A digital preservation project by Geert Mul & LIMA
The constant development and flux of technologies creates a unique opportunity for artists to experiment, play and create, but also presents a challenge for those charged with the responsibility of ensuring future presentations of these works. The preservation of born-digital art is as challenging as it is important, and takes to task the complex nature of these works in order to maintain the ability for others to witness and experience them in the future, as these works are not only a document of the ideas and concepts of the artist, but also of the technological possibilities of the time and the complex communication landscape they are part of.
Rapid advances in technology make it unrealistic to expect that each individual artist, academy, museum or heritage institution can continuously develop sustainability plans for every new medium. LIMA is among the global pioneers that are committed to the research, preservation and storage of digital art. With an international network, LIMA initiates and participates in collaborative research programs that address the issues surrounding born-digital art preservation.
Future Proof Media Art
What is sustainable in relation to these so-called unstable media? In the scope of the collaborative research project ‘Future Proof Media Art’ with Dutch media artist Geert Mul, LIMA researches software-based and interactive media artworks from the oeuvre of Mul, currently presented in the solo exhibition ‘Geert Mul, Matchmaker – 25 Years Media Art’ at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. This research serves to make future display of these works possible, and focuses on preservation, documentation and sharing knowledge gained during this process with other media artists and conservation professionals to preserve digital art in a more sustainable manner for the future.
It is important to realise that the ‘technique’ and ‘content’ of almost all born-digital art cannot be separated from each other. These artworks seldomly exist only through being displayed on a ‘Mac’ or a ‘PC’ alone—there is often much more to it. But even if this was the case, chances are high that the work won’t run on the next computer model released. Born-digital art often has an almost theatrical temporality: the works only exist periodically and vanish when the media becomes obsolete.
The to-be-preserved artwork will not only need to be ‘technically’ upgraded, but also recorded and scripted in various ways. A description of the artwork is made in image, sound and text, documenting the concept and appearance, how it functions and also how it is experienced—not only through the eyes of the artist, but also through the eyes of the public. It is also necessary, and likely paradoxical, to invest in hardware: to seize the moment to update when the unity of the content and technology of the artwork exists in the most optimal form. Because these forms of unstable media exist by virtue of their instability, the recording of the work in a script or notation ultimately is the master of the work. This means that when departing from this script, which for example contains the software code as well as the description and transcript of the code, the work can always be reconstructed and displayed again—regardless of operating systems, computer trademarks or suppliers of mechanical products.
The project focuses thus on creating scripts for born-digital artworks, and by doing so developing knowledge on how this preservation can be done best. This knowledge will be shared not only with museums and collections, but also with artists, enabling them to preserve their own, ‘unstable’ media art.
Museum exhibitions often work with artworks being loaned for the occasion. When work from a museum collection is put on display, the institute that owns the collection is responsible for the state of the artwork—in the context of museums it’s the collection and archive department that tends to do this work. However, when many complex media artworks are not taken into museum collections, when the work is owned by the artist rather than by an institute, who is responsible for its preservation? How can artists preserve their work and make it sustainable and thus available for museum presentations? These questions are being explored with Geert Mul through the experience of making the retrospective exhibition Match Maker on show at The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (05-11-2016 – 12-02-2017). The exhibition contains a diverse selection of works by Mul, including nine interactive- and generative system works. This provides the opportunity to work through the above questions, with the aim to develop a preservation strategy by creating artwork-specific scripts for future presentations of the now displayed works.
The practical part of this research revolves around the development and testing of scripts and the documentation of steps needed for the re-enactment and recreation of interactive media artworks. The research on the sustainability of complex technological media artworks will be executed by LIMA in close collaboration with artist and initiator Mul, whose artworks function as a departure point. Over the last twenty to twenty-five years, Mul has made sculptures, projections, and generative and interactive audiovisual installations for numerous locations in the Netherlands and abroad. Knowledge gained in this process will be shared with colleagues through workshops and a symposium at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam on February 8 and 9, and in Wuhan, China, that both have an international audience containing artists, students, producers and institutions. The research will be applied by LIMA in follow-up projects for the preservation of media art by other (Dutch) artists.
The chosen case studies for this research taken from the oeuvre of Mul are typical of the interactive digital artworks that belong to the Dutch digital heritage of born-digital art. These specific works are part of a first generation of Dutch artists who predominantly work with the digital, make installations, do not integrate online or have networked components, but do however analyse images and interact with the public. Furthermore, a shared commonality amongst this generation is that their work is hardly collected or integrated into public collections. In this context the artist therefore becomes the main source to approach for the preservation and presentation of this part of our (digital) cultural heritage.
In the scope of the collaborative research project ‘Future Proof Media Art’ with Dutch media artist Geert Mul, LIMA researches software-based and interactive media artworks from the oeuvre of Mul, currently presented as the solo exhibition ‘Geert Mul, Matchmaker – 25 Years Media Art’ at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. This research is at the service of the future display of these works, and revolves around the preservation, documentation and sharing of knowledge gained during this process with other media artists and conservation professionals to preserve digital art in a more sustainable manner for the future. For more information, see the link on the right or click here. For the symposium Facebook Event page, click here.