[iDC] shelf lives
tcm1 at cornell.edu
Sat Nov 17 17:08:22 UTC 2007
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rely on outdated VMRL software (I find myself wondering how many of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.
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
Ithaca, New York 14853
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