Sometimes it is nice to attend a symposium and come away feeling somewhat relieved about the complexities of one's own work. This was my experience in attending Future Proof, a symposium organized by LIMA and hosted at the Stedelijk Museum of Schiedam to discuss the state of the art in the preservation of digital artworks. In this blogpost some highlights and reflections on how this relates to the preservation of games and web content.
Documenting a work
A group of media art conservators, artists and archivists gathered to exchange knowledge and experiences concerning the state of the art on the preservation of new media art. The complexities continue to be manifold: hardware obsolescence, software dependencies, variations in versioning, etc. Sabine Himmelsbach from, Basel-based HeK, referred to born digital as "born-already-almost-obsolete", they therefore include in their acquisition of born digital works a documentary about the work. It shows once again that documentation is taking a much more prominent place in the preservation of a new media work then it did in 'traditional' media. This is also why I got to present our work on Let's Play videos as a documentation effort. A workshop on day two, dedicated to the topic of documentation, showed all the different forms that this documentation can take: floorplans, technical drawings, artist interviews, descriptions, photographs, videocaptures, etc.
Re-interpretation of a work
From the very start of the symposium, the introduction of Gaby Weijers director of LIMA, it was clear that subjectivity is embraced more and more by artists and conservationist alike. In most cases the attempt in conservation is no longer to objectively preserve the artwork's specific manifestation at a certain point in time, but just as much about evaluating its manifold manifestations in the present and considering future versions of the work. Jon Ippolito, a digital preservation expert and artist, considered the two main approaches to art preservation. One is to go back to the original source, the other to strife to manifest a work's potential. Both however have a platonic ideal of a work at their core to which one must get back. Instead, Ippolito argues, why not consider time as vertically layered, and instead of 'going back' realize that things must be 're-collected' or re-interpreted every few years. That subjectivism was also clearly present in artist Josef Gründler's presentation on his work "Minimundus" in which he made adorable miniature versions of iconic electronic artworks.
Reinstating a work
With modern art the advantage is that the artist is mostly still around and he or she can be involved in reinstating the work or making necessary adjustments, a process that was referred to as “conservation conversation”. Reinstalling a work in a different context with cooperation from the artist actually creates an opportunity to finetune the documentation of a work and determine the freedom curators have to make adjustments. Arthur van Mourik from Centraal Museum Utrecht illustrated this by explaining how they are working to reinstall a commissioned, location-based work by Pipilotti Rist, called Expecting (2011), in a completely different setting by working with the artists’ technician and the artist. Similarly, Geert Mul, whose retrospective exhibition features at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, works in close collaboration with researcher Claudia Roeck (part of the NACCA research project) to determine Shan Shui (2013)'s significant properties.
From ‘works’ to ‘productions’
So back to the day-to-day of game and web preservation, what can we learn from the current trends in art preservation? Well, first of all archived game and web productions need to be accessed, exhibited, displayed in short: used, in order for the archive to better understand the dynamic nature of a production now and into the future. Second, productions need to be documented more extensively if one is to understand their dynamic, complex nature. Thirdly, we need to combine a mix of approaches in modern day preservation, from emulation, to different styles of documentation to re-coding and reinstalling based on a production’s significant properties. The key difference? Somehow in game and web preservation it seems that the maker is not considered an ‘artist’ and her or his opinion on the preservation is not considered as much. A game, when designed well, is mostly intuitive and self-explanatory and can be archived more ‘as is’. I think it’s one of the things that makes preserving games complicated, but still far less complex than preserving art.