So long, Farewell….

Thinking back over this course over the semester I have gained new skills that will help me in my future. I have enjoyed hearing everyone’s differing perspectives. First off, I have learned what Digital Art is, and how it is a continually growing genre. Every time I go online I now analyze all of the different types of digital art I am viewing. I can definitely see more of a trend to want to collect and preserve this type of art in the future. ragrani.ru

Continue reading “So long, Farewell….”

Curating texts and contexts

I was originally interested in this course for its focus on both arts materials and digital curation, both of which I’m hoping to work with in the future. Many of the concepts and issues we’ve been discussing over the last few months have stayed with me, coming to mind both in the course of my other archival coursework and beyond. As I’ve mentioned before, platform theory and format theory kept reemerging for me throughout our discussions. They provide useful frameworks for thinking about how a work’s context affects its creation and reception in powerful but not-always-obvious ways. These effects mean the various formats or platforms involved need to be considered not just for technical preservation purposes, but also for understanding the meaning and significance of the work.  Continue reading “Curating texts and contexts”

What does ‘Digital Art’ even mean?

What is art?infolio-rg.ru

Throughout the course, I was surprised by the number of different things that we were studying. ‘Art’ can be so many different things – drawings/paintings, comics, programs, among others. The digital versions of traditional arts have more freedoms and allow for greater creativity than those bound to physical space and tangible media. However, the development of digital arts is intertwined with the development of computer technology. It is nearly impossible to discuss one without also discussing the other.

MS Paint had a large role in the rise of digital images. It started as a gimmick to sell operating systems for computers, when computers did not come with Windows pre-installed. However, the ability to create and edit images soon became an important one, leading to the creation of better programs, like Photoshop, and the eventual creation of memes and webcomics. le-rage-comics(It’s been a goal of mine to be able to use a Rage Comic in these posts for a while now, and I’m very happy to finally have a good excuse to use one.)

The digital version of comics allowed the artists to push the boundaries on what it means to be a comic by allowing them greater freedom and creativity. Comics were no longer bound by 3-panels and few to no colors. The comics could be video, full-color, whatever size required, or whatever else the artist desired.

Born-digital

As we learned from reading Racing the Beam earlier in the semester, computer programs can be another form of digital art. Programming requires creativity to work within the confines of the system’s hardware restrictions while also bringing the concepts to life, whether it is for a game, a Twitter bot, or some other form of program.

Glitch art, on the other hand, says that the creativity comes from destroying bits of the code that made up the original piece of art, an act that can only be done with a digital image. The internet and digital works allowed everyone to create and distribute their works, like fan fiction, through the various art sharing sites and communities, without having to receive approval from someone else, such as a publisher or art dealer.

life is a glitch

Preserving the digital

In addition to the born-digital, items can become digital though a process of taking a series if digital images of the item. No longer are books the only thing that can become digital; photogrammetry allows sculptures and even walls to become digital objects that can be studied and manipulated by scholars. For those preserving these digital objects, only the images, and not the digital objects, need preservation as the 3D representation can be recreated as software and technology changes.

Digitization is all well and good for ‘saving’ a thing that is deteriorating but the new digital thing now has its own needs. How long can we count on .pdf, .tiff, and other ‘recommended formats’ to remain usable and readable? Are we creating too many digital objects to ever hope to migrate as technology changes?

In addition, at the rate that the internet and the number of digital things worth preserving are growing, how do we meet the current needs while also planning for the future? There is the argument that we should only preserve as many things as we can properly care for. However, if we do that, numerous things that are worthwhile and should be preserved that will be lost. Should we then preserve everything and hope that the time and money to properly care for the stored items will magically appear one day? (Yes, this argument was discussed on this blog several weeks ago, but it is still a question without an answer).

XKCD Preservation Project Reflection/Review

The project to preserve the web comic XKCD had some interesting turns, and results at the end of it all. The beginning the goal was to preserve the webcomic using the internet archive quickly changed.  Instead I ended up creating an archival model and an AIP to go with it and learning a couple of interesting things along the way.Блоки бетонные для стен подвалов

Review: What is XKCD and why preserve it?

XKCD is a unique web comic created by Randal Munroe, a physicist who worked at NASA before moving to work on XKCD full time.  The webcomic first launched in 2005 and has had regular comics every week since then.  Due to its unique focus on science, mathematics, and other intelligent fields in addition to relationships and philosophy XKCD has an avid following amongst a number of communities.  This and the web comics significant characteristics make this comic valuable and worth preserving for the future.

