Ever since I switched to working in digital HD for making my experimental movies, the problem of long term storage of the films has become more and more important to me everyday. When I was working in 16mm, it was – and still is – a simple matter to archive the original materials in a “cold vault,” where they will last hundreds of years, provided that the temperature and humidity conditions are optimal.
No such “file it and forget it” method applies to digital archiving, as this fascinating book by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito aptly demonstrates.
As the description for Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory asks, “how will our increasingly digital civilization persist beyond our lifetimes? Audio and videotapes demagnetize; CDs delaminate; Internet art links to websites that no longer exist; Amiga software doesn’t run on iMacs.
In Re-collection, Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito argue that the vulnerability of new media art illustrates a larger crisis for social memory. They describe a variable media approach to rescuing new media, distributed across producers and consumers who can choose appropriate strategies for each endangered work.
New media art poses novel preservation and conservation dilemmas. Given the ephemerality of their mediums, software art, installation art, and interactive games may be heading to obsolescence and oblivion.
Rinehart and Ippolito, both museum professionals, examine the preservation of new media art from both practical and theoretical perspectives, offering concrete examples that range from Nam June Paik to Danger Mouse.
They investigate three threats to twenty-first-century creativity: technology, because much new media art depends on rapidly changing software or hardware; institutions, which may rely on preservation methods developed for older mediums; and law, which complicates access with intellectual property constraints such as copyright and licensing.
Technology, institutions, and law, however, can be enlisted as allies rather than enemies of ephemeral artifacts and their preservation. The variable media approach that Rinehart and Ippolito propose asks to what extent works to be preserved might be medium-independent, translatable into new mediums when their original formats are obsolete.”
This is a question – perhaps the question – in archival studies today. What will ultimately be done, other than backing up three or four times for all media, and then trying constantly to keep abreast of changing platforms?
The “rule of three” pretty much sums up the current approach – back it up on your computer, an external hard drive, and somewhere in long term storage with something like Amazon Glacier, and then hope for the best. But that’s still a pretty thin comfort zone. This is an excellent study on this important question, and deserves the widest possible audience.