Preservation of the New Media Arts

  1. 1. Megan Winget

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Texas, El Paso

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Preservation of the New Media Arts


UNC - Chapel Hill


University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia




Kretzschmar, Jr.



It has become a commonplace to declare that we are living through one of the
great epochs of human discovery. “The digital revolution.” The Internet as a
“fundamental and extensive force of change.” With the advent of the Internet as
a mode of communication and information discovery, we are leading lives, and
facing challenges undreamed of in previous generations except as the stuff of
science fiction. But what if it’s actually true? What if we are living through a
period as significant as the Renaissance or the Enlightenment? What if our
current circumstances are comparable to the Depression? Or the Post–war era? How
about the counter–culture revolution of the 60s? Each of these eras, great and
small, are marked, not only by their social upheavals, but also by their great
strides in artistic representation. The Renaissance had Michelangelo and
Leonardo; the Enlightenment had David and Ingres. In the modern era, we have
Frank Lloyd Wright, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe,
le Corbusier, Picasso, Matisse, and the list goes on and on. Great artists,
whose work helps us make sense of the past. Of course, we also have meaningful
contemporary art—but there’s a problem. Whereas we can still look at
Michelangelo’s paintings and sculptures, and in many cases, can look at
preliminary studies and drawings—we’re running the risk of loosing contemporary
art as soon as ten years after its creation
The new media art community has recently come to the realization that the objects
and ideas of their most compelling thinkers and artists run the risk of
disappearing forever, because these objects are often in digital or other
variable formats, which tend to rapidly become, at best, inaccessible; and at
worst, irretrievably lost. Unless there is a systematic and persistent
exploration of preservation and archival procedures for these significant
cultural objects, they will, in all likelihood, not be accessible for future
generations of artists, scholars, or the general public. One of the new media
community’s most important advances towards this goal of systematic
investigation is the development of the “Archiving the Avant-Garde” project,
which brings together new media venues, curators, and artists to devise possible
solutions to this very difficult problem of the disappearing objects of the
There are three distinct challenges that the new media art community has to
confront. They must first assess the nature and goals of new media art in
general. It’s very difficult to preserve a nebulous “something,” especially if
that “something” is a complex series of digital objects with variable and
intricate relationships between parts and the whole, which also happens to
comment and feed off of a culture in which the conservator is currently living.
Unless the preserving agency has a convincing vision of what is intrinsically
important to maintain, the resulting objects run the risk of being inauthentic
and/or presenting an inaccurate indication of the artist’s intentions.
It would also be prudent for this community to consider the current state of art
conservation and preservation in related fields. It’s important to recognize the
challenges and philosophical conflicts that art conservators of the last half
century have faced. No matter how cutting edge and exciting these new media
artifacts are, they are not being created in a vacuum, and conservators have
faced similar (although not digital) problems for hundreds of years. I will
specifically review methods of traditional art conservation, and how those
professionals are dealing with less stable forms like conceptual and performance
Finally, the community should recognize and reflect on the history of access and
preservation from an archival point of view. The project is, after all, called
“Archiving the Avant-Garde,” and there are some common tropes and methods within
the archival community, particularly the ideas of diplomatics and intrinsic
value, for example, that the new media art community might find helpful.
Information technology professionals and humanist scholars have a responsibility
to keep the past alive. The information scientists provide the infrastructure
and methodologies, and the humanists provide the interpretive structure and deep
understanding from which future generations will gain insight into our
collective consciousness. Unless we begin working together, building systems
that grow naturally out of the scholarly tradition, rather than expecting the
scholarly tradition to twist itself into knots trying to fit within the current
Information Infrastructure, we will never be able to transcend the prosaic world
of subject headings and metadata elements. Information artists and the new media
art organizations are accomplishing, in the work itself, this very feat of
bringing together traditional forms of expression with new technologies. We
should take a lesson from them. We need to find a way to save and preserve the
richness of this experience for future generations.

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Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None