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Publications

The Gentle Wind Doth Move Visibly

The Gentle Wind Doth Move Visibly,” in Silvia Rocciolo, Lydia Matthews, Eric Stark, Frances Richard, eds., I Stand in My Place with My Own Day Here: Site-Specific Art at The New School (Duke University Press, 2019)

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Projects

Code, Craft & Catalogues: Arts in the Libraries: 2019

On March 9, 2019, I partnered with the Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York to host a half-day symposium on arts in the libraries. [Photos by Aidan Grant + Neta Bomani]:

What role do the arts and design play in today’s libraries? Our major public institutions frequently commission high-profile public art, some libraries feature dedicated exhibition space, and artists and designers have long drawn inspiration from archival and library collections. Yet today, as we access and create knowledge through an expanding array of designed platforms and interfaces, infrastructures and algorithms, aesthetic operations are integral to the core services that libraries provide. We see a growing number of library- and archive-based artists’ residencies and exhibitions, and expanding interest in more sustained collaborations across the library and art worlds. In this symposium we gather librarians, artists, designers, and representatives from allied fields to examine recent examples of library-centered creative practice, discuss the mutual benefits of such collaborations, and propose new models for growing and sustaining these partnerships.

Live-documentation provided by Neta Bomani & Cybernetics Library.

Presenters included: Greta Byrum, Toisha Tucker, Salome Asega, Anni Vartola, Laura Norris, Jussi Parikka, Ilari Laamanen, Trent MillerJer ThorpBurak Arikan, Kameelah Janan Rasheed

Event program

Videos:

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Design by Johanna Lundberg:

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Publications

Scaffolding, Hard and Soft: Media Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures

Scaffolding, Hard and Soft: Media Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures” In Jentery Sayers, Ed., The Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities (Routledge, 2018) [unedited draft with slides available here]

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Publications

Preservation Aesthetics

Preservation Aesthetics: An Interview with Shannon Mattern” (interviewed by Trevor Owens) The Signal: Digital Preservation – A Library of Congress Blog (June 9, 2014).

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Blog

Light and Looms and Libraries: Three Months in Galleries

The past three months have been quite a rush; they encompassed the end of the fall semester, a move to a new apartment, the holidays, another move to Germany for the first half of my Spring 2016 fellowship at the Bauhaus, a few completed articles (on information infrastructures, infrastructural aesthetics, and index cards), several public talks (on media furnishings, epistemological design, sensing infrastructure, and library design), lots of advising, and a completed book manuscript. Still, I managed to squeeze in a few hours in galleries:

First, to celebrate the submission of fall grades, I stopped by Little Sister (Is Watching You, Too), curated by my colleague Christiane Paul, @ Pratt Manhattan Gallery:

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Augustine Kofie’s “Inventory” — office-supply assemblages and Charles-Sheeler-meets-the-Constructivists media-archaeological collages — @ Jonathan Levine:

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Walid Raad — deconstructions of the exhibitionary complex, anti-archives, Baldessari-meets-Forensic-Architecture bullet-hole mappings, etc.– @ MoMA:

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Some great “aesthetics of administration” stuff, especially from John Houck (whom I’d seen before at On Stellar Rays) and David Hartt, in MoMA’s “Oceans of Images” photography show:

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Also in December: “Alternative Unknowns” (Elliott Montgomery + Chris Woebken) @ Apex Art:

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Unknowns

Then in Berlin, in February: Anette Rose’s fantastic “Captured Motion” — the mechanical and human gestures of automated manufacturing — @ Haus am Lützowplatz:

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Back in New York in February: Hiroki Tsukuda’s “Enter the O” @ Petzel:

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Tauba Auerbach’s brilliant “Projective Instrument” — featuring a lovely assemblage of glass tools — @ Paula Cooper:

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Lari Pittman’s “Nuevos Caprichos” @ Gladstone:

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Penelope Umbrico’s excellent “Silvery Light” — which highlights both the indexical relationship between light and photography, and the derivative nature of iconic photos-of-light — at Bruce Silverstein:

