Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito’s Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory (2014) explores the daunting challenges presented by the preservation and conservation of new media art from both practical and theoretical perspectives. Ultimately, Rinehart and Ippolito argue that the vulnerabilities of digital media are propelling today’s culture towards total obsolescence. In other words, the authors claim that cultural objects like movies, mp3s, installation art, and interactive games will all be lost if we do not work harder to identify the underlying factors affecting preservation. Thus, the goal of Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory is to slow the disappearance of obsolete culture by inspiring readers to reexamine and improve the ways that social memory serves contemporary and future societies.
For the purposes of discussion and as addressed within the syllabus, this response will focus on the chapters titled “New Media and Social Memory,” and “Only You Can Prevent the End of History.”
Structure and Important Terminology
Throughout Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, Rinehart and Ippolito diagnose and investigate three threats to the preservation of new media art and, in turn, twenty-first-century creativity:
- New media art relies on rapidly changing software and hardware. This can often speed up processes leading to obsolesce.
- Insitutions apply the same preservation methods that were developed for more traditional mediums to new media art. This often proves inadequate.
- Complicates access with intellectual property constructs. With new media art, intellectual property is often the only property that is recognized.
Significantly, Rinehart and Ippolito note the complicated relationship between technology, institutions, law, and ephemeral artifacts. That is to say, these elements often oscillate between being ardent allies and the worst of enemies. As a result, understanding the full rippling effect of each threat can prove quite difficult.
In discussing the complicated threats posed by technology, institutions, and law, Rinehart and Ippolito refer to the following four strategies for rescuing cultural genres and gadgets from extinction:
- Default preservation strategy for many cultural institutions.
- Stored culture remains in suspended animation.
- Longest term preservation strategy for traditional media, shortest term preservation strategy for new media art.
- A cultural object is preserved by creating an audiovisual facsimile.
- This facsimile looks the same, feels the same, and even behaves the same.
- The object employs a different medium to function properly.
- Upgrading the technology of the cultural object to the current industry standard.
- The look and feel of the object can increasingly depart from the original as upgrades continue.
- Most radical and powerful of the four preservation strategies.
- Sacrifices a cultural work’s appearance in order to maintain its original spirit.
- Replaces the obsolete with their functional or metaphorical equivalent.
- Often witnessed in performance based art.
2: New Media and Social Memory
Rinehart and Ippolito define social memory as both what societies remember as well as how they seek to remember. In expanding this definition, the authors identify two forms of social memory:
- Stewarded by culutral institutions like museums, libraries, and archives.
- Similar to a computer’s memory bank.
- Concerned with the form of the object of preservation.
- Characterized by folklore and distributed.
- Popular form of remembering.
- Preserves social memory by “making it a moving target” (15).
- Concerned with the working function of the object of preservation.
In summary, formal social memory often prioritizes the preservation of a cultural object in its original form as a way to ensure that it maintains a certain degree of historical accuracy and integrity. In contrast, those that engage with informal social memory strategies will often look to update and recreate the cultural object as their primary mode of preservation.
New media art includes artworks that are designed and produced by means of media technologies. Due to the nature of new media art, this medium often involves complex curation and preservation practices that make collecting, installing, and exhibiting the works harder than most other mediums.
With this, new media art often interacts with social memory, ultimately impacting it in one of two ways:
- Changes the object of social memory –> Artworks, literary texts, census records, etc.
- Changes the means of social memory –> Documentation, storage, records, etc.
Rinehart and Ippolito take this a step further by drawing a line of distinction between digital art, artwork that is born-digital, and digitized art, artwork that is created using traditional media that is later transferred to a digital space like ArtStor.
13: Only You Can Prevent the End of History
Here, Rinehart and Ippolito offer readers an optimistic view of the issues plaguing preservation through their own 12-step approach. Of course, the authors’ intention is not to provide specific solutions for every potential scenario, instead, their main objective is to provide professionals with a strategy that will effectively work towards ensuring the survival of new media culture. The “Twelve Steps to Future-Proofing Contemporary Culture” are listed as follows (222-233):
- Curators: Update Your Acquisition Policy
- Conservators: Move out of the Warehouse and into the Gallery
- Archivists: Modernize Your Metadata
- Collection Managers: Renovate Your Database
- Institutions: Start Collecting New Media
- Programmers: Connect Data across Institutions
- Lawyers: Help the Arts Find Progressive Approaches to Copyright
- Creators: Save in as Open a Format as Possible
- Dealers: Invent New Economic Models
- Sponsors: Fund the Preservation of Born-Digital Culture
- Academics: Educate, Engage, Debate
- Historians: Challenge Conventional Wisdom about Social Memory
Additional Questions to Consider
- What assumptions about preservation did you have prior to reading Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory? Were those thoughts supported by Rinehart and Ippolito? Or, did they present you with new ideas to consider?
- How, as emerging historians and public historians, can we best integrate the ideas presented by Rinehart and Ippolito into our own work? What is your biggest takeaway from Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory?
- Thinking of your own work and previous class experience, how have you seen new media impact social memory? How does this compare to Rinehart and Ippolito’s analysis?
- How does Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory fit with the other works we have read over the course of this semester?
- Which aspect of Rinehart and Ippolito’s 12-step approach surprises you the most? Why?
- If you were to write an updated version of this work (2014), what elements would you add?