[iDC] shelf life

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Wed Nov 14 13:41:19 UTC 2007

Annette's email and the general theme it touches on opens up a whole lot of
issues that are currently occupying me. From issues around the conservation
and preservation of my earlier works, as well as some current works, through
to the issues in this area that curators and museologists are having to
confront on a more regular basis than previously. However, ironically, I am
so busy with just these issues, trying to build infrastructure to address
them in a rigorous and generally useful way, that I don't have the time to
contribute anything substantial to the debate. Needless to say, I will be
watching this with interest and if I have some moments I will try to
participate a little.

Thanks for kicking this off Annette.



On 14/11/07 04:07, "Annette Weintraub" <annette at annetteweintraub.com> wrote:

> Hello, everyone,
> Trebor has kindly asked me to start a topic on
> the list.  I am interested in asking some
> questions about the longevity or 'shelf life' of
> new media art, as it affects individual studio
> practice, curation and archiving- particularly
> from the pov of the practitioner. The question of
> shelf life as it applies to the currency of ideas
> or movements or the historical record is
> tangential, but could play some  role in the
> discussion.
> First, let me introduce myself: I am an artist
> who began her career as a painter, and began
> working with digitally manipulated images in the
> late 80s; I started making web-based projects and
> video in the early 90s while continuing to make
> still images. I'm interested in the visual
> language of architecture and how the built
> environment and the intrusion of media in public
> space shape our psychological sense of place, and
> ultimately our behavior and perception.  I'm
> currently working on a series of still images
> based on 3D models that are hybrid
> representations of constructed urban space. I'm
> also working on a web project that reinterprets a
> series of texts on urbanism through changes of
> visual presentation. I am a professor at The City
> College of New York where I founded and teach in
> the BFA of Electronic Design and Multimedia,
> although I'm now taking a short turn as
> Department Chair.
> I started thinking about shelf life some time ago
> when It became evident that if I was going to
> preserve some of my earlier web-based work, I
> would have to go back and 'update' it. I did
> this, but not without some small resentment,
> because I prefer spending time making new work as
> opposed to reworking the past, and also not
> without some uneasiness that at some future date
> I might have to do this all over again. (of
> course, one response might have been to leave
> things aloneŠ). I began to look at my video and
> print work with a different eye-it had an
> agreeable stability, the work was 'finished,'
> fixed in time, and aside from possible
> conservation issues had an independent existence
> in the world.
> Art is not always about object-making, and
> perhaps for web-based work, non-objectification
> is an essential attribute which comes with a
> different expectation of the work's lifespan or
> perpetuation. That may be true of other kinds of
> new media practice as well. However I
> increasingly am getting the sense that many new
> media artists have a kind of retrofit fatigue
> that has little parallel in other kinds of
> artistic practice. There seems to be an odd
> paradox of 'long gestation, short lifespan' that
> seems very particular to new media.
> Frequently, in conversations with students or
> peers, I've struggled to describe work created in
> a technological climate that no longer exists, or
> tried to give context to work that was created
> when some particular web mechanism spawned a run
> of very interesting projects that no longer work
> because the underlying browser technologies have
> changed. Not only is the work literally
> unavailable, but the creative climate in which it
> was created sometimes seems increasingly remote,
> even after just a few years.
> Ephemerality in art is nothing new, but perhaps
> this is a different kind of transience than that
> of other modes of art that exist momentarily and
> then reside in memory or photo
> documentation-performance, conceptual art, body
> art, and site-specific work come to mind. The
> Kinetic Art of the 60s was more purely
> sculptural; although perhaps it can be better
> categorized just as sculpture that came with
> built-in, future mechanical problems. While
> performance or conceptual art can be spontaneous,
> gestural, open-ended and casual, that's often not
> the case of new media production. Many new media
> artists work on large-scale projects that involve
> a period of research into new technologies,
> prototyping, collaborations with others from
> other disciplines or other practices for which a
> long period of development is often the norm.
> Mythically, art objects have been imagined [or
> hoped] to have a kind of eternal life. Barring
> physical destruction, but acknowledging cultural
> difference, contextual change, and continuous
> reinterpretation, the [traditional] art object
> has a kind of inner stability/integrity that
> defies time. This is often irrespective of
> judgments of quality or fashion, but something
> that resides in the object itself, an
> indissoluble lamination of medium and idea. The
> Tamayo painting that recently was found in the
> trash went through cycles of loss and discovery,
> but it remained recognizable as a painting, and
> even buried in trash was 'available' to be
> rediscovered.
> What do we claim for new media art? Do works
> expire when the technologies that are their
> raison d'être have become commonplace and are
> rendered invisible by change? Is there a quality
> of reduced shelf life in new media, in which
> technologies experimented with and then abandoned
> or surpassed go the way of Bruce Sterling's Dead
> Media Project? And if so, what does that mean for
> individual studio practice in this area?
> I'm most curious to hear from those of you who
> have orphaned interactive projects,  web pieces
> that break in the current browsers and garages
> full of boxed-up installations that run on
> equipment that's no longer produced.
> Best,
> Annette Weintraub
> http://www.annetteweintraub.com
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Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk

Research Professor in Art, Edinburgh College of Art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

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