[iDC] shelf life

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Sat Nov 17 09:41:09 UTC 2007

All excellent points. However, the key issue remains mediality. Euripides
remains interpretable today because the 'code' it is written in (whether the
original or a translation) is open to humans to read. In the case of digital
media (which is only one type of media that a media artist might choose to
work with) the code is written to be read by a machine. It is the case that
machines and their codes become obsolete and stuff becomes irretrievable.

I agree that for many artists this is not a problem. They choose to use
ephemeral media because they do not want the work to last. One of my
favourite works (which I liked so much I bought) was a small sculpture made
from a bird's nest and a broken egg. 25 years ago it was lovely. 10 years
ago it didn't exist anymore. It simply disintegrated. That was the artist's
intent. No technology involved, just natural materials.

This example evidences that the issues involved here are not unique to media
art, but I would still argue that the technological dependencies that
underpin most media art do render it a special case in respect of
conservation and preservation. Whether the artist wants the work to be
preserved or not isn't really the point. Why should the artist be the one to
decide whether something should be preserved or not?



On 16/11/07 21:56, "Adrianne Wortzel" <sphinx at camouflagetown.tv> wrote:

> What about Euripides?
> Written on papyrus in an extinct language 25 centuries ago, the plays
> have been preserved as texts and continue in performances  without
> Euripides lifting a finger.  They are also reiterated, repurposed,
> reinterpreted and even re-made   (see "The (Re)making Project -
> Charles Mee at http://www.charlesmee.org/html/about.html.
> Are our technologies harder to decipher/decode than an archaic
> language? Are we imprisoning our works when we make them in
> technologies -- even code?
> An aspect of mischief in my own work as an artist in is to embrace
> the physical obsolescence of works by embedding their content in the
> context of archaeological digs and lost civilizations. A case in
> point are "The Electronic Chronicles."-- stories of a future
> archaeological dig which excavates our own culture as if it was the
> past . Created in 1994, with overzealous use of newly available html
> magicJ ( alignment and tables) and written on a yellow pad on the
> subway, it is now inaccessible on a CD of "pioneer web works"
> accompanying The New Media Reader which demands System 9.  Update it?
> No. It is, in itself now an archaeological artifact. (Its also still
> visible on line).
> I know these things are painful for archivists and artists to
> contemplate , but isn't it also emphatically charming and Sisyphean
> to have our work "frozen" in time?. We tend to experience both the
> newness and obsolesce of technologies as ascendant through time, and
> indicating revoluiton, but what is really changing?
> Speaking of shelf life as one of stasis; this is signage from the
> American Museum of Natural History, which, aside from terrifying
> kids,  lauds the process of decay as life enabling.
> "A square foot of dirt in a forest holds four times as many dead
> insects and animals as how many humans there are on all of the earth.
> If the pile just grew and grew the forest wouldn't get any light and
> air and everything would die. This is called the Cycle of Nutrition
> and Decay."
> When work is buried by its form in new technologies, its wonderful
> that there are those who would put their ear to the ground to hear
> its heart beating there and resurrect it, but considering the span of
> our lifetimes and those of our literal or philosophical heirs,  what
> kind of time are we talking about?  Years, Decades, Millennia?

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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