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Also: “From Minimalism to Algorithm” @ the Kitchen and Doug Wheeler’s “Encasements” @ David Zwirner

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Then, Blooks — books that aren’t — at the Grolier Club and Gregory Crewdson’s “Cathedral of the Pines” at Gagosian:

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Crewdson

Mark Dion’s “Library for the Birds of New York” @ Tanya Bonakdar:

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The symbolism is quite obvious, but still charming. The gallery explains:

Central to the installation is an 11 foot high white oak, referencing a range of important philosophical and scientific constructs: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, and the evolutionary tree, which serves to illuminate the phylogenic system created by man to understand the structure of the biological world. “The Library for the Birds of New York” also includes artifacts of capture such as bird cages and traps, referencing hunting for the exotic bird trade. Other imagery is symbolic of death, extinction, and the classification of birds as pests or vermin. These historical categorizations position man atop an implied hierarchy, and are juxtaposed with a subtle insistence that birds possess knowledge outside of the human experience, rendering them fundamentally unknowable by man. The birds are uninterested in these objects; thus underscoring the absurdity of a manmade library for birds, which purports to school them in subjects such as geography, navigation, and the natural world, of which they inherently have full command.

Finally, Taryn Simon’s “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” — photos of the floral centerpieces at tables of monumental negotiations and signings-of-business-deals-and-international-agreements — @ Gagosian. I love this idea of the “floral witness.”

In Paperwork and the Will of Capital, Simon examines accords, treaties, and decrees drafted to influence systems of governance and economics, from nuclear armament to oil deals and diamond trading. All involve the countries present at the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, which addressed the globalization of economics after World War II, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In images of the signings of these documents, powerful men flank floral centerpieces designed to underscore the importance of the parties present. Simon’s photographs of the recreated centerpieces from these signings, together with their stories, underscore how the stagecraft of political and economic power is created, performed, marketed, and maintained.

Each of Simon’s recreations of these floral arrangements represents an “impossible bouquet”—a concept that emerged in Dutch still-life painting parallel to the country’s seventeenth-century economic boom, which ushered in the development of modern capitalism. Then, the impossible bouquet was an artificial fantasy of flowers that could never bloom naturally in the same season and geographic location. Now the fantasy is made possible—both in the original signings and in Simon’s photographs—by the global consumer market.

Yet I have to wonder: how much did it cost, and how much energy was expended, to source all those flowers?!

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Categories
Presentations

Archival Aesthetics @ Princeton-Weimar Summer School

Dieter Roth, Gartenskulptor, @ Hamburger Bahnhof
Dieter Roth, Gartenskulptor, @ Hamburger Bahnhof

I was delighted and honored to take part last week in the Princeton-Weimar Summer School on “Archive Futures” at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. The week featured lots of stimulating guest presentations by visiting faculty and some tremendously exciting doctoral student work. I gave a talk, on our penultimate day, on “Archival Aesthetics.” The first half focused on the aesthetics of the archive: its boxes, shelves, architectural spaces, and digital interfaces; and the second half focused on archival art: art that draws inspiration from the archive (…and that, in the process, represents some degree of diversity in gender, race, and class).

I’ll post my text and slides below.

I was the last faculty presenter of the week, so I wanted to make sure to tie together various threads of our ongoing discussion, and to make mention of the students’ projects when appropriate, to reaffirm for them that their work is part of this big, interdisciplinary, long-term dialogue. For those reasons, I decided to write out my comments, rather than allowing myself to extemporize — but still, I refrained from presenting an “argument” that the participants would merely respond to, and chose instead to offer up an assemblage of examples (in keeping with David Joselit’s notion of aesthetic “aggregation”) — some of which were intentionally problematic or provocative, and some of which even was annoyed by (<cough> Thomas Hirschhorn <cough>). I was hoping that these various projects — even the problematic ones —  could generate a discussion about what an archive is and does and can’t do, and who it’s for and not for, and what it feels like.

We had a long, heated, fruitful discussion — one that took turns I certainly hadn’t anticipated. At the bottom of this post, I offer some reflections on that conversation. For now, I’ll simply say that it’s left me wondering about the relationship between taste and “rigor.”

