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Thursday, May 31 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Electronic Media) Archiving Computer-based Artworks

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Art museums throughout the world have been acquiring computer-based artworks with increasing confidence. As artist-created hardware and software enters museum collections, it presents unique challenges for long-term preservation. Conservation staff at these institutions face urgent questions about appropriate materials to collect related to these works and how to define their technical, functional, and conceptual constituents.

The Guggenheim acquired its first computer-based artwork in 1989, Jenny Holzer’s Untitled, a colossal LED sign installed in the museum’s rotunda. Since that time, the collection has expanded to include examples of artist-created websites, custom-made microcontroller units, artist-modified computers, and installations involving video games. As a part of the museum’s initiative to “Conserve Computer-based Art” (CCBA) in its collection, this paper takes a critical look at the physical and digital elements that museums retain or generate in order to archive and preserve their computer-based artworks.

Drawing from the Guggenheim’s own CCBA collection survey and back-up project, which encompasses artworks from a range of ages and employing a variety of technologies, the paper provides an overview of collected digital assets and documentation, investigates crucial archival elements that are missing in hindsight, and proposes elements that museums should consider obtaining or creating now in order to sustain the collection life of their software- and computer-based artworks.

The paper will devote particular attention to: disk imaging of artist-provided computers, web servers, and removable media (such as floppy disks and CDs); measures that can be taken to enable future access to these disk images; capturing metadata about the hardware and software that an artwork depends upon to function; exploring instances where obtaining source code alone proves insufficient to sustain the life of an artwork; and the importance of technical and descriptive metadata for future migration or emulation of a work. Where relevant, the research draws from the knowledge and experience of the allied fields of computer science, library science, archival studies, and digital preservation. The paper highlights how understanding the practices of these fields as well as engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration becomes essential for conservators to fulfill their mandate as stewards of computer-based art.

avatar for Jonathan Farbowitz

Jonathan Farbowitz

Associate Conservator of Time-Based Media, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jonathan Farbowitz is currently the Associate Conservator of Time-Based Media at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he cares for the film, video, audio, slide, and software-based artworks in the Met's collection. He is also an Adjunct Professor in New York University’s Moving... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm MDT
Briargrove Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston