The tension between static documentation and dynamic art
Published on December 10th, 2022
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This presentation will explore how documentation has become a solution to capture digital art. By presenting several documentation projects I will show how documentation can shift from a static representation to a dynamic and performative act, thereby encouraging a rethinking of what documentation means.
@ AREM 2022, Biennial Symposium on Archiving and Re-Performing Electroacoustic Music, Dresden, 10 December 2022
Archiving music involving digital technologies becomes a more and more urgent task. This comprises born digital sources as well as digitized content and also applies to information held in digital repositories. Besides challenges such as providing and maintaining adequate facilities, a major question is also how to deal with these digital sources. How can they be structured and classified to grant accessibility? What role does it play to ‘be online‘? And how can performative aspects be integrated in digital sources? Researchers from different fields and backgrounds such as music research, archival studies, media studies, film studies and arts will present their projects and thoughts on these topics, sharing approaches and knowledge on preserving music and various media in digital context.
@ Variant. Documenting New Media Art, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul, 16 December 2022
The dependency of new media art on technology, and the constantly shifting quality of the latter, puts the longevity of these types of artworks into jeopardy, or in other words, impedes their ability to be carried into the future in their initial version. When faced with this situation, namely obsolescence, museums, who have a responsibility to preserve cultural artefacts, are currently striving to find solutions for the preservation of new media artworks.
The constantly changing nature of technology results in new media art (similar to artworks with elements of performance art) having a quality that is contradictory to the traditional art preservation practices of museums. This quality forces us to find an answer to the question, ‘Can an artwork produced within the constant flux of technology be preserved without alteration?’ According to the art critic and media theoretician Boris Groys, this question cannot be answered in the affirmative. According to him, documentation will be all that remains of art in the internet age, and “Today’s artistic events cannot be preserved and contemplated like traditional artworks. However, they can be documented, ‘covered’, narrated and commented on. Traditional art produced art objects. Contemporary art produces information about art events.” (1) As for Jeffrey Shaw, a leading figure of new media art, the main priority should not be to preserve their medium, but instead to preserve the description, functionality and software of the media artwork. (2) This suggestion implies a significant deviation from the general approach (of preserving the original medium) relating to the conservation of media artworks.
In this light, technological artworks can only survive by participating in, and adapting to the constant transformation state created by technology. The project’s title, ‘Variant,’ is a reference to this viewpoint, and implies that these kinds of artworks, just as in microbiology or virology, can only survive by changing their DNA.
The research project VARIANT. Documenting New Media Art approaches the idea of documentation from a new perspective, by focusing on the practice of reinterpretation, which is perceived among digital conservators as a radical solution. The project, bringing together experts from many different fields, such as artists, curators, conservators, new media researchers and computer scientists, aims to consider the matter from all aspects, by discussing the following questions:
- How can we protect the timeless value of art against the rapid change of technology?
- Can documentation replace the artwork?
- How can we transform documentation into a living and evolving process?
- What can we learn from new media documentaries for documentation practices?
- What can we learn from network science for documentation practices?
*Variant. Documenting New Media Art; was designed based on the outputs of the conferences Strategies Of Keeping It Live: Conservation Of Performance and Preserving Immersive Media held by digitalSSM between 2019-2021 within the scope of the Technological Arts Preservation Project. These conferences were held on 28 February 2020 and 8 April 2021 with the participation of Tate Modern Interim Head of Conservation Louise Lawson, Time-Based Media Conservators Tom Ensom and Jack McConchie, ZKM Media and Digital Art Conservators Morgane Stricot ve Matthieu Vlaminck, New Media Artist Jeffrey Shaw, manager of the digitalSSM Archive and Research Space Osman Serhat Karaman, and Sabancı University Computer Science and Engineering Faculty Member Cemal Yılmaz.
(1) Boris Groys, In the Flow (London ; New York : Verso, 2016)
(2) Jeffrey Shaw, “Media Art and Interactive Media,” in Screen-based Art (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000) doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004495005_021
The Tension Between Static Documentation and Dynamic Digital Art
Annet Dekker (University of Amsterdam)
This presentation will explore how documentation has become a solution to capture digital art. By presenting several documentation projects I will show how documentation can shift from a static representation to a dynamic and performative act, thereby encouraging a rethinking of what documentation means. Such rethinking signals a shift from documentation as a single interpretation (for instance, in historical performance photography and video art practices), or a set of instructions or guidelines (as happened in, among others, several conceptual artworks), to a conceptual method from which new artworks and interpretations can be made, that can provide additional ways to understand the value of documentation. One of the outcomes is how such documentation moves beyond the conventional (often static) documentation methods in preservation practices to prioritise more dynamic and performative methods. In the process, how the valuation and subsequent hierarchy of museum documentation changes by emphasising the ways users are taking control of documentation through various networked processes of image circulation, will be discussed.
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