Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interactive Archiving

Hi all. Sorry for the lax updating, it's been busy. My biggest side project is starting to get into gear for the season and various other creative pursuits have been keeping me busy. (But sadly, not SxSW…deploying things today!)

The Times posted a nifty piece on digital archiving, which is delighting both my technically and curatorially geeky halves.

Writing down ideas is kind of weird. Kind of like money, when you put stuff on paper, it's not really the idea being put down, but something like a symbol for the idea. And the symbols can have varying layers of complexity. One of my favorite pieces of digital and interactive art lets you play with this idea abstractly. Digitally storing information is like adding another degree of complexity to the symbols. Not only are the funny squiggles there, we've encoded them into ones and zeroes and committed the symbols of symbols to a very finicky storage medium.

What delights me about the rising field of digital curatorship is how these curators are pioneering new ways of interpreting those symbols. As in the case of the Emory curators, they're trying to allow collection visitors/patrons to interact with an approximation of Mr. Rushdie's subjective experience of writing. (With emphasis on approximation.) Here visitors are getting so much more than the content of the documents, they're having an interactive experience with the information.

But like a lot of cool art, it's necessarily ephemeral as a result of the media it's stored on and the technology used to interpret the symbols. (Or rather than art itself, the archive installation is a symbol of the art itself, perhaps? More like an imprint of the act of creation for the final work of art, Rushdie's novels.) While it's sad to think we'd lose the records, that almost makes it that much more interesting an experience. Like a bottle of fine wine, there's some beauty in experiencing something wonderful yet fleeting, and it's an idea you see in other areas of art. One of Eva Hesse's favorite sculptural media was latex; she would specifically treat it so that the material would degrade faster. When she died she instructed one of her assistants to destroy several pieces of her work. A resistance to permanence is also a big part of performance art (hence some controversy over the Marina Abramović show, which features the reperformance of some of her pieces.)

While this makes digital art that much more interesting for me, it's also incidentally why I refuse to pay for mp3s or other digital content without a physical disc. Data is fragile. (I love when people get all nostalgic about CDs. Yes, I still maintain a CD/DVD collection.) As Ms. Cohen points out, it depends on the storage media, and the current data storage technology is far from indestructible. But that makes computing machinery that much more interesting as an artistic medium.

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