Project Results/Reflection

The results of this project is an effective plan and model for the preservation of XKCD using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. However in addition to creating this model and AIP for preserving XKCD I also learned a couple of things that I did not expect to. During this project I learned about how varied archival information packages (AIPs) can be, how important having good discovery at your archive is, and that the archival model can be just as important, possibly even more important, as the AIP itself.

Going into this project I automatically assumed that archival information packages were something large, complex, and time consuming to make.  I figured that the AIP consisted of things like complex metadata, both technical and not, in addition to things like authority, policy, purpose.  What I learned that the AIP can vary dramatically in complexity due to what is being preserved and how it’s being preserved in the first place.  It turns out that the nature of the item can greatly affect how complex the AIP needs to be.  For example authority for XKCD did not need to be included in the AIP because the comic’s creator has already declared the comic available for public use.  Another thing that surprised me was that the method of preservation affected the AIP as well.  It turns out that limitations in the method of preservation can make parts of the AIP completely useless and even a waste of time.  Learning this made me realize that you have to know and understand what you archive or chosen institution can do when designing you AIP or you can end up making something that cannot be used.

The second thing I learned working on the project is that discovery for archives is extremely important. Not only is it the only way for people to find and discover things in an online archive it is also important from a preservation perspective.  When one of you goals is to make sure every entry in the archive is functional being able to find those entries because extremely important.  This is because you cannot replace or repair broken entries if you cannot find them.  Unfortunately when working with the Internet Archive I regularly found myself confused due to how the archive organizes its entries and metadata to the point of second guessing myself. I had to recheck to make sure I was right in that something was missing or broken a number of times and had actually made a mistake once or twice during the project.  This issue has given me a greater appreciation for good discovery features and the archives that have it because not only is it important to users but also to fellow archivists.

The last thing I learned from the project is that the archival model can be just as, if not more, important as the archival information package.  While the information package might be what you submit to the archive in order to preserve a record to the desired degree I came to realize that how you make that AIP and the steps to reaching the project goal can be just as, or even more, important than it.  This is because by itself the AIP is nothing but a package of information, you need to know what to do with it, how to make it, and most importantly what to do if it does not work.  In effect the AIP is only a small piece of a larger puzzle that the archival model tells you how to solve.  I did not expect this going to the project, believing that the AIP was paramount to the success of the project.  However I quickly realized that the AIP alone was not enough to properly ensure the webcomic would be preserved and that more was necessary to make that happen.  That thing turned out to be an archival model, which solved the problem nicely.  What I learned from this is that the AIP is not the only thing that matters and that it is actually part of the greater process of preserving something.

Conclusion

          In conclusion the goal of the preservation project was to preserve the XKCD webcomic because of its cultural value.  This was accomplished using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.  While working on this project I learned a number of things. I learned that the AIP can vary due to both the material and the preservation method.  I learned that the archival model, or the preservation steps, can be just as important or even more important the archival information package itself.  Finally I learned that the discovery services at the archive are extremely important in understanding what they have, what they do not have, and what needs to be replaced.  All in all I believe that I learned allot from this project and that it was worth completing.

An Intent to Document

Taking an idea of preserving a born-digital set of artworks into practice presented a number of challenges and served as a way to examine the themes in this course. My project of preserving the “Transforming” series of digital paintings ultimately focused on documenting how they were made and the public reaction to them.

This decision came out of ideas about documentation of performance and also about social memory. Rob and Nick Carter’s stewardship of the digital objects and their history of creating  time-based installation art made me think that focusing on the works themselves was less necessary. Yet, for all the intentions of the creators to reward a sustained engagement by their audience, no one has really taken the time to understand if it worked.

The Viewer’s Perspective Unfulfilled

In my project, I never reached that point either as I did not get to interview the people who posted about the art from their social media accounts. While lacking the time to do so, it is a necessary step if one truly wanted to understand the cultural impact of these works. Neglecting the public viewpoint and just focusing on the art demonstrated to me the inadequacy of non-active collecting and the failure to create diverse and often contradictory perspectives in the historical record.

CartoonBrew_Comments_001
Some viewer reaction I did capture, demonstrating a different viewpoint than the loving art critics

This realization helped better define in my mind that digital art is more than just a conceptual work but is made up of the sum total of the platforms, intentions, mechanisms, properties, and personal experiences which all create the challenge of adequate representation. I had to make compromises to realize just a portion of this totality.

