Creativity in Conservation

Up to now, most of our readings in most of our courses (or at least my courses) have been about preserving data, or objects, things qua things – the corners might be scuffed or we might not know the letter-writer or who the data represents, but the thing is what it is and that’s all that it is. But now we’re really getting into what a thing is, preserving meaning and intent. We’re getting to the art part of this course. We’ve touched on it a little already, asking ‘how do you solve a problem like a Flavin (with carcinogenic lamps)?’ We’ve talked about emulation versus preservation. But we haven’t talked about what 8-bit art will mean to audiences in 50 or 100 years, when nostalgia is a lesser factor. Yes, we’ve got the Atari and it’s still running, but now we need the rest of the arcade and the drinks, and a carefully curated collection of small objects to line up along the bottom of the screen to denote who’s playing next.Безопасные SEO эксперименты

A couple of years ago I worked on a production of Ordinary Days, which takes place in contemporary (or contemporary to premiere date) New York. Several significant scenes make either direct or indirect references to 9/11, and how it impacted everyday life. There was a talkback after one of the performances, and the Associate Producer talked about the production process: how the production team had discussed how delicate a touch to handle the subject matter with, how obvious some of the visual references might be, who might be too young to remember, and how the play might have to change over time. In turn, audience members talked about how effective the imagery was for them, including one woman who had been in New York that day. Whereas I lived in Phoenix at the time, and knew only one or two people directly affected. Until that talkback, I’d actually thought one of the 9/11 references was implying that a character had died in a housefire. Very, very different interpretations of the same materials.

Ask me about the time a friend and I were the only people laughing in the audience for a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

To me, performances, video games, even works of fiction, really exemplify the FRBR model. There is the work, the keystone idea, the motivating image in the original creator’s head. This is expressed or manifests physically in whatever manner is possible given limitations such as physical ability, monetary funds, etc. It is then viewed by the audience that the producers have managed to draw in, and interpreted through the filter of their own views and experiences. The finalized work as it lives in each person’s head – creator, performer, viewer – is the item level, just as valid and important as the physical evidence of the expressions.

I have to admit, I’m not much more of a gamer than Allison — I’m mostly a gamer-by-proxy, I guess you’d say. I’d primarily watch my friends play, especially since there were never enough controllers for all of us — I’m familiar with the games discussed this week, but mostly on a social level, like the casual GTA players in the DeVane & Squire article. But I can appreciate the community aspect of it, and how important that is, how it has its own culture. And that’s what I’m here for – cultural heritage. Tetris has evolved as far from the black and white version I first played, with the Soviet background images and no special effects, as Korobeiniki has evolved from its roots as a folk song.

And we want these new works to last just as long, and to be just as transformable. Forward-thinking, adaptive preservation is the key to not only keeping the works accessible, but the heart behind them. Performative arts have been documenting these aspects for centuries – whether it be in religious cases as such as Dance Heritage Coalition’s Buddhist monks, or through more rigid formal notation, such as that used for ballet. Finding ways to apply it to alternate digital media forms is up to us.

5 Replies to “Creativity in Conservation”

  1. A good friend of mine used to work for the English Fold Dance and Song Society ( and I asked her about their work. Their collections are mostly from before the 1920’s so they have few still photographs and no film. Their collection is mostly papers with varying forms of notation describing how to do assorted dances. These are the two she sent me to show the lack of standardization our readings described: and . My favorite comment from her notes was that, “There are formal ways of noting down dance movements – some of them were invented by the folk collectors themselves.” which reminds me again of and the never-ending stream of competing standards.

    1. Wow, yeah, that looks complicated. Ballet is actually relatively easy to notate, since it has such a formalized structure. Labanotation and Benesh both started an individual’s style; the key is to make sure that style is interpretable beyond that initial person, otherwise it’s just a singular shorthand. Of course, if there’s a good enough taxonomy, and the dance is short enough, written instructions can probably cover a lot. But imagine trying to notate something like Swan Lake, and how standard Labanotation only covers two to four positions per sheet of paper. Per dancer.

  2. I have to tell you that I’m in love with that Tetris video–too funny! The history nerd in me is delighted.

    I also liked what you touched on earlier regarding preservation intent and what that will mean for future generations. How do we estimate what 8 bit art will mean to historians 200 years from now? As with most things in preservation, I think we have to guess. The tricky thing is deciding what to preserve to maintain the essential core of what that “thing” meant. I liked that our readings this week focused on the culture surrounding these fleeting works of art as being more concrete than the work itself. The culture was representative of the moment rather than the software or footage. And that’s where things get tricky–how do we effectively preserve a culture? Are we able to objectively judge what is representative of that culture in order to know what to preserve and how to put the art in a broader context?

    1. The thing about culture is that it changes over time, or is tied to a specific time period, before it evolves into something else and gains a new name. Preserving that context and being able to spot the in-built biases in it, like we were talking about in class last week, is part of the key here.

  3. Interesting idea about preserving intent and core ideals while also tying to preserve any adaptations and evolution’s of the work. It makes sense from a preservation perspective to try and boil a work down to its core, there is only so much an archivist can do to preserve a work, so the better we understand it the more we can do. The only issue i can see with that is the fear of possible missing something that seems irrelevent at the time but turns out to be very important. Over all it a good move and an important choice to make, but one that needs to be done carefully.

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