Blog for the JISC-funded Kultivate project

Preserve Digital Art: what are we trying to save?

Yesterday the Digital Preservation Coalition hosted a really thought provoking event on preserving digital art (details and programme).

  • David Duce from the School of Technology at Oxford Brookes University, set the scene for the day and also proposed the notion of Digital Evidence Bags (DEBs) which could lead to the concept of a Digital Curation Workbench where activities carried out were automatically recorded/documented.
  • Pip Laurenson, Head of Collection Care Research at the Tate, raised the issue of what a digital repository needs to look like for artworks. Tate have been carrying out research into Matters in Media Art since 2003. She also talked about the way artists programme software code as opposed to computer programming as standard practice; we watched an interview with David Rokeby talking about the way part of the code is for functionality and part was essential to the artwork so in order to enable preservation he had spent a long time separating and documenting this.
  • Leo Konstantelos based at the University of Glasgow presented findings gathered during his PhD which considered how digital art online could be retrieved for scholarly research. Worryingly one of the sixteen digital art online resources he consulted has recently disappeared with the loss of around 20,000 artworks. Leo emphasised that these online resources were not just there for the display of art but had other functionality such as community and commercial aspects. Some of his interview participants, including quite high profile artists, said they liked the anonymity of submitting their work to such sites. Leo also mentioned a report he co-authored: Report on emerging digital art characterisation techniques; and the large EU Keeping Emulation Environments Portable project as well as a new JISC-funded project Preservation of Complex Objects Symposia (POCOS) (website will be online by next week)
  • Sarah Cook from CRUMB, posed thought provoking questions such as: why do we think about preservation instead of documentation? what are the differences between digital and new media art? and how much does complete metadata matter for the study of art history?
  • Jon Thomson (in collaboration with Alison Craighead) spoke about how works have been made and how they have been acquired into different collections. It was fascinating to hear about the variety and complexity of the types of work and the way each had been handled.
  • Perla Innocenti from the University of Glasgow, spoke about the clear differences between digital preservation and digital art; she suggested that we need to question assumptions about what constitutes digital art and what should be preserved for the future: “experimentation with the curation of digital art is essential”. She is involved in the EU funded SHAMAN project, and also mentioned the EU-funded Planet’s project Testbed, which provides a six-step experimentation process.
  • Brian Matthews, Group Leader of the Scientific Applications Group within the e-Science Centre (STFC), raised interesting questions about both the nature of software art including its physical outputs, and also about a variety of strategies for preservation. He quoted James Faure-Walker: “With software, as with painting only the user can tell the difference” and proposed that the test of the success of our preservation is the performance of the data for the audience (based on the NAA performance model (PDF)).
  • Patricia Falc√£o, Time-based media conservator at the Tate, spoke about her MA research into risk assessment for software based archives. She provided a case study with the piece Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3, which is currently on display at the Tate. This provided an excellent insight into the work of a conservator and the complexity of issues involved.

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