[iDC] shelf life

Eugenio Tisselli cubo23 at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 15 15:12:36 UTC 2007

Hello everyone,

I believe that the topic started by Annette is a very
relevant one. Its urgency only increases as time goes
by, while we wonder how are we going to maintain our
digital artowrks in a technological context that moves
(and devastates the "old") at an almost unmanageable

Simon is right at pointing towards the ephemerality of
digital artwork. Indeed, many artists are fully aware
of the extremely unstable nature of technology, and
consequently assume their artowk as being
intrinsically transient. Some of my works explicitly
deal with such transience, such as "degenerative", a
web page that becomes increasingly corrupted each time
it is visited.

Now it's totally gone; however, I kept a historical
record of its progressive degeneration.

But what about the artists whose intention is to make
digital pieces that are meant to endure the passage of
time? What about those who are not ready to let go of
their work - just yet? I believe that such a position
is totally legitimate. We can certainly see all human
artifacts as objects that are condemned to
destruction. But the time scale of the degeneration of
a digital piece is just too small, compared to other
artistic forms such as sculpture, paint or even

Code is the primary element of my work. I can always
take videos of my web pieces, but if they are to be
preserved, it has to be done through code. Many of my
pieces are quite unstable. For instance, JB Wock:


Basically, there is an algorithm at work that takes
text from a specific location of the Internet,
transforms it using a translator and a synonym server,
both also in remote locations, and shows the result on
the browser.

What if the remote servers change the way they deliver
data? Or what if they deny their services, or are
finally shut down?
What if the technologies involved (PHP programming
language, MySQL database) are no longer supported by
any server? Maybe 20 years from now? 10?

In order to keep my piece working, I have been forced
to re-write parts of the code. So far, I have faced
several changes in the way that remote servers reply.

I have also partially re-written the code of other
pieces, namely MIDIPoet, since it has consistently
crashed every time it is run on a new version of
Windows (yeah, I know, that's what you get when you
write software specifically for Windows... or any OS
for that matter!) ... honestly, I don't know if I will
be able to maintain it for Windows Vista (haven't even
tried it yet)

In short, I believe that code is of central importance
in the preservation of digital artwork, and not only
of net-based pieces. Many artists are updating the
code themselves, but there will come a day when this
won't be sustainable (the artist just can't bother
anymore, and will want to move on) or even possible
(you know, we're all going to die ;) ... so who will
take care of the preservation of digital art? It's a
difficult question. In any case, I believe this
involves a number of important considerations:

1. Artists will have to open up the code of their
works, so that eventually someone else can take care
of it. Will the artists decide to share their code and
put it into some sort of "artistic preservation wiki",
generating also a repository of coding knowledge in
the process? Or will they sell the code to
institutions that will take care of everything?

2. Who gets to choose which works are to be preserved,
and which ones will be left in oblivion? Given the
number of digital works out there, it seems almost
impossible to preserve everything!

3. Who will actually do the maintenance or
reimplementation of the works? This takes another
programmer, you know, and she will very liekly want to
get paid to do the job. 

These are, of course, open questions...

Best wishes,


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