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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One Reply to “An Intent to Document”

  1. I agree with you on the issue of preservation model vs practical implementation. It is actually a very big issue with all projects in that the best plan is not always possible because of limitations, resources, time, etc. I actually learned this from my grandfather who used to work for the city of Philidelphia and was one of the people responsible for city planning. Apparently he made a number of plans that would have solved a number of problems but were never pursued due practical reasons. The lesson i learn from that is that its more important to ask ‘what can i do with what i have’ rather than ‘what do i need to do to reach x goal’ when planning.

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