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An Endless Ladder: The Preservation of Digital Interactive Artworks


Compared with more traditionally oriented mediums of artistic creation, art that is time-based, technologically specific, site specific, and intended to be “permanent” poses unique challenges when considering its potential longevity. Institutions engaged in holding digital cultural objects must address the same problems of technological obsolescence that have been central within the development of digital technologies generally, as well as similar questions of physical preservation that arise in the conservation of any cultural object. Such works require rigorous and specific ongoing maintenance while also contributing significant economic stresses to the collecting capacities of the institutions that hold them. John Luther Adams’ The Wind Garden and The Place Where You Go To Listen, with which I continue to be closely involved, face very real and complex problems for their continued existence. Both of these works rely on a computing architecture which, given enough time, will cease to run on any computer without significant translation and redesign. While both works have institutional affiliations, the former as part of the Stuart Collection at the University of California, San Diego, and the latter under the auspices of the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North, each demands a continuous allocation of knowledge, resources, and attention that outstrips either institutions’ abilities to simply “hold” them as they would more traditional media. Similar questions of conservation and longevity are currently being asked by the Nam June Paik Art Center regarding the future of Paik's Something Pacific, and other related works by Paik. In discussing the specifics of my own co-creation of these works, I address the wide array of issues surrounding the genesis and preservation of this type of work, including problems of the very definition of a work’s “objecthood”, the economic, technological, and cultural forces that threaten our ability to preserve this work, our cultural conceptions of “permanence”, and the various philosophical binds encountered by other related artworks.

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