Forging the Future

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Forsyth osu Synchronous Objects ProjectStill Water Senior Researcher John Bell presents the third-generation Variable Media Questionnaire at the 2010 International Symposium on Electronic Art.

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Jon Ippolito’s presentation “Learning from Mario: Crowdsourcing Preservation” from last March’s DOCAM conference in Montreal has been meshed and is now available online. The essay makes the provocative argument that preservation professionals should be taking cues from the amateur fans who keep vintage games alive.

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Art of Digital London logoOctober’s “Art of Digital London” workshop presented Forging the Future’s latest preservation tools to representatives of arts organizations including the British Library, the Hornsey Unlibrary, FACT Liverpool, and Wikimedia UK. Jon Ippolito demo’d the new Variable Media Questionnaire and Metaserver via teleconference at this event organized by Mute magazine’s Simon Worthington.

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Ruhr 2010 LogoForging the Future’s latest tool for rescuing digital art from the ravages of technical obsolescence will be demo’d to European audiences for the first time when Still Water Senior Researcher John Bell presents at ISEA 2010 in Germany this August.

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Still Water Senior Researchers John Bell and Craig Dietrich join Nicole Starosielski, Vanessa Vobis, and Jon Ippolito in the online presentation “Avoiding a Cultural Bottleneck: Networked, Distributed, and Agile Collaborations” as part of the HASTAC 2010: Grand Challenges and Global Innovations Conference. The projects presented include the Metaserver and other projects of Forging the Future.

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On April 10th at Harvard’s Sackler Museum, Christiane Paul of The New School and Whitney Museum of American Art presents Forging the Future as part of her presentation “New Media beyond the White Cube: Preserving Digital Art.”

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I’m on my way back from the final DOCAM conference in Montreal this week, trying to catch my breath from this two-day banquet of variable media research served up by the formidable Alain Depocas and his dedicated crew (Ludovic, Sophie, Catherine, et al.).

Over the past five years, DOCAM has pumped out gobs of deep research on documentation and preservation, including dozens of juicy case studies of artworks endangered in all kinds of delicious ways. Here are a handful of the myriad vulnerabilities that emerged from DOCAM’s case studies.

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Forging Logo Thought thuForging the Future has just launched its own Mesh–a set of documents linked by ThoughtMesh software–on the topic of variable media and preservation. The Mesh includes seventeen essays from the book Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach, making this acclaimed publication accessible to even more readers, and automatically linking it to other texts on preservation published across the Web.

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Docam LogoThe third-generation version of the Variable Media Questionnaire, an instrument developed by Still Water’s John Bell and Jon Ippolito to help guide the future of artworks endangered by technical and cultural obsolescence, will be launched publically this March at the 2010 DOCAM conference in Montreal.

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Two recent stories on conserving contemporary art speak to how removed museums and foundations are from the “proliferative preservation” of digital creators. The New York Observer writes about a Whitney Museum taskforce created to police the replication of art via exhibition copies, and their headline says it all: Copy That! Wait, Don’t.

Meanwhile an article from The New York Times, How to Conserve Art That Lives in a Lake?, revisits the conservation issues of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which following a period of high water levels in the Great Salt Lake re-emerged encrusted with salt.

Authors of both articles raise some fundamental questions about conservation:

“What counts as a replica? Who has the authority to produce one?” (NY Observer)

“And if any conservation plans were to go forward, then the really complicated work would begin: trying to figure out what Mr. Smithson would have thought about it.” (NY Times)

As noted by Berkeley’s Richard Rinehart, these are among the exact questions asked by the Variable Media Questionnaire, whose third iteration is being built by Still Water under the aegis of the Forging the Future alliance.

Rinehart and I are also co-authoring a book from MIT Press with the working title of New Media and Social Memory, which speaks to the issue of proliferative preservation. The New York Times reports that some visitors to the Spiral Jetty “borrowed” some of its stones to make tiny jetties of their own, or in one case to spell out the word BEER.

Regardless of how you may feel about this “contamination” of Smithson’s work by the hands of ordinary viewers, New Media and Social Memory argues that digital media allow a both/and preservation dynamic. If they were digital artifacts, both Bob Smithson’s and Bob Schmo’s version of Spiral Jetty could co-exist peaceably.

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