Good Intentions

I think one of the most useful parts of this project was the creation of statements of preservation intent. Really understanding what you wanted to do and the “why” behind it was essential once problems arose and compromises needed to be made. They lay bare our biases and continually provide a point to return, reflect, and revise (if necessary) the goals for projects. Doing this project reinforced that reality and that I had to rely on the preservation intent statements to determine where I could make trade-offs.

digistool
Everyone’s friend: the three-legged digital preservation stool

The biggest challenge was not having enough time to do everything that I planned the way I wanted to do them. In my project, I planned on using a number of command line tools like youtube-dl and ffmpeg to work with born-digital video, in part because they come recommended by digital preservation practitioners and in part because I wanted to get more experience with using the command line. However, I just didn’t have the time to read the documentation well enough to use these tools and get most of the deliverables of my project done at the same time.

We (archivists, preservationists, etc.) like to opine on the value of open source software but in low resource institutions (whether in time, money, or staff) they are often impossible to implement.  Just as there are trade-offs in regard to authenticity and access, the same goes for resources and digital preservation standards. Perhaps in the future there will be time to return to make additions and create a more robust AIP.

mcconaughey

Ultimately, I ended up using a number of tools like ClipGrab and Flash Video Downloader which were not always entirely clear about the quality of the videos downloaded, but at least allowed me to get them all and save them in a standard MPEG4 format. In my preservation intent statements I wanted to save the VFX breakdowns of the videos in the highest video quality so there would be good visual detail for users in the future. Without as much control over this, I had to save things realizing that something was better than nothing. Hopefully through my work someone will understand the “score” of the work and can recreate them later if necessary.

Conclusion

Documentation is essential for understanding more than a surface level of what an artwork is and can be accomplished at varying levels of digital preservation. Digital art preservation (and digital preservation in general) is often not hard because we don’t know what to do at some level, it’s hard because there are not enough resources or support for which to do it. This requires that our intentions be transparent but not so brittle that we cannot adequately adapt to the needs of the situation. Through understanding this reality, I was able to complete my project in a somewhat satisfactory manner, realizing that there is always more work to do and that preservation is not a one-time event.

INST745_finalposter

Affordances of the future

The thing I appreciate about this class the most is the fact that it gave me a chance to work with art again, and investigate how that medium works vis a vis the information sciences. And the best tool it gave me to do that is introducing me to the concept of affordances.

What I like so much about affordances is the way that they’re a sort of double-edged sword: they help you identify the limitations of the hardware or software behind a particular item, but they also help you identify how to exploit it, how to wring every last drop of utility out of it, either during the creation and use of the item, or later while attempting to preserve or restore it. They can be physical affordances, as we learned about through Kirschenbaum and Montfort and Bogost, or more theoretical, as discussed in Rinehart and Ippolito.

Dan Flavin's works come to mind as an example of affordance.
Dan Flavin’s works come to mind as an example of affordance.

For analog materials, the affordances are pretty simple: a book is bound and only readable in one direction, it’s not searchable, and if printed in quires has certain page requirements. But on the other hand, if you take an early print book apart, you might find the remnants of earlier pre-print manuscripts in the binding. Or if you digitize one using certain image techniques, you might discover it’s actually reused parchment, a palimpsest. But these things are considered to be a bonus when found, whereas for a digital work taking the affordances into account is pretty much a necessity.

The biggest affordance to consider, and again I feel it’s one that is also in play with analog works, but not as strongly, is creator’s intent. Is a certain unexpected expression of the program code a bug or an Easter egg? Should it be preserved as a cheat or removed to preserve authenticity? Is recreating a font exactly important, in order to reproduce imagery and emotional atmosphere, or will any font do? This term has fallen out of favor — should it be replaced? When can we throw artistic intent out the window entirely, and truly kill the author? The reinforcement of the idea that knowledge of the situation in which a work was created is key is one that seems critical to me.

One affordance that I wish we had been able to discuss more, in one of the few classes I’ve taken that isn’t pure theory, is budgetary. It got touched on a few times, but financial restrictions play a large part in not only the creation of an item, but how well it can be maintained and how it can be preserved. Is there a fan community who can or has done a portion of the work, as with creating emulators for ROM-based video games? Does your institution have a donor (or potential donor) who is deeply involved with your intended subject? Or are you already over budget and facing more cuts?

We’re still exploring what the digital world is and how it works, coming up with new ways to exploit it all the time. So far we’ve done a lot of applying techniques from traditional art forms to this new medium, and we’ve even exploited the new media types to help us make the most of our analog media. But we still often fall into the trap of considering new media in the same vein as traditional media, and missing opportunities inherent in its nature. As more digital natives make their way into the preservation and curation fields, I hope that they will help create a new way of thinking about these media types that will be truly mold-breaking.

Cast a Wide Net

As I approached finishing my MLS degree (only two required courses to take this summer!), I wanted to choose my last elective wisely. Though my background is in photography, I had not taken a single course directly related to art or visual material, so Introduction to Digital Arts Curation sounded like a good course to end on.

