In the digital art preservation field, we are in the middle of a crisis between contents versus containers. This is a crisis of substance, material substance opposing to conceptual/intentional substance of the artwork. What do we want? That all resources be directed towards to the preservation and storage of the original devices? Or, that each time it is exhibited, the artwork be constantly updated and adapted to new versions of hardware and software ? In other words, should we preserve the material (hardware/software) or the intent?
There is no answer, yet. Or, if there are answers, they are as multiple as are artworks.
That’s why we have seen the emergence of new hybrid forms of conservation and restoration in museums. Indeed, more and more museums take the initiative, with the consent of the artist, to make new versions of digital work. They provide a unique incarnation of the concept of the work. In many cases, the original work is preserved with strategies such as migration or storage, and the museum makes in parallel a new installation based on the intent of the initial installation.
This hybrid form of preservation reveals a trend in the profession toward new dynamic practices, putting aside the practical “frozen time” in favor of the “dynamic time” and therefore of dynamic preservation.
The ZKM museum has experimented this new strategy for its last exhibition Digital Art Conservation, as seen in the 2009 renovation of the 1991 work Karlsruhe Moviemap, by Michael Naimark. The strategy is also evident in a series of new interviews of contemporary artists I have been conducting for the Variable Media Questionnaire, a free online tool for documenting how works might change when their original media expire.
As a 2012 Still Water Research Fellow, I look forward to bringing these perspectives to my upcoming research this spring at the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe.