Keeping Ephemerality Alive

Keeping Ephemerality Alive (Summary)

Tina Mariane Krogh Madsen: Keeping Ephemerality Alive: Preserving the Dynamic Materiality of Net Art, Master thesis, Department of Art History, University of Aarhus, August 2010.

This thesis is a thorough analysis and discussion of how the dynamic materiality of net art is a challenge to the traditional static preservation approaches, which are still present in the art museums today. The thesis analyses and discusses different theoretical views and cases of net art preservation, with a goal to find the best strategy to preserve these dynamic net artworks. Net arts dynamic materiality provides some practical problems in preservation, where it is necessary to look at the artworks variability in the process. It is also important to consider whether it is a part of the net artworks strategy to be preserved, or if it is supposed to dissolve and fade away on the internet as a natural part of the works ephemerality.

In the thesis the dynamic materiality of net art is exemplified by media theorist Lev Manovich as a new kind of media avant-garde, that uses and reuses existing works and other net-materials as active parts of the artworks materiality. This I have exemplified by theorists Jay D. Bolter and Richard Grusin’s theory of Remediation and Nicolas Bourriaud’s theory of Post-production. There is in addition a focus on how interaction and emergence plays an active role in this materiality.

The thesis concludes that the most appropriate conservation strategy for net art is to keep the work alive for the user to interact with: e.g. by periodic migration, so the code keeps working or by reinterpretation of the artwork as an idea based on a score that can be performed again and again, with new technology. In this process the net artworks physical changes are accepted as a part of the process, as long as the work's conceptual ideas remain intact. However, both strategies are costly as updates should happen frequently or else the artwork becomes obsolete. If a net artwork is of such dynamic nature that it is impossible to preserve, then it is possible to preserve the artwork through documentation, as with performance art. The Net Archives time specific emulations of the internet can then be useful documentations of the net artworks constitute pieces.

Before museums can maintain the digital heritage, they must redefine themselves in the light of digital culture and recognize new roles and new preservation strategies in this process. This also includes a discussion regarding where the best place is to preserve the dynamic net art. The thesis also has a Nordic view on the museums relationship with net art. Here the Nordic institutions are far from ready to implement net art and only one institution, who already engages in performance and inter-media art works, seems prepared to undertake this task in the future.

The thesis concludes by suggesting a preservation plan in five steps for dynamic net art, with special focus on interviewing the artist in a similar way to the Variable Media Network, a thorough analysis of the artwork with a preservation view and a focus on the art works interactivity and dynamic materiality.

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