Preserving digital art means casting a wide net, but maybe do a better job of it than this guy.
Preserving digital art means casting a wide net, but maybe do a better job of it than this guy.

First, I thought I was clear on what “digital arts” meant. This was probably the first lesson learned in the class – just how wide this net could be cast. Class readings and discussions on things like glitch art, webcomics and crowdsourced games like Twitch Plays Pokémon were unfamiliar territory for me. Classmates’ posts on Twitterbots and YouTube projects introduced other work to me, and even my final project on the multimedia online journalism piece Snow Fall was not something I would have initially thought of working on as part of the class.

Besides the variety of artworks we discussed, all the possible ways of thinking about preservation of a work were eye opening. Whether it was looking at the individual bits and bytes that make up a digital work, how it functions on different platforms, or the cultural and historical context surrounding the work – there’s no one right way of preserving digital materials. Viewing preservation through these different frameworks really opened up the possibilities for working through our final projects.

The initial research for my project on Snow Fall laid the groundwork for the historical and cultural context, but also highlighted some of the forensic aspects of the website. Getting my thoughts down on paper (actually an online post) while writing the statement of significance helped to shape what eventually became some of the final pieces of the Archival Information Package. The act of describing the various features to the project and continuing to build on it before actually collecting all the pieces was an extremely useful exercise – and a valuable activity in relation to appraisal.

Another issue that came up repeatedly over the semester was the importance of collaboration. Involving stakeholders, whether that means archivists, conservators, the artist, technical specialists, fellow classmates and users, is critical in preserving digital works. We must gather all viewpoints to determine the most important aspects to save, as well as use the collaboration to discover new possibilities in preservation. This idea was reiterated during the film screening and discussion of Andy van Dam’s project on hypertext at Brown University. The NEH-funded work was only possible through cooperative work between computer scientists and humanities scholars, which was mutually beneficial.

Tying in lessons from other classes with this one, we were able to focus our efforts on one particular project to preserve. My selection was The New York Times’ online story, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, which is summarized on this poster. Though this class was specific to digital arts, the theories and frameworks through which we viewed the artworks could really be applied to any type of work or collection.

Despite the focus on a single project for the semester, I think everyone also learned lessons about making some compromises. There is never enough time to do everything an archivist would like to do – perhaps we would have liked to do more background research, or there were technical difficulties, licensing issues, or the input from artists wasn’t possible. So, we make decisions and compromise. I attended the recent MARAC conference in Pittsburgh and Francine Snyder, the Director of Archives and Scholarship at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, described valuable advice she received from a mentor – in the future, there will always be a person looking at your work from the past, asking “ Who was the jackass that did this?” So, you accept this and do the best you can do – attempt to find a scalable solution, and work with what you have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TeamSignificantProperties

I was going to give this post a much more serious and important name (I also wasn’t going to illustrate it with only homestarrunner images, but oh well), but I was thinking about the things that got me riled up this semester and I came back to Dappert and Farquhar bagging on significant properties with a vengeance. While I have made my peace with their point of view and the context in which they wrote their article – the phrase and its connotations were becoming cumbersome and antiquated – I still see a value in preserving the idea of stating clearly why something is important and what about that object must be maintained in order to show that it is rendering successfully. For my field study at the Smithsonian Libraries, I’ve been curating digital images and one of the new metadata fields is the “Short Description.” Having the Short Description ensures that no matter how many times the image is migrated, through how many file types, the most significant property is that it displays this particular image. What makes the digital object valuable is that it performs it’s functions; so without proof that it is in fact doing that thing, what good is it? A dead file is for most people less useful that the description of what it was when it was working.

HRA1

What’s been really engaging has been the swirling vortex of how things grow from here. While the images I worked with at the SIL were very simple digital objects, more complex digital objects respond to unique preservation needs in a sort of three dimensional space where their needs are relationally defined as sometimes being very similar to simple objects and easy to meet and sometimes extraordinarily complicated and as the preservation expert you’re kind of left guessing and going “let’s screen-cap it and make a hard copy.” And while I could definitely see this as being an argument against the original model of the significant property, I see it as making the process of writing out those properties even more important. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, but as conservation moves out of the super-specialized labs and into the everyday service centers, being able to talk about what it is that makes a work unique and what it was supposed to do when the platform that ran it has been surpassed is important.

HRA2

What I didn’t know at the start of the course was how expansive the definition of digital art could be. The myriad topics we’ve covered have been eye-opening and have illuminated to me just how narrow my experience of the digital world has been so far. But it makes me wonder if everyone has the same experience of digital culture: we all have our little slice of the internet and it undulates as it is acted upon by recommendations and as time allows, but with a finite amount of time and a potentially infinite amount of digital content, there is no way anyone can know the whole internet – hence sites like Know Your Meme.