IKKM_ArchivalAestheticsSlides2 by on Scribd

Archival Aesthetics

[Note that the emboldened “codes” below — e.g., S2 — refer to slide numbers: S2 is Slide 2, S22 is Slide 22. You can figure out the rest.]

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By now, you’ve probably noticed that it’s necessary to begin with a disclaimer. I won’t disappoint. Since I’m the last in a long day – a long week – of cogent, coherent, compelling arguments by a coterie of esteemed scholars, and since I’m sure your cranial archives are filling up and the bodies they inhabit are wearing down, I’m going to take a few cues from Foster and Joselit, whose texts I encouraged you to read for today, and offer some fragmentary, indeterminate thoughts. Rather than taxing your brains by asking you to stick with me through a linear line of argument, I’ll instead aggregate some aesthetic examples that will, at the very least, I hope, give us some concrete “things to think with” – will allow us to reconsider some of the themes that have echoed through your projects and throughout our conversations over the past few days.

It’s probably safe to say that a rather small proportion of the population at large has been in an archive – a physical, place-based archive. Fewer still have ventured beyond the reading rooms – those realms of white gloves and ink embargos – and into the vaults. Given the general lack of popular empirical evidence of archives, it’s rather remarkable that their commonplace conception is so evocative, if also cliché. Rarely does one encounter a sentence in the popular press in which “archives” are not paired with “dusty boxes.” [S2] Dust: those same teeny-tiny particulates that have the power to defile and disable an entire microchip manufacturing operation, are, in the archives, an integral part of the operative logic and prevailing affect – at least in the “imagined archive.”

[S3] Lots of folks – John Ruskin, Burton Russell, Hannah Holmes, Steve Connor, Carolyn Steedman, and my colleague Eugene Thacker – have contemplated the ontological mysteries of dust, its temporal complexities, its poetic and epistemological powers: both blurring boundaries and revealing contours. And of course on Tuesday Daniel addressed the similar complexities of smoke. Dust, like smoke, is also multisensory: it’s something we see and smell and move through and inhale into our bodies, as Steedman reminds us. Those dusty boxes – timeworn though the image might be – also remind us that the archives (much like religious spaces, as Amanda knows) are spaces of embodied encounters.

[S4] This bears reminding, since there’s been relatively little consideration of what it’s like – empirically, aesthetically – to do archival work, either as an archivist or a researcher. That, I think, is why Farge’s highly tactile The Allure of the Archives received such a warm reception when it was translated into English in 2013, 24 years after its original publication. Farge offered an archival addendum to the already voluminous accounts of libraries as “alluring” aesthetic and affective environments. It’s really quite surprising how often, in our grand, capital ‘T’ Theories of “knowledge infrastructures,” we tend to balkanize intellectual labor and aesthetic experience.

I’ll share one short personal story: [S5] about a decade ago I was working on an essay about the 2006 renovation – a controversial retrofitting – of Alvar Aalto’s Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard’s Lamont Library. [Warning: lots of incoming air quotes.] The room was founded with a gift from Harry Harkness Flager, real estate investor and Standard Oil heir, in honor of his friend and former Columbia professor George E. Woodberry, who aimed to afford undergraduates an opportunity to experience the “delight and entertainment” of poetry outside the “chore of the curriculum,” where, under the influence of new approaches to criticism (particularly New Criticism), poetry was increasingly analyzed with a “rigorous empiricism” and mined for “facts.” [S6] My study examined how Aalto’s forward-thinking and fluid design – a warm, humanistic variation of Modernism – accommodated and symbolized the myriad material forms of poetry represented in the collection: manuscripts, little magazines, records, printed books, even poetry-inspired artwork. One of the reviewers of my article, however, claimed that my focus on “delight” and “entertainment” precluded poetry’s “significance”; to highlight aesthetic experience, my critic said, was to suggest that poetry is devoid of “intellectual or political engagement,” and to fail to acknowledge that “poets even think rationally.”

These were my pre-tenure years: I needed that peer-reviewed publication, and I had already waited well over a year for this irascible review. So, in my revision I took great pains to demonstrate that feeling – even, heaven forbid, pleasure and delight – is not inimical to rational thought. [S7] I also had to spend some time explaining, contra many preservationists’ claims, why, in the Poetry Room, computers weren’t “peripheral” technologies that marred the integrity of the design, and that they couldn’t simply be moved off-site so as to preserve the room’s classic aesthetic. At just over 1000 square feet the Poetry Room was one of the smaller media spaces I’ve focused on in my research, and its specific focus on poetry made its mission and audience particularly delimited. But even this small case study illustrates what I’ve tried to do with all of my research on media architectures (research very much inspired and informed by Lynn’s work): that is, to demonstrate how entwined infrastructures – architectural, technological, intellectual, social, etc. – embody certain politics and epistemologies. And this embodiment happens in large part through their aesthetics.

[S8:B] By aesthetics I don’t mean only beauty or sublimity, or a taste-based assessment of “look and feel.” I’m also referring to sensory contemplation, which is not separate from or opposed to the realm of the intellectual. Rather, aesthetics are an integral part of the research and teaching and scholarly fraternizing – as well as the processing and preservation, cataloguing and curating – that take place in archives and libraries. We need to acknowledge these aesthetics of experience, for both patrons and staff, as well as both on-site and online communities, both the local and the distributed.

Let’s take a look at a few examples in which the aesthetics of archival infrastructures inform archival practice – and shape the operative logics and politics of the institution or collection.

[S9] I’ll start with an easy and obvious example: the archival object itself. One of archival preservation’s central concerns is determining whether something has “intrinsic value” based on its “uniqueness…of informational content, age, physical format, artistic or aesthetic qualities, and scarcity” – and if so, then safeguarding the original item.[i] We saw yesterday at the Goethe-Schiller Archive the layers of meaning revealed by attending to the aesthetics of the document: its paper stock and format, the style of writing and the writing implement, the palimpsestic layering of drafts, etc. We saw on Monday the significance of a photobook’s distinctive material properties: its dimensions and layout, the tactility of its cover and haptics of its image reproductions. Tom’s voice mail collection also reminds me of the archival significance of the cassette tape. There’s been a resurgence of interest in tapes, and their potential researchers are interested just as much in the tapes’ distinctive hiss, the physics and gestures of their operation, the J-Card “cover art” and inserts, as they are in their recorded messages.[ii]

[S10] In an archive, those tapes would be stored in a box – but that box isn’t merely a holder-of-content. The box, too, shapes our archival experience. [S11] Consider Thomas Demand’s 1995 photograph, Archive (again, perhaps a too-obvious example), which highlights the standard modular unit of its namesake. The archival box’s monotonous gray (or grey-blue-green) is the defining “anti-aesthetic” of the stacks, informing our conception of the archive’s epistemological object. Yesterday, at the Goethe-Schiller Archive, we investigated the contents of mute gray-green folders inside a manila box, which was in turn enclosed in a surprisingly cheery blue tie-close box. I invite you to consider the affective and epistemological significance of all the untying and unboxing required to access the prized contents.

Demand, as you might know, uses “found” photographs of historically or culturally significant spaces – photographs, we might say, that are plucked from the collective-cultural image archive – to construct life-size models out of paper and cardboard. He then photographs those models before destroying them, thereby precluding the models’ preservation as aesthetic objects. And when we, Demand’s audience, look at the resulting photographs, what initially appears to be a banal setting soon turns uncanny. It’s too matte (or un-shiny), too sterile, too un-peopled, and, as we notice upon even closer inspection, devoid of details like door handles and electrical outlets. These spaces are too blankly generic to be real. The photographs document a fiction.

Demand’s process, it should be painfully obvious to everyone here, highlights the “constructedness” of the document.[iii] While Demand’s creative process obviously offers commentary on archival and historiographic process, here, of course, the creative content is archival, too. This particular photo, with all its unlabeled boxes, happens to depict a model of a photograph of the archive of Leni Reifenstahl. A headache-inducing hermeneutic tangle.

