[iDC] shelf lives

Timothy Murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Sat Nov 17 17:08:22 UTC 2007

Hi, Everyone,

I'm not sure that artists should be assumed to bear the 
responsibility for shelf life nor that we should so simply write off 
issues of shelf life to artistic commitments to ephemerality. 
There are certainly digital artworks that have designed with 
ephemerality in mind.  I have collected one DVD in the Goldsen 
Archive that is designed to erase itself once it's played (my 
subsequent solution has been not to play it!).  And I've curated many 
works of net.art that are contingent on ongoing archival trolling and 
data collection.  Although these pieces are compromised  when their 
interactive sources dry up, some of them now lead us to dead links or 
rely on outdated VMRL software (I find myself wondering how many of 
the links currently listed on low-fi.org are still active).

Still, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker and I made decisions when 
curating net.art for CTHEORY MULTIMEDIA 
(http://ctheorymultimedia.cornell.edu) to work with certain artists 
(I recall Diane Ludin in particular) to freeze their open archives 
for the sake of archiving their work on our system.  While some 
artists choose to opt out of such arrangements, others are happy to 
provide a snapshot of their works for online and off-line archiving. 
And I've chosen to continue to maintain works online that have, say, 
dead links--I think that entropy too is a part of any artwork.

A similar, and much more serious, dilemma confronts me in terms of 
the significant number of CD-Roms and DVD-Rom I have gathered for the 
Rose Goldsen Archive (http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu).  While I 
anticipated problems with longevity when I began this project five 
years ago (partially to keep materials together  from my exhibition, 
Contact Zones: The Art of CD-Rom 
(http://contactzones.cit.cornell.edu), I didn't foresee Apple's 
aggressive abandonment of Classic and its move to the Intel chip. 
Although the Cornell Library still has old machines that run older 
material (so many of the CD-Roms were designed on/for Mac), this 
won't be case forever even though I've stashed a couple of old G4s 
and iMacs beneath my desk.

I believe strongly that the manufactures of software and hardware 
bear a responsibility to help preserve artwork that has been built on 
their platforms.  We're not talking here about a few pieces of 
installation art, for example, that were designed to be run off  very 
specfically configured projectors, etc.  Instead, we referring to a 
good 15 years of work created across a broad base of conceptual and 
generic platforms.  Although I've worked most of my career as a 
poststructuralist theorist (who still believes in the ephemerality of 
the "author"), I've grown to be concerned about the material 
availability of a generation of artwork.

I open my forthcoming book, Digital Baroque: New Media Art and 
Cinematic Folds, for example, by reading one of  Simon Bigg's early 
CD-Roms.  I also discuss a large number of CD-Roms in the book that 
were created before the millenium, from Norie Neumark and Muntadas to 
Grace Quintanilla and Reggie Woolery.  I do so in part to create an 
intellectual dialogue with these works that I hope will catalyze 
other readings of them.  These are works that I believe opened a 
profoundy important philosophical and ideological lens in the 90s and 
early 2000s and which I believe we haven't begun to confront with 
close readings and analysis.  So it's for intellectual and historical 
reasons, as well as for "art appreciation," that I decided to commit 
to building the Goldsen Archive which has led me to confront the very 
tricky issues of shelf life.

But since I believe that non-profits and artists should not share the 
sole burden of maintaining and supporting culture, I'm hoping we can 
work together to encourage corporate interests to join us in working 
out simple solutions of migration to preserving work that wouldn't 
have been created without their leadership.  They certainly have the 
resources to assist here, and I believe they bear an important 
responsibility to do so.


Timothy Murray
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video Studies
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
285 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

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