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This article was written for 'Content-Type' in 2001, which I conceived of as an idea virus, later as the site evolved, I was to think of these texts as symptomatic of the Media/Art Identity Crisis in style of delivery.

...We have living, performing digital and electronic works which need to be maintained for as long as possible...

Since the 1950s the interaction of art and electronic technology has evolved new 'art forms', such as robotics performance, telematic art, net art, computer animation, media and new media art. Concerns about the documentation, storage and retrieval of these art forms have surfaced with what seems like a greater concern as time goes by. Looking at 'Ars Electronica Facing the Future', "a survey of two decades", it is interesting to read texts which envision the future development of media museums, and the contributing nature of net based and telematic art, to such museums of the future.

In 1984, Jurgen Claus was asking "What will remain of the electronic age?". He notes that the "first two cycles [during the 1950s and 60s] have not found a place in our storehouses for coultural goods, the museums, and even less have they found continuing cultivation, research and communication". Given that the nature of these new forms is predominantly performance based, he proposes a museum that "resembles a network linking new technologies - radio and television companies, educational institutions, libraries, mediateques, and so on." This paper was written ten years before the WWW became a reality, but the concerns are still alive today, both in terms of the preservation of electronic artefacts, and in a vision of what this might mean in terms of museum space. The WWW has meant the possibility of web presence for museums as well as the online exhibition of net art works both within and outside the exhibition space. Online discussions around exhibition events, as exemplified by Ars Electronica, ISEA and other festivals, increases the pressure on museums to include the public in the electronic process.

Combining preservation with production and participation is the emergent theme. Jurgen Claus also proposed that a media museum should include a "proper workshop" for artists lacking access to equipment. This kind of facility has been occuring more frequently, over recent years, within arts organisations in the UK, such as the ICA in London and the Watershed in Bristol, as well as smaller organisations, although generally not in the national museums.

It seems that a unique historical response to electronic and digital artworks can be identified now. On preservation: how long can such works last? It is apparent that they can last longer than a live performance, but for less time than a more 'permanent' kind of object. They have an extended lifespan, but they still can't last for a long time in an active state. Machine parts become obsolete, and programs depend on operating systems, which also change and evolve into new systems, rendering the old programs unsupported by newer platforms. Is this a problem, or does it merely require a new approach?

So we have living, performing digital and electronic works which need to be maintained for as long as possible. These coexist with obsolete or 'dead' media, as well as the living 'workshop environment'. The often ongoing nature of electronic and digital artworks means that participation in and interaction with them is usually a continuous opportunity rather than a singular event. Perhaps the answer to "What Will Remain of the Electronic Age?" will be a deepening understanding of the processes of machine 'life' , made possible by a new kind of integrated hyper-history.

Sarah Thompson 05.02.01

 

All quotations from: Expansion of Media Art: What Will Remain of the Electronic Age?, Jurgen Claus, pp 180, 184 in:

Ars Electronica Facing The Future, ed. Timothy Druckrey with Ars Electronica, The MIT Press 1999