As a teacher, I often think about the pedagogical potential of the box en masse, too: when I take my students into archives’ back rooms and conservation labs, they start to grasp the scope of an institution’s collection and the breadth of formats it contains. As they scan the shelves and acclimate to the climate-controlled chill, they also begin to appreciate how value is attached to those materials – and just how much of it lives only in material form, and will likely not be digitized any time soon. [S12] I recently completed an article on library logistics, for which I examined the off-site shared print repository for the NYPL and Princeton and Columbia universities, which includes, among its 12.5 million items, some archival material. The facility’s carefully engineered un-design is striking. As Michael pointed out on Tuesday, the aesthetics of storage facilities, with their boxes en masse, embody a host of often competing epistemologies and politics of information. Here, the box is both a unit of knowledge and a trackable object on a shelf; the collection represents both a potential intellectual commons of tremendous scope and value, and a product subject to inventory management.

Such storage spaces are typically accessible only by staff – but let’s think also about the design of public, or researcher-accessible, archival facilities. [S13] Consider Neutelings Reidijk Architects’ 2006 Institute for Sound and Vision, a Dutch audio-visual archive in Hilversum, with its façade of televisions images molded, in relief, into multicolored glass panels – a pastiche of glitch aesthetics, TV imagery, and stained glass – and its ziggurat-like interior with “infernal” subterranean archives.[iv] [S14] Contrast this with Arlette Farge’s Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. [S15] And with Mass Design’s proposal for the Kigali Genocide Memorial archives, (a rather unattractive building, I must say,) where a “forest” of pillars will afford individuals private space in which to offer testimonials, recordings of which will then be preserved in the archives, along with documents and audio-visual materials from the Gacaca (gachacha) [genocide] Courts.[v] Cultivating the appropriate affective ambience is critical for a space like this, which aims to make the public an integral collaborator in building and activating the archives.

[S16:B] Digitization efforts also, ostensibly, bring larger and more diverse publics to the archive. Yet a large portion of archival patrons interact with collections without ever setting foot in the archival space. They “visit” solely through the archive’s website. Yet, surprisingly, only recently have archivists begun to pay attention to the usability and aesthetics of their web interfaces. Usability and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive concerns. Aesthetic choices in interface design inform workflow and intellectual labor, as Fabian has noted in his study of office forms. And as archivists Shaun Ellis and Maureen Callahan acknowledge, “our websites are actually a reflection of a whole ecosystem of tools, practices and attitudes within the library.”[vi]

[S17] Until recently, an “online finding aid” meant little more than a pdf of an archive’s original type- or hand-written guides, or a manuscript-length, item-by-item html-based outline of a collection’s contents. [S18] In 2013 a team from Princeton, including Ellis and Callahan, won the C.F.W. Coker Award from the Society of American Archivists for their design of an online finding aid that is, in the jury’s words, “elegant in its outward simplicity and robust in its search capabilities.” The archivists explained that their work began by “imagining an archives access system more in concert with what patrons have come to expect from the web” – hence, the single Google-esque search bar.[vii] The redesigned site allows users to directly access digital content through the catalog, [S19] to sort inventories and dig into deeper levels of metadata if they so choose, and to offer comments at every descriptive level – from the file to the series to the collection.[viii] And every level of the collection has its own unique URL.

[S20] NYPL Labs – the New York Public Library’s in-house tech development team – is testing other means of accessing the library’s archival and manuscript collections. Their Terms Explorer allows users to search across archival collections and map out relationships between people, places, and subjects. Their Detailed Description Mini Map helps you to drill down into a finding aid at a granular level, while still orienting yourself within the larger collection. [S21] You can also transform a finding aid list into a network diagram, or visualize “distant reading” across all the collections. What do you think are the larger implications of these new interface designs? How does it shape how we navigate the archive and understand its contents?

