By Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito
Three specters haunt the digital cabinets of the cultural heritage sector: death by institution, death by law, death by technology. This book explains our options. Read it if you want to prevail.
— Bruce Sterling
This book will arrive like a bombshell in the twin citadels of art museums and conservation departments...incredibly interesting and compelling narrative.
— John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator of Film and Media arts at the Smithsonian and former curator at the Guggenheim and Whitney museums
Far from simply bemoaning the entropy of our times, this book offers a bold and inspiring manifesto on how best to care for the art and culture of the digital age.
— Alexander R. Galloway, author of The Interface Effect
A virtual Swiss Army knife of what should be done to prevent digital degradation. Curators, conservators, archivists, collection managers, programmers, lawyers, creators, and dealers alike will benefit the future by committing these principles and lessons to memory.
— Steve Dietz, Founding Curator, New Media Initiatives, Walker Art Center
With fellow digi-trailblazer Jon Ippolito, Rinehart has penned what will be the first book dedicated to the subject of conserving new media art.
Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory is the first academic book on new media preservation. Its authors make a startling claim: that the historical record of our era will be unretrievable without a drastic change in the technologies, institutions, and laws that now govern cultural preservation. Weaving theory into practice, Re-collection spells out much-needed, real-world approaches to preservation along with their theoretical foundations and implications.
Written by two internationally acknowledged trailblazers in the field, Re-collection includes extensive case-studies of specific digital and media art works in the collections of museums and collectors that have been the focus of experimentation and research by the authors and their colleagues directly in the preservation effort.
Since the 1970s, the proliferation of new media--from broadcast to digital to organic formats--has resulted in an outpouring of global creativity unlike any that of any previous era. Yet the dependence of these creative forms on brittle technologies and ephemeral subcultures means that their future looks grim. As this book will argue, the good news is that new media can lend themselves to fluid new models of perseverance--as long as we are willing to let our preservation philosophy evolve along with our media.
Social memory is the means by which societies and civilizations remember themselves. It is also what this book proposes to change. Every society has a range of both canonical, official forms of social memory, like museums, and popular, unofficial forms, like folklore. The section reviews the historical origins of the canonical social memory of modern societies--the library, museum, and archive--in ancient archives and renaissance wunderkammern, and asserts that recent developments in digital and new media provide the impetus and opportunity to reinvent what seem to have become fixed institutions.
This chapter examines in-depth case studies from the "endangered species" list of 20th-century culture, ranging from physical installations to digital media to biotech art. A review of these technologically vulnerable artworks underlies the weaknesses of an approach to preservation that is medium-specific.
This section goes back to the roots of new media, to the first modern theories of computation developed by Alan Turing and his contemporaries, in order to remind the reader that the what is needed from computers for the preservation of new media turns out to have been built in from the very beginning. Variability, the separation of the logical from the physical, of bits and symbols from printed circuits, underpins the very notion of the modern computer and makes it a "universal machine". This same variability results in the ephemeral nature of digital media and yet may be its salvation.
The conventional wisdom of digital preservation contends that the database is the warehouse of the 21st century. But given the vulnerability of individual databases, and their tendency toward proprietary, siloed data, the real killer app for digital preservation may be metadata. Such semantic content need not be limited to the usual "tombstone citation" such as author, title, and date, but may even describe, in a manner analogous to a score or script, how a work is meant to be translated into future media when its current media expire.
This chapter reviews the default preservation models of museums, archives, and libraries, concluding that their focus on storage to the neglect of other strategies limits the future effectiveness of their mission to preserve. The defects of storage include an undue focus on a work's original, often ephemeral equipment and material, and a disregard for the work's original context, be it site-specific installation details or links to related Web pages.
Andre Malreux imagined a museum without the constraints of space in his "museum without walls," but can we imagine a museum without the constraints of time? Can we imagine museums whose authority is used to facilitate and engage a community rather than treat them as passive cultural consumers? The Open Museum would take advantage of the unique property of new media that allows one to share the original without diminishing it.
While professionals can claim few systematic approaches to preserving new media culture, a global community of amateurs has kept alive one slice: video games. The overwhelming majority of these amateurs have worked alone without any outside financial or technical support, yet in their hands emulation has proven a powerful weapon in the battle to preserve culture. This chapter evaluates the success of emulation in amateur and professional conservation efforts.
This chapter examines the role that law in general, and copyright in particular, plays in the creation, acquisition and collection of contemporary art. While the legal apparatus of copyright may enable forms of collecting that can live beyond the lifespan of the work's original material, the increasing intrusion of intellectual property into the cultural milieu of creativity can have indirect effects that restrict or prohibit access to works or their re-creations in the future.
This chapter takes a step back from the debate over the authenticity of intent and material at the center of debates on preservation to examine communities that propagate cultural memes with a complete disregard for those norms. Remix may have recently exploded thanks to the Internet and easy access to digital editing tools, yet re-performance as a preservation strategy has a venerable pedigree in the songs, dances, and oral histories of indigenous cultures.
Is there a natural death for Artificial Life? From synthetic genomes to genetically engineered algorithms, evolved culture is likely to play an increasingly important role in culture of the coming century. This chapter surveys current research into animated software and wetware, and evaluates some speculative organic strategies for preservation of information-based culture in all its forms.
Generalizing the common threads of the previous chapters, this chapter reminds the reader that preservation is a future-oriented and not a past-oriented activity; that preservation is inseparable from presentation; that the heavy lifting may be done by amateurs rather than experts; and that storage as a dominant strategy will give way to migration, emulation, and reinterpretation. The chapter concludes with a philosophical meditation on how changes in the definition of preservation will produce concomitant changes in the definition of culture itself.
This last chapter calls for specific changes in the working practice of curators, conservators, archivists, collection managers, institutions, programmers, lawyers, creators, dealers, sponsors, academics, and historians. The conclusion argues that in order for contemporary media culture to survive, we must now exercise our epochal responsibility to revisit and redefine social memory once again.
For questions about the book, please contact ude.eniam@otiloppij.