Digital Art Conservation: Practical Approaches
Artists, Programmers, Theorists
École supérieure des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg, 24 and 25 November 2011, 09.00–18.30 + Excursion to the ZKM | Karlsruhe on 26 November
Digital technology was introduced to art and culture in order to prevent the disappearance of analogue works. However, the fact that born-digital works are even more fragile than, for example, analogue video, conditions how we are rethinking the many intricate relationships between digital art and its conservation. Artists who create digital artworks face the problem of preservation much sooner than artists who work with more traditional materials. These digital artists are more actively drawn into the discourse, not only because of their artworks’ inherent fragility, but because the digital art ecosystem doesn’t yet offer them specialized professionals. Artists who wish their work to endure, always ready for exhibition, must give some thought to preservation strategies from the moment the artwork is created. The choices of standard tools, documentation and modes of distribution are all part of this process.
Materials, just as much as machines and software, are subject to the rapid industrial development of technology that is characteristic of capitalist societies, and which evolves at a different rhythm from that of art, memory and archive. This relentless evolution allows us to appreciate in part the historical value of digital artworks. These can no longer be considered as belonging to a homogenous genre of «digital art»—we must distinguish the earliest works, which thus acquire a different status, from those currently produced. As we begin to recognize the value of age itself, the relationship between the idea of the work and its realization creates a specific interest in this passage of time. The material aspect of these works, regarding the devices as much as the softwares and interfaces, gains an importance it may not have had previously, when it was perceived as transparent, while the concepts behind the work may seem less spectacular. Interest in the historical value of digital artworks also encourage the institutions that exhibit them to make this particular value visible, in addition to the appropriate conservation of the work. This leads us to reconsider the conservation strategies which advocate the systematic and continuous updating of non-functioning or obsolete devices. Media Archaeology and a renewed culture of repair join research on the emulation, virtualization or preservation potential of open software and copyleft.
One single strategy cannot apply for all types of digital artworks; new ideas emerge from hybrid initiatives. This symposium aims to give an overview of certain strategies that have been implemented over the past years by crossing approaches and practices of theorists, artists, programmers and preservation specialists.
The international symposium, which takes place at the École supérieure des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg, is an occasion to show the work of students and teachers involved with this research project through an exhibition and an evening of performances and screenings. The works presented question the notions of interpretation, notation and documentation, as well as the role of the artist in the context of art institutions’ approaches to conservation.This second symposium, after «The Digital Oblivion» in 2010, is part of the inter-regional «digital art conservation» research project, which brings together partners in Germany, Switzerland and France. The symposium reflects the diversity of problems posed by the works in the project case studies, which can be found in the exhibition «Digital Art Works. The Challenges of Conservation» at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, at the Espace Multimedia Gantner in Bourogne and at the CEAAC in Strasbourg in 2011 and 2012.