The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
At THE BIGGER PICTURE, we often write about the challenges of maintaining the data in digital archives. But a recent article bundled in the informative daily arts newsletter compiled by Jeff Weiss—you can subscribe by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org—raises some issues we haven’t focused on yet: when and how we’re going to start dealing with digital artworks that have and will be produced, as both time and technology go by.
A piece by Vanessa Thorpe, first published in The Observer, sounds a warning alarm about the potential loss of a generation’s-worth of computer-based, digital art. A team of British experts, it turns out, are expressing concern that some contemporary artistic landmarks are in danger of disappearing within a decade, unless conservationists can figure out how to stop digitally born works or art from degrading. "Past generations captured who they were and what they did via museums and books," said David Anderson who, along with Janet Delve at the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth, is among those spearheading efforts preserve some complex artworks of the early digital age. The big problem, Anderson says, is that "the pace of technological development in the digital age has now outstripped our capacity for preservation." In response, the first symposium of its kind, the Preservation of Complex Digital Objects is scheduled to take place in June at three locations in Great Britain and webcast in order to reach an even broader international community. Under examination will be the first generation of digital art works—as well as interactive works, 3D visualizations, and video games—that may soon become unreadable and are in danger of being lost. “In technology,” Anderson notes, “little things change all the time. Over the course of a 20– or 30– year working life, the software we use is updated or made obsolete all the time, but most of us aren't really bothered by the changes. But in terms of science and art, digital preservation is increasingly important." In fact, preserving digitally constituted works of art is already a topic of interest and concern for artists, collectors, galleries, and museums as new digital formats are introduced and other become outdated. And while a growing number of artists are intrigued by and embrace the fact that their works will have a short lifespan, you can bet that there’ll be at least as many people out there working toward finding a way for digital artwork to remain accessible and retain its market value in the future.