Screen Savers

For the upkeep of artwork in “stable media” such as paintings and books, conservation can mean as little as storing the pieces in a warehouse for retrieval every few years at exhibition time. But in the rapidly growing field of digital media, maintaining art that relies on soon-to-be-obsolete technology is anything but simple.

Digital art is “the most challenging of all endangered species,” Guggenheim Museum curator Jon Ippolito tells ARTnews Online. The challenge is due to what Ippolito calls “a ferocious pace of turnover” in technology, and also because, unlike databases or library archives, digital art has “esthetic concerns that sets of numbers don’t.” Some examples of art that conservators are working to maintain include robots, Web-based art, and computer-dependent installations such as floating globes that display NASA weather maps or molded animatronic heads that converse with each other.

Conserving digital art is hardly a science; it’s more along the lines of an art form. For one film piece shown at the Whitney Museum, the curator reshot the original film footage and reinstalled the piece, using the ‘reinterpretation’ conservation tactic. Other methods include migration, where old content is moved to updated components, and emulation, where a programmer writes updated code telling a newer computer how to read older software. Whatever the process, conservators must work with the artists to make sure the pieces stay true to their vision.
–Erica Sagrans
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