Besides The Screen, Panel 3

Vaults, Archives, Clouds and Platforms:
Archiving and Preservation in the 21st Century
King’s College, London, UK (2 – 3 July 2018)

‘Mouchette’: Preserving a Born-Digital Artwork

Karin de Wild & Martine Neddam

‘’ is an artwork that appeared on the World Wide Web in 1996 and is still there today. This presentation will reveal challenges and possible solutions for its long-term preservation and accessibility of its born-digital content. The challenges that will be addressed include the sustainability of the digital data (how to actively re-write code and keep the work ‘live’ in the Web), documentation (how to create instructions for maintenance according to the artist intend), storage (of the work, its evolving network and reception), and accessibility (the development of interfaces to give access to the data).

This paper will shortly introduce the social live of ‘’. How did the artwork unfold over time? And is it possible to continue to change after the artwork is collected by the museum? After that it will examine different preservation strategies. It will explore the artist’s concept of ‘generative preservation’, a collaboration between Martine Neddam, programmers, librarians, and archivists. Instead of keeping the artwork in its ‘original’ form, this initiative aims to preserve its ability to grow and expand. It will also look at Rhizome’s effort to restore a part of ‘Mouchette’, on view in a remote browser as part of the exhibition ‘Net Art Anthology’ (2016-2018). And how the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam acquired ‘Mouchette Version 01’, receiving a timestamped, digital archive of the artwork, which includes all data until the date of acquisition (2016). The presentation will conclude with comparing these different preservation strategies and what their outcomes could mean for the future of this artwork.

Karin de Wild is an art historian and curator interested in the influence of digital technology on art, museums and cultural memory. She obtained a Master in Heritage Studies at the VU University and the University of Amsterdam. After working as a curator for a Dutch private collection, she is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Dundee under supervision of Dr Sarah Cook and Prof Wendy Moncur. In 2016, she co-curated (with Liza Swaving and Prof Wayne Modest) the international conference “Digital Horizons, Virtual Selves: Rethinking Cultural Heritage in the Museum” at the National Museum of World Cultures (Leiden, The Netherlands).

Martine Neddam is an artist, researcher and assistant professor at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy for fine arts and design (Amsterdam), who uses language as raw material. Since 1996, she creates virtual characters who lead an autonomous artistic existence in which the real author remains invisible, among others ‘Mouchette’ (1996) and David Still (2001). In 2013 she has started to develop her own software ‘MyDesktopLife’, supported by the ZKM | Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe). Her work was exhibited in among others La Biennale de Montréal (2011), Whitechapel Gallery (London, 2016) and the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, 2018).


Panel 3

Chair: Sarah Atkinson

  1. ‘Mouchette’: Preserving a Born-Digital Artwork (Karin de Wild, Dundee and Martine Needam)
  2. Presentation and context in the net art archive:  the interface and infrastructure of Rhizome’s ArtBase (Lozana Rossenova, London South Bank University)
  3. Documenting Software Performances in the Long-term Preservation of Software-based Art (Tom Ensom, King’s College, London)
  4. Preserving and teaching electronic literature: the “Shapeshifting Texts” exhibition (Daniela Cortes Maduro, Centro de Literatura Portuguesa)

Presentation and context in the net art archive: the interface and infrastructure of Rhizome’s ArtBase

Lozana Rossenova

This paper will present findings from a collaborative PhD research project at London South Bank University (London, UK) and Rhizome (New York, US), focusing on the challenges associated with presenting and contextualising born-digital art in online archives. The primary case study of this research is the ArtBase archive, established in 1999 at Rhizome. While often described as an archive or a collection dedicated to preservation, the Artbase was notable for its collaborative curatorial model, which focused on community-building and interaction among users. This early model continued to inform the presentation of artworks throughout various iterations of the archival interface design, but documenting the complex requirements of born-digital and networked artworks – including dependencies on specific software/hardware environments, particular user interactions and/or changes over time – remained a challenge for standard content management systems.

The paper will briefly trace the historic development of collection policies, management strategies and software solutions with regards to the ArtBase archive and will focus on the current implementation of a Wikibase instance. While acknowledging the challenges of working with open source, community-driven software, this paper will also explore the potential of Wikibase to provide a long-term sustainable solution for storing, organising and querying structured archival and preservation data. Finally, the paper will discuss the inherent affordances of the Wikibase data model and the application of linked data federation, which could provide the flexibility needed to accommodate the pluralistic, non-canonical information resulting from the ArtBase’s early history in collaboration and experimentation.

