Tuesday, 24 February 2015




Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about digital art preservation. This isn’t a new topic, nor is it the most thrilling at first blush, but my inner museum geek is genuinely concerned about preserving digital art for future generations to enjoy.

A report earlier this month from the Council of Canadian Academies found that “Canada is falling behind as the vast amounts of digital information created are at risk of being lost because many traditional tools are no longer adequate.” Galleries and art museums are not excluded here.

Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik. Source.
Digital art is any artwork born digitally, no matter the presentation medium. Some of these pieces use crowd sourcing or are even designed to be ever changeable. So, how do you preserve something that’s meant to be ever changing? Moreover, how do you preserve a work whose mode of presentation will eventually become obsolete?

An example of this challenge is the work Heaven and Earth by Bill Viola. Viola used old school CRT television monitors to present the work, where images projected on one TV reflect off the glass of the other. Newer LCD screens would fail to create the same desired effect. So what’s a museum to do, knowing the old monitors won’t last forever? Stockpile old TVs?

An image on one TV screen reflects off another TV screen.
Heaven and Earth by Bill Viola. Source.
One solution spearheaded by the Guggenheim was to have artists describe their art and its concepts independently of the actual medium of presentation. That way future curators can replicate the same “effects” without relying on hard-to-find and obsolete technologies.

Viola’s work is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of challenges. The artwork Loops poses all sorts of headaches for collections. The artwork by Paul Kaiser and Marc Downie uses motion capture technology to map the movements of subject Merce Cunningham. An algorithm created by Downie makes the sensor nodes appear differently at random. On top of this, there is narration and music. The digital portrait loops indefinitely and never repeats.

This is a little bit of a conservation nightmare. The layers of technology and the regenerative nature of the piece beg the question if there is even a proper method that can house this piece for the long-term. Is there a way to preserve the artwork's desired effect accurately?

Dots and lines against a black background.
Loops by Paul Kaiser and Marc Downie. Source.

Both these examples showcase the challenges of digital art that curators, conservators and collections managers face alike. As the Council of Canadian Academies outlines in their report,  the much-lauded issues of accuracy, authenticity, and software obsolescence are still facing many Canadian institutions.

Time will tell what happens to art pieces like Heaven and Earth and Loops. But Canadian institutions are still coping with the ever-growing amount of digital material and what exactly should be done with it.


INTERSECTIONS: Art in the Digital Age
As an artist working at the intersections art and code, eepmon will present two of his art projects where use of computers play a key role into his creative process. Specifically: - See more at: http://www.ischool.utoronto.ca/content/ischool-colloquia-series-intersections-art-digital-age#sthash.aJ4i987A.dpuf
Join us for the iSchool Colliquia Series! Eepmon, an artist working at the intersections of art and code, presents two of his art projects where computers play a key role into his creative process.
Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, 4:00-6:00, Bissell Building, Room 728

Dismantling the Monolith: Post-media Art and the Culture of Instability by Nora Almeida
Preservation of Electronic Media in Libraries, Museums and Archives by Carey Stumm
Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 16:00 to 18:00
Rm 728, 140 St. George Street
- See more at: http://www.ischool.utoronto.ca/content/ischool-colloquia-series-intersections-art-digital-age#sthash.ZZRxxImR.dpuf

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