RE: [-empyre-] Preservation

Hello, everyone, 

As usual, I apologize for lurking so much.  Currently, my
writing/editing/curating/production schedule, combined with dealing with
the onset of a serious illness within my immediate family has me much
quieter than usual.

The idea of preservation of new media art has been an active source of
interest for me (in text) since 1996, which was first voiced in my essay
"The Panic Museum" at Liverpool at ISEA 1998.

Since them, I think that the digital art community has made amazing
strides towards the preservation of net art works.  For example, adaweb
@ the Walker is an excellent instance of a digital 'preserve' for early
net art, and the Rizome artbase serves for something close to a g good

In addition, Paul, et al's ideas on the creation of emulation platforms
for the exhibition of new media is also a good idea, and has served
beautifully for the vintage arcade devotee community for a while.

Probably the best solution I have found is Ippolito's Variable Media
Initiative which puts forth a schema of creating parametrically-based
archival criteria for the reconstruction of media pieces.  In the case
of technologically based art, this is probably the strongest strategy
for an ephemeral artform such as technological/new mediaworks.  The
works mau or ma may not reflect the initial katachi of the piece, but
the general idea still comes across;

However, despite all of these strategies, I feel that new media is
ephemeral by nature, and I question the wisdom of going beyone certain
steps to preserve such works.  This is due to the weighty requirements
of technical support, programming to support the pieces across shifting
platforms, and the typically thin support for this genre.

My take on the preservation of new media has not been that of an
archival/antiquarian approach, but that of performance.  Like this other
time-based genre, new media is extremely difficult to contain in the
cultural zoo.  In many ways, it performs differently after every trial,
and if the operating system and the supporting driver base.  Although I
have high hopes for those attempting to archive media art, I choose to
not try to hold on to works once their technologies cease to function
for the work; this comes Mainly from my theory that new media exhibits
qualities similar to that of a performance model.

Following from this, we may be able to archive the work for a while, but
it is destined to become outdated - note that I did not say obsolescnt.
Even from the perspective of long term preservation, the archival of new
media is probably unviable. 

Going back to performance, perhaps one solution (similar to the
principles of the Variable Media initiative) is to archive a detailed
'script' for the concept, elements and implementation of the piece, with
specific documentation on the design, structure, look and feel and
images of the aesthetics of the piece.  This method could also be taken
to its logical extreme by creating a disk archive of all codes, media
elements, copies of the programs used to create the work, and the
operating system that it ran under.  This may seem a bit outlandish, but
it would guarantee the ability to reconstruct the work in the event that
a computer which could emulate the operating environment of the source
platform could be made to exist.

This could also be taken to another logical extreme by publishing the
code, images and video sequences within a book format.  Although the
reconstruction would be highly cumbersome, the book to this date remains
the most stable of all archival platforms. 

Another possibility is that of recording sessions of interactions as
recordings of various trials to DVD or VHS.  Once again, the
developments of video recording media over the past 50 years suggests
that this is a dicey proposition as well, as my colleagues Birnbaum,
Davis, Seagull and Miller have related their difficulties in preserving
their video archives for posterity.

Therefore, I return to the assertion that the most stable and viable
methodology for the creation of a source archive remains in print media.
Although this may seem anathema to new media artists, print can offer a
mnemonic for the work, and given a suitably detailed documentation of
the work, a surprisingly detailed description could give a fairly
accurate record of the event (i.e. the experience of working with the

Another method that I am investigating for the archival of digital
imagery and video is in referring to historical forms, such as
flipbooks, zoetropes, phenakiscopes and so on in considering video.  Al
though these seem anachronistic, consider that the potential archival
life of such devices is equal to the life of the print of the images,
and could surpass 2-300 years.

Although I return to the fact that most New Media artists are concerned
with the preservation o their work in a native format, the concerns of
long-term documentation and archival of the record of a work must be
addressed, and preservation of new media in its source form will be good
for a limited period of time.  This is not to be said that it should not
be so, but in the end when considering longer term timeframes (hundreds
of years), the proposition of such is probably fruitless.  

In saying this, it's quite valuable to consider the archival for new
media works for as long as possible, and the Variable Media Initiative
probably comes closest to creating a methodology for the preservation of
these media.  However, it appears that at this time, the documentation
of new media works in archival book forms is as essential as trying to
preserve in native forms. 

And as a footnote, I would like to suggest that perhaps new media
artists should consider the possibility of future limited access to
technological support, such as internet, and even electricity.  This is
an extreme scenario, but it is something I am considering when looking
at the idea of creating stand-alone work that may not have access to
these resources in the distant future.

Of course, we are talking about the sense of archival, and ideally the
sense of archival means that we are looking at preserving the work for
as long as possible.  My belief is that new Media artists are looking at
the sense of years or decades, while I am actively considering the
possibility of centuries or millennia, and it is my hope that there is
the remote possibility that some of our work might actually be seen, in
whatever form possible in those distant times.

Thank you for your time, and I hope that I have not been too

Patrick Lichty
Intelligent Agent

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