[iDC] shelf life

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Sun Nov 18 11:22:30 UTC 2007

On 18/11/07 00:06, "Annette Weintraub" <annette at annetteweintraub.com> wrote:

> There have been some fascinating comments so far. One thing I find
> curious is that much of the discussion looks [back] at archiving, and
> not to  strategies going forward.
I have always tried to follow the axiom that I develop my work based on
general technical principles. When I start a project that involves
developing new media tools I seek to ensure that the systems envisaged are
scaleable and portable in relation to their technological dependencies. This
means you can always go back to your original code and re-compile for
whatever instruction set the application is expected to run with. This might
still require some alteration of the code, to account for hardware
specificities, but this is usually containable. With higher level languages
designed to be less platform specific (eg: Java) this strategy becomes even
more viable. By this means you can upgrade a work to take account of changes
in operating systems and hardware. You can also account for changes in
display technologies or acquisition technologies (eg: the shift from low-res
analog to hi-res digital video). Aside from making life easier I think this
approach adds extra value to the systems you create, as they become more
open to manipulation and thus facilitate both technical and conceptual

I note that people who tend to have problems maintaining and upgrading their
work are those who rely on other peoples code or used commercial systems in
their projects. Clearly in this situation you are not in the position to
take control of your media and upgrade as required. You need to re-think how
the whole thing is put together and do it all again.

Early on, when I first started teaching digital arts, I use to be very firm
with students that to be an artist who worked with computers you needed to
know how to program. I have become less doctrinaire about this, especially
as some languages are so accessable and easy to learn and you can sort of
leave people to work it out more for themselves. However, given the above, I
think it is still safe to say that if you create your own tools and systems
then you tend to be in a better position to maintain them.

When it comes to the collecting and conservation of such artwork we start to
enter a different situation though. We need to ask what museums and
institutions responsible for collecting and preserving such work are obliged
to need to know in respect of maintaining technologically dependent work?
Most serious museums have a conservation department where there are experts
in paints and solvents, glazes and patinaes, natural and synthetic
materials. Perhaps museums have to start considering also having hardware
and software specialists with appropriate conservation skills? Will they do



> Myron commented, "I don't think many of us who were using computers
> 10 and 15 years ago quite understood the rapidity with which the
> technologies would advance."  This is certainly true; and if we knew
> or suspected, perhaps we were temporarily blinded by fascination by
> potential and by pure technophilia.  We do know now, but are we
> necessarily cannier?  Are we working differently because we have
> experienced axiom 1 and feel the acceleration?  Do all of those
> students coming out of new media programs know what they are getting
> into?
> I've always liked looking at new media work with artists who are
> involved in other aspects of contemporary art. Their critique
> frequently involved a brutal stripping away of the same elements that
> I found compelling. It was bracing to look at work sans
> tech-mystique. We are all so accepting of projects that don't quite
> work; most people coming into a gallery with non-functioning works
> have an entirely different perspective. Adobe recently sponsored an
> interactive project to promote one of their projects on Union Square
> in NY. The spot seemed ideal, a lot of street traffic, a space that
> created a dark alcove for the projection and was right on the street.
> Yet within about two weeks, it had stopped working, and never got
> fixed, confirming the stereotype.
> One of the delights of the present is to rediscover the past, and see
> things anew. Patrick is entirely correct, we would be much poorer if
> we didn't have our history available, in some form, to explore. If we
> work in media that self-erase, then acceptance of the cycle of
> degeneration is key, and as Sean says, turns out to be  more
> intrinsic to digital forms than we first thought. We live not only
> with instability of meaning, but with the instability of the object
> itself. Humans are said to be the only animals who have foreknowledge
> of their own death; new media artists now have inescapable
> foreknowledge of the likely erasure of their work.
> Best,
> Annette
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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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