HRA3

One of the big questions still remaining to me is, when the large institutions – aside from Library of Congress which is having massive digital collections thrust on it because it is the last resort for many things no one else can handle – are only just beginning to deal with digital art and only in very small quantities, how can we encourage small institutions to engage? Not colleges, which are more likely to push boundaries and not digitize current collections, but how do we encourage small, single-staff services toward these endeavors and how do we best support them? I feel like if my Homestar Runner project proved anything it’s that if you love a thing, there are going to be other people on the internet who love it too and surely, if we’re curating digital content, we should be able to better leverage the amazing resources of the internet, the NYPL menu and the Old Weather transcription projects and Citizen Science.HRA4

It’s Illusions I Recall; I Don’t Really Know the Digital at All

When I was in high school, I took an AP Biology class, and somewhere in there (I believe after the AP exam), our teacher had us build kaleidoscopes.RPK Tramplin

The end result was a bit like this:

It’s so beautiful, but in making one, I learned that the process requires throwing a bunch of random things into one end: beads, bits of glass, glitter, etc. I remember my teacher telling me to put a spring in the kaleidoscope, that it would look cool, and I doubted him, but I put it in anyway, and of course the little waves created by the spring were as interesting as he described. I remember trying to show my friends particularly beautiful arrangements I got by turning the ‘scope, but in passing it, a bead would inevitably shift and my friend would see something entirely different.

Kaleidoscopes remind me a lot of the digital; while there are objects that are real and material involved in making them, the images you make with them are so ephemeral. They also remind me a lot of this class, in that, as you look through the eyepiece, every person who looks sees something different… and I think that’s a key lesson when approaching curation of the digital world (or anything, for that matter).

So Many… Things

Both in considering my final project and going through the games, images, music, videos, and other art pieces for this class, I realized just how many different components there are to consider: hardware, software, platforms, files types, social behavior, all these things in regards to how it was made, how it was used in its time, how it can be used in the future… just when I feel like I have considered all facets of a digital object, more seem to appear. While I’ve always been vaguely aware of screen essentialism in a general sense, this class highlighted the number of things being represented by a piece of digital art, and it exceeded what I had been considering, particularly when it came to hardware.

Of course choices have to be made about what components to save, and how best to save them. But I think my takeaway was that digital objects require an extra layer of considerations, because their place in the physical world is so different than non-digital objects. “The thing itself” has weirder and fuzzier boundaries– I can hold a painting, I can hold a record, and these items are bound by the materials that make them, whereas digital objects are not held in the same way, really. And so, curators have to create these boundaries themselves at a certain level, or at least explore where others have labeled them, and see how the objects they define interact and live on the digital world around them.

From Pixels to People

Perhaps my greatest takeaway from the class is that people bring such different perspectives to the world of digital art. In our readings, different curators, researchers, scholars, and users all took digital art and considered it in different ways… and in our class, we would occasionally disagree and often see objects/issues/values in different lights (see any discussion of authenticity). As an ethnographer and a researcher, I kind of love these disputes; they force us to look at ourselves and consider the biases we bring to the table when looking at digital objects. I generally feel I have a good grasp of my academic biases (theoretical areas of interest/knowledge, particular methodologies I’m familiar with), but something I hadn’t considered was how my own digital behaviors affect how I see the digital world: my participation in Twitch Plays Pokemon, viewing of Let’s Plays, and knowledge of Weebl and Bob all give me a unique perspective on related digital art pieces, and that has a bearing on how I go about dealing with such objects.

To Infinity and Beyond

While I feel many of my questions about digital art have been answered, my mind still dwells in those edges, where the digital and . A friend of mine posted a video about virtual reality painting applications that might be coming in the future.

 

I think new hardware and software like virtual reality provide new challenges, where the lines between the digital and the physical become less clear, and I wonder how we might deal with these issues in the coming years.

As an ethnomusicologist, I like to hope that somewhere in any given project, I can give something back to the people I research, as they give me their support, time, and energy. I would like to pursue some digital ethnography projects in the future, and I hope that the tools provided to me by this class will help me in giving assistance to creators of digital art pieces. I do wonder, though, about that boundary between being a fly on the wall, just taking what my interlocutors give me, and making suggestions or letting them know more about my end (or the archivist’s end) of the process, when it comes to issues of preservation. Perhaps some of these questions are better raised on a case-by-case basis, but they will stick with me as I talk with my colleagues about how we might best serve the communities, digital or otherwise, with which we work.