Archiving Complex Digital Artworks

Published on May 16th, 2019


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The transmission of the documentation of changes made in each presentation of an artwork and the motivation behind each display are of importance to the continued preservation, re-exhibition and future understanding of artworks. However, it is generally acknowledged that existing digital archiving and documentation systems used by many museums are not suitable for complex digital artworks. Looking for an approach that can easily be adjusted, shared and adopted by others, this article focusses on open-source alternatives that also enable collaborative working to facilitate the sharing and changing of information.

Presentation @ AIC 47th Annual Meeting
16 May 2019

Presentation by Annet Dekker and Julie Boschat Thorez
Version Control Systems (VCS) check the differences between versions of code or other text-based documents. By archiving and making available ongoing versions of a project, VCS allow multiple people to work on elements of a project without overwriting someone else’s entries. Changes that are made can easily be compared, undone, restored, or, in some cases, merged. Finding a coherent and structured way to organise and control revisions has always been at the core of conservation, but it became even more urgent and complex in the era of computing and of contemporary art. Not only conservation actions produce new versions, but the artwork itself might be variable and branch out in a multitude of presentation options. In this presentation we will briefly explore the different ways of using VCS for the purpose of conservation. Our research focuses on how ​VCS further collaboration in archiving complex digital artworks, while at the same time exploring how such systems could supplement collections management databases. With the aim to gain a better understanding of the underlying, but omnipresent, structures that support these VCS we will present some of the outcomes of earlier workshops that we organised. The focus is on open source systems such as Git and MediaWiki. Based on a case study, the artwork Chinese Gold by UBERMORGEN, we will talk about the pros and cons of using VCS in conservation practices and discuss the usefulness of collaborative working spaces by answering questions such as: what is the value of concepts such as provenance in Git and MediaWiki, what is the function of metadata in these systems, how stable and secure is the data in a version controlled archive and how do these tools handle audiovisual data?

A full version of this talk is published here:
Dušan Barok, Julie Boschat Thorez, Annet Dekker, David Gauthier & Claudia Roeck (2019) Archiving complex digital artworks, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 42:2, 94-113

Abstract
The transmission of the documentation of changes made in each presentation of an artwork and the motivation behind each display are of importance to the continued preservation, re-exhibition and future understanding of artworks. However, it is generally acknowledged that existing digital archiving and documentation systems used by many museums are not suitable for complex digital artworks. Looking for an approach that can easily be adjusted, shared and adopted by others, this article focusses on open-source alternatives that also enable collaborative working to facilitate the sharing and changing of information. As an interdisciplinary team of conservators, researchers, artists and programmers, the authors set out to explore and compare the functionalities of two systems featuring version control: MediaWiki and Git. We reflect on their technical details, virtues and shortcomings for archiving complex digital artworks, while looking at the potential they offer for collaborative workflows.

 

Image credit: UBERMORGEN, Chinese Gold, presentation @ LIMA, Amsterdam


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