Saturday, October 13, 2007

Culture of the Information Age (5)

Preservation of net art

How do you preserve internet art? That was the question which Anne Laforet (photograph from Flickr) posed in her presentation. For her Ph.D. she is researching the models of preservation for net art in museums. Of course the first question is: what is Internet Art? This looks like a simple question, but it is hard to answer. The simplest answer could be: art within and for the Internet. But that is just the problem. The real time presentation is hard to repeat after a while. Besides defining net art, it is difficult to exhibit and preserve it.

Museums have been confronted to these difficulties and have to devise new strategies to face these. That is one of the reasons why museums or galleries have not bought any net art. For example the Tate Gallery in London exhibits net art works it commissioned but has not any works acquired so far.

Anne Laforet looked at models which are emerging to deal with the aspects of preservation and made an inventory. She could point to three models: Variable Media for museums, initiatives in web archiving, archives of institutions dedicated to new media art. She also developed her own model for which she uses the metaphor of an archaeological museum.

1. Within the museum context, Jon Ippolito, an artist and a curator at the
Guggenheim Museum, came up with an original approach, Variable Media, which perceives the artwork outside of its medium, so that it can evolve, be re-created, for instance when its original medium becomes obsolete. Every art work is considered individually, more as a score than a finite, unchanging object. The variable media approach is not focused only on net art, but also deals with every contemporary art form, that puts an emphasis on process rather than on the object, such as conceptual art, land art, minimal art, installations and performance.

2. Archiving the Avant-Garde, subtitled Documenting and Preserving Digital / Variable Media Art, is an initiative from the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. Associated with Variable Media and other structures, Archiving the Avant-Garde develops, and tests, models for notation, cataloguing, accession, and emulation within the museum environment.

3. To deal with the challenge of preservation, some institutions focus on documentation strategies. Such an institution is V2_, not a museum per se, but a centre devoted to unstable media art based in Rotterdam. The goal of the V2_ archive is to document the artworks and projects presented or produced at V2.

As a fourth model Anne Laforet proposes and hybrid model using the metaphor of an archaeological museum. Archeology proceeds by fragments, assembling objects of different status and in different states which makes sense when put together. It knows how to deal with voids, gaps, missing parts, and through a re-contextualization, how to propose a plausible state of what the original situation could be, while maintaining open alternative hypotheses. The status of what is displayed and shown is significantly different in an archaeological museum compared to an art museum: visitors are aware that what they are seeing and experiencing as reconstructed; they do not expect to see an object that is identical to what it was when it was made. The status of the artwork recreated through the combination of museum and archaeological methods is changing or, at least, is challenged and interrogated. This model deals with net art works and their context.

Het present conclusion is: the first three models are being tested but the fourth is not implemented yet. Such a project could take the form of a partnership of organizations with different scopes, methods and goals. The resulting institute would become a living archive, a research space, with fragments of artworks which could be updated and re-activated in multiple ways.

The full text of this and the other presentations will be published in the December and March issue of FreesideEurope.

Blog Posting Number: 893

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