- Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito
by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2014. 312 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 9780262027007.
Dedicated “to everyone who’s dead,” this volume concerns art made with digital media over the last 50 years or so, which will not exist for others to experience—indeed some has become extinct already. The galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM), implicated so centrally in the priming and maintenance of our social and cultural memory, have been tardy in responding to the outputs from artists’ desktops working with applications sitting on various OS platforms.
In a series of well-constructed chapters, alternately written by each of the authors (with occasional questions of each other’s work, boxed [End Page 206] within the text), the traditional methods and methodologies of the GLAM are surveyed. The solemnity of objects marooned in a space or on a wall, subject to the presentational whims of their custodians, is examined in relation to digital art and media artists. In the main, the authors’ exploration is of archival strategies more suited to cultural artifacts made by this group, which share participation, interaction and direct experience—“a series of events.”
Referencing artists from the late 20th century, methods of storage, emulation, migration and reinterpretation employed are assessed in relation to particular artworks that have suffered obsolescence, within analogue structures (from Flavin to Nam June Paik) and digital systems, (Silicon Graphics–based works by, for instance, Char Davies). The test for suitability of these methods is whether one or a combination will maintain the fundamental quality of the aesthetic experience as defined by the artist, with little or no concession made to the shortcomings of the tools employed to re-create that experience.
The institutional approach to the problems is described on several levels throughout the book. Both authors operate in these domains, but they quickly home in on the core of the book: “New media art operates like an algorithm that relies on dynamic external variables, taking it even further away from a definition as an eternal fixed object and towards performativity, relativity and variability.” The term variable media (unlike the familiar term variable dimensions) seems to confound the issue, but in developing the principle the authors reassure that “we can embrace change and turn it from preservation’s deadliest enemy into our greatest ally.”
The key to the approach is meta-data—not just the integers hidden in the folds of file structure but human stuff to do with actions, lists, plans, intentions, reflections, along with names, even the names of those who experience a work for the first time and have something to say about it. Handling such a cornucopia of data, as Rhizome Artbase found, where folksonomy rubs alongside taxonomy, helped useful terminology to emerge like clarifying butter. Collaborating with some of the world’s larger collecting institutions, researchers developed the Variable Media Questionnaire and the Media Arts Notation System (MANS) employing XML-based indexing extensible and interoperable across systems.
Less well covered in this proposed approach is where the skills and finance involved emerges; to set aside the time for a lengthy “debrief” at the completion of each project; and, later, the decoding of the score of the defunct system. This assumes that, further down the track, a new form of institution will have the infrastructure in place to fund the team of ethnomediologists and futurist technologists able to interpret “the score.”
The concept of a “franchised” Open (Meta) Museum and Interarchive is floated—an idealized notion responding to the difficulty of getting artists to agree to almost anything and begging the question as to exactly who approves the franchise. The kind of network employed for years by hacker culture is envisaged, and the countless volunteers building emulators for obsolete “video” games receives praise for their cascading approach to quality control and code advancement. These “unreliable archivists” and the tendency of media culture to proliferate are held out as examples of the kinds of imagination applicable to the problem.
The final chapter...