[iDC] shelf life

Cynthia B Rubin cbrubin at risd.edu
Thu Nov 15 04:47:33 UTC 2007

Hi Everyone,

Thanks to Annette to starting this discussion, and to Simon for  
adding that he busy updating! This discussion got me thinking about  
why digital screen media are different from other innovations in  
visual culture.

One of the key points in Annette's post is the question of explaining  
to students and others the limitations that we faced as recently as  
15 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Historically, as the visual arts have evolved from one format to  
another, the viewing public has known what went before.  There is a  
wonderful nostalgia in watching black and white silent films, for  
example, imagining our grandparents going to the movies (if they  
could afford to go), and imagining our link to history as we  
experience what they experienced. In this way, film is like anything  
passed down from the past - we admire antique books, furniture, etc.  
in the same way: nice objects as they are now, and nice because they  
link to the past.

With digital screen media, we have a problem in that many people have  
only recently discovered serious visual work in this format.  Work  
from 15 years ago carries no nostalgia factor, no patina of a link  
with history in the medium itself.  It just looks oddly small on a  
high-resolution screen, oddly lacking in subtle color and anti- 
aliased form in a world beyond 8 bit.

Unlike the transitions in film and photography, students and others  
new to the field most likely do not know people who were looking at  
screen-based digital art as recently as 10 years ago.  We might have  
our own nostalgia, but we cannot count on it beyond a small circle.  
Attempts to create a historical context (such as the ReFresh and the  
RePlace conferences) might eventually create a context for older  
works, but by the time there is any real interest in these works,  
they may not be viewable.

This discussion prompted me to go back and look at some of my own  
earlier web work - still on-line.  Every time I look at older works I  
remember the long hours of getting those animated gifs down to size,  
or making repeating background patterns that would quickly fill the  
screen in the days of dial-up.  I pulled all-nighters working with  
the imagery to squeeze every bit of flexibility out of what was then  
a rather limited medium.  How can I expect artists who are new to  
this medium to understand this struggle any more than I can be  
expected to appreciate the difficulties of finding pigments and  
grinding paint in the days of early illuminated manuscripts?  It was  
hard work, but the labor of love was my own.

Do I want to go back and save this work?  Perhaps our time as artists  
would be better spent by thinking of these works collectively as  
"sketches" for where we are today.  We can document the works by  
"recording" a user - admittedly very different from the actual inter- 
active experience, but necessary. We should not let the works die  
completely.  But just as re-mastering old film for DVDs only  
partially recreates the experience of sitting in a crowded movie  
theatre with a live pianist, maybe partial recreation is enough to  
give future audiences a sense of what our screen-based works were in  
the old days of the 1990s.

And then we might just have to move on, because what new generation  
ever understands the one that went before? In the meantime, I hope  
that I can show that inter-active work stored in my basement just one  
more time. .  .

Cynthia Beth Rubin

> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2007 13:41:19 +0000
> From: Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] shelf life
> To: Annette Weintraub <annette at annetteweintraub.com>,
> 	<idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Message-ID: <C360AB7F.174DB%s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>
> Content-Type: text/plain;	charset="ISO-8859-1"
> 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.
> Regards
> Simon
> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk
> http://www.littlepig.org.uk/
> AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
> Research Professor in Art, Edinburgh College of Art
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> http://www.eca.ac.uk/

> 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 alone?). 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'?tre 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
>> _______________________________________________
>> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity
>> (distributedcreativity.org)
>> iDC at mailman.thing.net
>> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
>> List Archive:
>> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
>> iDC Photo Stream:
>> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
>> RSS feed:
>> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
>> iDC Chat on Facebook:
>> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
>> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

More information about the iDC mailing list