Book presentation: Collecting and Conserving Net Art

Published on July 2nd, 2019

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Science and Technology Collections Series Lecture #4, Taiwan Digital Art Foundation, Taipei

Science and Technology Collections Series Lecture #4
2 July 2019, Taiwan Digital Art Foundation, Taipei

Collecting and Conserving Net Art. The need for an expanded practice of conservation
A mere two decades have passed and already many net artworks have disappeared due to domain name expirations, domain-name snatchers, lack of back-ups, soft- and hardware updates, and too many bugs and spam that destroy the incentive to continue. At the same time, attempts have been made to capture online cultures. From large institutes that scrape content and invent new documentation methods (such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and Rhizome’s webrecorder), to ‘amateur’ examples (for example, the ‘NetArtDatabase’ and ‘One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age’). The move from ‘stable’ to more performative and processual artworks, and the networks around these works requires a new understanding of conservation practices.

Looking at the qualities and characteristics of net art the need for an expanded practice of conservation becomes clear. Most net artworks are build and distributed through a complex and intricate interrelated system of networks that presents an assemblage of art, technology, politics, and social relations – all merged and related to form a variable entity. Adding to these qualities are the quick obsolescence of hard- and software; the fact that knowledge and expertise is distributed through communities; that many net artworks are created within restricted platforms or are based on open source ideologies; lastly, that net artworks often act as assemblages that change or mutate, make net art a challenging case for conservation.

In this changing landscape, I will focus on some of the challenges and opportunities in the conservation and contextualisation of net art practices for the traditional keepers of cultural heritage. As important stakeholders of cultural heritage, museums and archives are faced with new collaborators and need to find ways to re-organise and re-structure their practices to adapt and facilitate the process that enables the continuation of these practices as ‘living’ environments that can adapt to the flexible requirements of the mutable works it contains. I will present some examples of how this type of collecting documents the different versions, the process and instability of a work that evolves over time. In the process, exploring what it means to become part of a ‘network of care’ in which a collaborative approach is vital to comprehending the complexities of net art and ensure its longevity.

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