Internet Week New York ended Monday with a bang (or a shutdown prompt?) at the 16th Annual Webby Awards Ceremony, where SHOWstudio garnered its second Webby for Best Fashion Web Site.
Among the luminaries, founders, and filmmakers accepting awards were Spike Lee, Bjork, and New York Mayor Bloomberg. Although, some of the biggest rounds of applause were directed at apps like Dropbox and Instagram (appropriate given the crowd, and which we lovingly use here at SHOW.)
Before descending on awards night, various industry leaders, engineers and internauts led panels, parties, and workshops at the cavernous Internet Week headquarters on Mercer Street, SoHo, through the previous week.
The talk that resonated most with me and the work we do here at SHOWstudio, was called Digital Galleries. Led by Julia Kaganskiy of The Creators Project, the discussion traversed art on the web, and issues of collecting, curating, and preserving it. The gems of the talk were questions raised around digital art’s context, ownership, and, ultimately, its limits.
Relaunching 10 years’ worth of SHOWstudio content was no small feat (and we’re still in the process of republishing archive projects). Not only did we need to find right design that most elegantly and respectfully displayed a wealth of media, which our designer so aptly provided.
A massive task lay in the collation of archive content that was very much published in the context of its technical capabilities and how people used the web at the time. Images were optimised and saved for web at sizes and resolutions we’d now consider thumbnails. Interactives were built often requiring proprietary software and plugins that current browsers no longer support. Some pages elluded us, despite links and references. Databases were queried, archives mined.
While ground breaking in their time, the very context some of our born-digital works were created within now rendered them obsolete.
Questions arose. Do we rebuild interactives that no longer display? Or, do we respect the original work better by simply providing links to plugins where possible? Do we display low-res images and video where originals were not found? Design wise — do we replicate the original look and structure of web based projects like Experiments in Advertising, or do we grab the content and reconfigure? How much of the context is the art? Can we rebuild a medium to fit the message?
According to Whitney curator Christiane Paul, museums and institutions take on the responsibility to preserve and archive work (for example, something that’s only visible in Netscape 3).
Not all artists working with technology are so lucky. Works the V&A collect harken back to the 60s, when visual artists created some of the first computer art. Sadly, much older material is locked inside pandora-esque boxes — archived technology whose user manuals, in the minds of engineers long dead — remain inaccessible.
Does the future bode ill for web-based art as well? Optimisticly, Paul suggests if more of us have access to older browsers again (via the Cloud), we’ll be able to experience these works again.
That would be exciting for some of our older interactives, but what about projects which aren't simply a file? For example, Nick Knight's Pussycat Pussycat project ran through Tumblr. Again, this is a deeply contextual work developed on a social media platform. If Tumblr fades away, how much of Knight's project will too, and how does one save it?
In an age when digital art gains value via shares/like metrics (not just the pricetag the art market ascribes it), it's difficult to know if value is lost when the medium becomes obsolete, bought out, or old hat.
Perhaps it is still in the hands of institutions to preserve work such as this, but many major institutions are looking to projects like the Google Art Project to house their work online. Interestingly, the project's Data Lead Piotr Adamczyk mentioned that often, Google can provide the “best” image of an artwork anyone can see online. In their archival processes, the images they take are better than many museums could provide on their own web sites.