A technological or digital work
dependent on a computer system or
projector built in 1995, for example, won’t
exactly play well on a system developed in
2015. What does that mean for the piece?
Does it evolve with the technology, never
really going back to its original form? Or
does it become obsolete, lost to techno-
logical history? “Over time, equipment
will need to be replaced, new operating
systems installed,” says Rinehart. “When
all of that is done, is it the same work?”
Rinehart, co-author of Re-collection: Art,
New Media, and Social Memory, believes a
bit of the answer might lie in the ways in
which the performing arts are kept alive
over time. “Take a piece of music by
Bach,” says Rinehart. “You can’t put it
into a box. It’s brought back to life by
other musicians throughout history. It
all comes down to a question about the
material nature of things.” And art lovers,
historians and artists themselves might
need to shift their definitions a bit. They
also might need to be a little more flexible
and collaborative in order to preserve
history for the greater good.
“We need to encourage a lot of
experimentation among institutions,”
says Jon Ippolito, professor of new
media and director of the digital curation
graduate program at the University
of Maine and Rinehart’s co-author
To make his case, Ippolito points to
an underground matrix of vintage video- CO
The art installation consists of a dark room and a 4 x 6 sandbox. Reflections of never-ending, never-repeating colors dance across the sand from an overhead projector.
Preserving New Art
Just as quickly as new media works flood the art world, the technology on which
they’re based becomes obsolete. How do we keep them intact for future generations?
By Maureen Harmon
Works such as Home Movies, a multimedia installation by Jim Campbell,
exhibited at the Samek Gallery
in 2013, will challenge future
generations of art conservators
as the technology used to create
them becomes obsolete.
It’s a work by Shirley Shor called
Landslide, and one that Richard Rinehart,
director of the Samek Art Museum at
Bucknell, exhibited and collected during
his time as digital media director and
adjunct curator at the Berkeley Art
Museum at the University of California,
Berkeley. The work presents some
interesting questions for people like
Rinehart (museum directors and archi-
vists) as they contemplate the best ways
to preserve such pieces — new media
works whose technology fades as quickly
as they are birthed, and pieces that don’t
fit neatly into a crate on their way to a
temperature-controlled vault somewhere.
To figure it all out, art conservators will
need to dig through a couple of centuries
of entrenched institutional practice.
And that, says Rinehart, is never easy.