this research process, which will be copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look: New Art Online.

Following Tuesday’s event “Consensual Hallucinations: Early Online Writing from The Thing BBS Archives,” this event brings together Rhizome’s Preservation Director Dragan Espenschied, Rhizome Software Curator Lyndsey Moulds, and Ben Fino-Radin, director of Small Data Industries, for a conversation about the philosophical and practical questions that arose in process of offering access to the archives of The Thing BBS.


This program is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special restoration work on The Thing was undertaken by Small Data Industries.

Rhizome’s Public Programs are supported by VIA Art Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this event do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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