Lozana Rossenova is a London-based designer and researcher. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for the Study of the Networked Image at London South Bank University and her research is a collaboration with Rhizome, a leading international born-digital art organisation based in New York. Lozana’s research work with CSNI and Rhizome aims to address questions relating to accessibility, performativity and user interaction/participation in the context of the archive of born-digital art. Lozana holds a BFA in Studio Art from Adelphi University, New York (US), and an MA from the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading (UK). Lozana is also a visiting lecturer at the University of Reading.

Documenting Software Performances in the Long-term Preservation of Software-based Art

Tom Ensom

Software-based artworks (i.e. those for which software is the primary artistic medium) present new challenges for those engaged in the long-term term care of digital and time-based media art. The software at the heart of these artworks resists object-centric or stabilising preservation strategies. When a software-based artwork is realised in time and space the process is more akin to a performance: encoded instructions act as a score, guiding the actions of a computer system and resulting in some tangible behaviour or output. The systems underlying the performance may consist of many interrelated parts, often with inextricable links to a changing socio-technical environment.

In this paper, I will explore how software-based artworks might be preserved by focusing on the restaging of software performances through time. In particular, I will discuss the ways in which appropriate documentation is crucial in supporting this process and ensuring that an artworks identity is maintained between performances despite a degree of change. The paper reports on practice-led research which has centered on the close study of a set of artwork case studies from the Tate collection. Addressing the variety of challenges posed by these artworks has necessitated a novel synthesis of theory from the fields of digital preservation, software engineering and conservation theory. The resulting insights are now being put directly into practice in the development of documentation strategies at Tate, but also have relevance outside the institution for scholars, artists and other groups engaging with performative and ephemeral digital media.

Tom Ensom is a London-based digital conservator, and is currently in the final stages of his PhD at King’s College London and Tate. His PhD research has developed approaches to the analysis, description and representation of software-based artworks in the context of their conservation and long-term preservation. The outcomes directly address a number of gaps in existing conservation practice and offer a significant contribution to the emerging field of software preservation more generally. Prior to starting his PhD, Tom worked in digital archives, holding a number of research and development related positions at the UK Data Archive. Tom’s primary research interests relate to the preservation of complex digital things, particularly those falling within the domain of cultural memory institutions and including (but not limited to) time-based media artworks and video games.

Preserving and teaching electronic literature: the “Shapeshifting Texts” exhibition

Daniela Côrtes Maduro

Digital literary works are frequently described as fragile artifacts endangered by digital obsolescence. According to Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop, “[m]any pioneering works of electronic literature are now largely inaccessible because of changes in hardware, software, and platforms” (2017). These “changes” impact individual works and, by extension, the entire field of electronic literature. Between 2015 and 2017, I have developed a project aimed at tracking shifts in this field. Besides having into account the shapeshifting process undergone by digital texts in the course of a reading session, I also focused on the way researchers and institutions respond to mutations in the field of electronic literature. Some of these scholars have created archives, labs and directories, as well as exhibitions, in order to promote the study of electronic literature and increase the lifespan of digital works.

In 2016, I curated the “Shapeshifting Texts” exhibition which introduced electronic and experimental literature to a heterogeneous community of researchers focused on the study of digital media (this exhibition took place during the “International Conference on Digital Media and Textuality”, Universität Bremen). With this paper, I aim to demonstrate how exhibitions contribute to the preservation of digital works. Besides increasing electronic literature readership – and thus, postponing the disappearance of digital works – exhibitions usually present a unique opportunity to experience works that have become unreadable or require a specific configuration to be experienced (Maduro, 254: 2017). The “Shapeshifting Texts” exhibition is now available online. This gallery is not only an archive, but also a platform dedicated to the study of electronic literature. During this presentation, I will refer to the process of curating and maintaining this shapeshifting gallery. I will also explain how it can be used as a teaching tool, therefore contributing to the preservation of the literary works on display.

Maduro, Daniela Côrtes. “Curating ‘Shapeshifting Texts.’” Digital Media and Textuality: from Creation to Archiving, edited by Daniela Côrtes Maduro. Bielefeld: [transcript] Verlag, 2017, pp. 253-269.

Moulthrop, Stuart and Dene Grigar. Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.

Daniela Côrtes Maduro holds a master degree in Anglo-American studies and a PhD degree in Materialities of Literature awarded by the University of Coimbra. From 2015 to 2017, she was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions postdoctoral fellow at the Universität Bremen. She has been invited to co-curate several exhibitions about electronic and experimental literature. In 2017, she edited the anthology Digital Media and Textuality: from Creation to Archiving, [transcript] Verlag, Bielefeld, Germany. She is a member of the team responsible for the creation of the digital archive of Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet and the curator of the “Shapeshifting Texts” exhibition (Universität Bremen, 2016). Currently, she collaborates with the Center for Portuguese Literature (University of Coimbra) and the Figures of Fiction research group. As a member of this group, she became a contributor to the online Dictionary of Portuguese Fiction Characters.

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