Back from Budapest
The surprisingly high number of European conferences and symposia in the past four months addressing the challenges related to long-term preservation and access to time-based artworks and media, contradicts the disappearance of digital preservation research from the European funding programmes. Within the arts and heritage community, however, it seems that the challenges of LTDP have become more pressing now that works generated in this medium and acquisitioned into collections have increased in number throughout larger parts of the professional and collecting community, and traditional art institutions:
- End of September 2015, the Ludwigforum in Aachen organised the conference “Video Matters” reflecting on current challenges in the documentation, care and presentation of time-based art.
- End of October, iMAL and Packed in Brussels invited to the symposium “Preservation and Access to Digital-born Culture”, where members of TATE presented amongst others the PERICLES approach to long-term preservation.
- End of November saw the conference “Media in Transition” organised by TATE and Getty institutes at TATE Modern in London, focusing on the implications of collecting time-based media works of art and on related practices.
- Beginning December the symposium “MAPS” (Media Art Preservation Symposium) took place at the Ludwigmuseum in Budapest organised by them in collaboration with C3. PERICLES coordinator King’s College London presented the PERICLES approach for dealing with changes that would impact long-term preservation.
- And for 18/19 February 2016 the next event is already announced: Transformation Digital Art - a symposium on the preservation of born-digital art organised by LIMA and SBMK in Amsterdam.
I attended the conferences in Aachen, Brussels and Budapest, and presented PERICLES at the latter. Naturally, the salient issues came up in talks at each of these events. While speakers in the Aachen event stressed the fact that there is yet a lot to be done and that so far we have only tackled or understood the “tip of the iceberg” (a metaphor that seemed in high fashion with the presenters), there was only little positive outlook on what could be a valid way forward. In the Brussels event, the mood was definitely more positive and offered some productive ideas and implemented practices. Clearly, there was a strong consensus on emulation and virtualisation as the most promising solutions for long-term preservation of time-based artworks and media. In the Budapest symposium, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology even presented the re-enactment of complex artworks through virtual reality techniques.
There were a lot of extremely interesting talks regarding long-term preservation of time-based artworks, amongst them by Jon Ippolito, Ben Fino-Radin, Dragan Espenschied, Johannes Gfeller, Gaby Wijers, Armin Straub, Anna Henry and John Langdon to just name a few of the outstanding presenters.
One could argue that there were principally two positions represented: one is to “freeze” the original (e.g. through emulation), the other is to accept the dynamics of change and allow space for “development” or re-interpretation (weighing significant properties and allowing for change of “lesser significant properties”).
Elisabeth Schimana from IMA (Institute of Media Archaeology, Austria) inspired me with her presentation at the Budapest event. A composer, performer and radio artist, she described aspects of preservation within music and sound art. In discussions with her later, she expressed her bewilderment at the repeatedly expressed “worry” of “losing” the original artwork because of change in technology. In music, the “art” lies not only in the score but in its interpretation.
I was wondering, what if we took a similar attitude towards digital artworks where the notation or score of the digital piece would be its “ecosystem model and domain ontology” visualising all its dependencies and indicating its significant properties? But otherwise not to worry too much about its “interpretation” (necessitated for example when changing parts of the work to keep the piece displayable), and instead consider this an asset? Having said that, there is still some work to do to substantiate that domain ontologies could be a feasible approach to describing significant properties and dependencies.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Elisabeth grasped the idea of model-driven preservation easily. For others, it held some mystery, in particular the question of “okay, if we buy into your solution, what are we supposed to be doing next? How do we enter it into our system and workflow?”. These are valid questions which in PERICLES, we endeavour to answer during the course of the next and last project phase. A number of these questions were also raised and discussed at our October 2015 workshop in London, with practitioners from the art and media domain as a part of our preparation for the deliverable D2.3.4, the 2nd evaluation report. All of this valuable insight will feed into our test bed scenarios demonstrating examples of implementing different aspects of our work into a change management workflow.
 When reading this blog, Patricia Falcao, Time-based Media Conservator at TATE, pointed me a very interesting publication amongst others discussing musical scores and the concept of authenticity of artworks, by Pip Laurensen (2004): “Authenticity, Change and Loss in the Conservation of Time-Based Media Installations”, TATE papers. London, UK. http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/7401