[iDC] shelf life

Myron Turner mturner at cc.umanitoba.ca
Mon Nov 19 23:25:48 UTC 2007

I agree that artists can't be held wholly responsible for the longevity 
of their work and no one should prescribe techniques and materials for 
artists simply on the basis of their permanence.  But I do think that 
artists now working in electronic media accept that they are "dancing" 
on quicksand.  We do the work, as we have from the first, because of the 
excitement of the medium and because it seems so quintessential an 
expression of our culture, perhaps for the very reason that it is in 
fact temporal.  An age in which the author has disappeared is no longer 
an age of marble or bronze and artists working with computers simply 
accept that, even if implicitly.   If an institution picks up a work and 
attempts to preserve it, so much the better, but that is incidental to 
the making.

On the specifics of preservation:  when it comes to code-based art, 
which most interests me, I think that emulation, as Richard suggests, is 
the way to go.  But this is a matter that goes beyond preservation of 
art.  I don't know of any open source projects which are exploring 
emulation for the sake of preserving computer materials but there must 
be some out there.  Many "interpreted" languages, like PHP, create an 
intermediary set of instructions called "byte code", which can run on 
most operating systems via  a "virtual machine", which sits on top of 
the operating system.  This kind of technology holds out a great deal of 
hope that code and computer materials generally can be disengaged from 
specific generations of hardware.


Richard Rinehart wrote:
> But since preservation is a 
> practical as well as a theoretical problem, maintaining antique 
> hardware is really not an option. It's just not feasible in the real 
> world to keep a Mac SE in working condition for 200 years. 
> Replacement parts will be unobtainable and refabrication is not 
> possible within a museum/library (or probably other) context. 
> Software is another matter, and emulation points in some interesting 
> directions. But the bottom line is that museums need to create 
> recipies for re-creating the work rather than preserving the machine 
> or even fixating on the "one, true, original" machine, code, etc. 

> I think it's ideal to involve artists in both general preservation 
> strategies (the consortium projects above do just that), and to 
> involve them/us in the preservation of their own work, but I don't 
> think that's the same as trying to prescribe that artists adhere to 
> "preservation safe" practices, materials, formats, or anything of the 
> sort. 

>  Artists should have the freedom to experiment with materials or to 
> purposefully create works that are ephemeral. It's then a wonderful 
> kind of dance with the social memory institutions that then try to 
> preserve these works. They dance together, but no one leads.

Myron Turner

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