Re-Collection is a book about the specific situation of new media art and the preservation challenges that attend it. The intersection between the set of readers interested in new media art and the set that includes the readership of Archivaria may, admittedly, be limited; however, Re-Collection should be of interest to a broader archival readership for the way it analyzes and frames the threats to the survival of all digital culture. Specifically, the recognition of the material qualities of digital records by a number of recent authors means that “look and feel” is increasingly acknowledged as more than a superficial attribute of records, and examining the [End Page 154] preservation of new media art can be instructive here.1 In a broader sense, the authors’ engagement with the larger problem of the vulnerability of new media as a threat to social or collective memory, as indicated by the book’s subtitle, gives this publication a much wider relevance. Unfortunately, the authors’ limited grasp of the role and expertise of archivists may prove to be an obstacle to meaningful engagement with an archival readership. Archivists do, arguably, have a role to play in solving the problems outlined in this book – but it will be up to archivists to bridge the gap in understanding and claim their place at the table.
Given the specialized nature of the topic, a few words about terminology may be helpful. The term “new media,” with reference to artwork, is used by the book’s authors primarily to denote art in any genre that makes use of digital components. The category of “new media art” may also include, less definitely, other non-traditional forms, such as performance and installation art, which can pose similar challenges to preservation. The frequently used term “variable media,” referring to a similar category of art, implies a philosophy of care and preservation that prioritizes the intellectual and aesthetic essence of a work without being tied to specific physical components, if the latter are subject to technological obsolescence, for example.
The book’s co-authors are well known for their work in the field of new media art. Jon Ippolito’s reputation as a curator and public speaker was honed during his 15-year tenure as Associate Curator of Media Arts at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Since 2002 he has been a professor of new media at the University of Maine, where he co-founded the Still Water Lab, a centre with the mission “to promote network art and culture.”2 Perhaps his best-known project is the Variable Media Questionnaire (1999–), a software tool for gathering metadata to support the long-term care of new media artwork, primarily through extensive interviewing of the artist.3 Richard Rinehart is the Director and Chief Curator of the Samek Art Museum at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and has been active as an instructor, researcher, and writer in the area of new media art. He is also the author of the Media Art Notation System (MANS), an XML-based metadata standard for describing new media [End Page 155] artworks.4 Of significance is the fact that both authors identify themselves on their respective websites as artists, among their other professional roles. The curation and care of new media art, as framed by the authors, seem often to require a high degree of creative intervention and decision-making.
The book is written in a conversational – even chatty – style, with the co-authors taking turns as primary authors of individual chapters and commenting on each other’s writing in marginal text boxes. The presence of two distinct authorial voices helps to underline the collaborative, adaptable approach that is necessary for tackling new media art preservation, and the dearth of one-size-fits-all solutions. The resulting tone is energetic and usually appealing, a quality likely to be helpful in persuading the reader to remain engaged with the authors’ messages despite the daunting state of affairs that attends new media art...