[S22] Yet there’s another way to think about archival aesthetics: in terms of archival art. As Hal Foster[ix] notes in his widely cited article on “the archival impulse,” which I’ve asked you to read, there are lots of artists who take inspiration from archival or library material, or from the archive- or library-as-institution. In addition to the individual artists that Foster mentioned, we have entire exhibitions and collections devoted to archival art: [S23] Haus der Kunst in Munich hosted Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, Archiving in Art in 1997, Okwui Enwezor curated Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art for the International Center of Photography in New York in 2008, and Sven Spieker’s The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy was published that same year.

In the time that remains I’ll “aggregate” a few concrete examples that grapple with some of the themes that animate your work, and that take up issues we haven’t had time to address. Perhaps Foster and Joselit, both prominent art historians, will offer us some conceptual tools to use – but I should note that I don’t expect us to adopt their models wholesale, or to worry over whether or not a particular work meets all the criteria of a Fosterian “archival platform” or a Joselittian “aggregate.” As I hinted at in a few of my comments earlier this week, I’m not one to deify the capital-T Theorist.[x] I think we can draw from their methods or concepts without necessarily buying into their whole program.

Last year I was invited to give one of the plenary addresses at the Library of Congress’s Digital Preservation conference, where we had representatives from the National Archives, the Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio, universities and museums, alongside data scientists from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the NSA: a reminder of the incredibly wide variety of archival forms and ideologies. I focused my comments on the aesthetics of preservation; I started by talking about the history of “destruction art,” then looked at a variety of artists who take up issues particularly pertinent to the “future archive” and its “time objects” and aggregated media forms. These artists often bring into stark relief the conventions of archiving and preservation practice, and propose new directions for that practice, by pushing protocols to their extreme, highlighting “snafus,” and creating “limit cases.” [S24] We have artistic examples of the self-erasing disk, the self-destructing file, the self-deteriorating page – for example, William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa (this work of course takes up themes that are central to Yasmin’s and Johan’s and Ella’s work). [S25] We also have digital artists who highlight the volatility of data models, net architecture and storage media by building intentionally irreverent, idiosyncratic, unstable archives, or by constructing hypertext narratives meant to disintegrate with advancing link rot.[xi] [S26] We have artists aestheticizing the hard drive and other storage technology, reminding us of the materiality of the digital object and of memory.[xii] [S27] We have artists highlighting the questionable veracity of emulation – a strategy used commonly in preserving “variable” media like video games and interactive art. We have artists transforming the processes of digital preservation and emulation into performances – archival “happenings” – and framing the documentation of those processes as aesthetic objects.[xiii] [S28] In aestheticizing the applications, affordances, failures and limitations of digital tools and techniques, these artists help to make manifest, perceptible – aesthetically experiential – the underlying values, tacit politics, and invisible “structuring structures” of our digital archives.

[S29:B] Yet even artists who aren’t working exclusively – or at all – in the digital realm, still pose questions that are pertinent to the future archive. One thing we haven’t discussed much this week, at least by name, is “community archiving,” which, according to archivist Terry Cook, reflects a move toward more “democratic, inclusive, holistic archives,” “listening much more to citizens than the state,” and “respecting indigenous ways of knowing.”[xiv] There are a number of artists working in the realm of “social practice” and “relational aesthetics” who engage with community archiving – not without much debate over both the aesthetic quality of the work and the integrity of their politics.

[S30] Take Theaster Gates, whose Dorchester Projects, a group of reclaimed buildings in Chicago that have been refashioned into a local arts-and-culture center that includes a slide lantern library acquired from the University of Chicago; book and LP collections acquired from the now-defunct Prairie Avenue Bookshop and Dr. Wax Records; and the library of John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines. [S31] The assemblage of media and architecture inspires its immediate South Side Chicago community, and the global audience that studies Gates’s work, to consider the significance of preserving others’ cast-off media, and of integrating these collections into a vibrant, multi-purpose community space. It also prompts us to consider the roles those specific materials (architecture books, “ethnic” publications) played in constructing Chicago’s – particularly Black Chicago’s — history, a history that other institutions had to “deaccession” in order for Gates to step in as its conservator.[xv]

[S32] Working with similarly disenfranchised populations is Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, whom Foster wrote about in his October article. In the late summer of 2013 a group of students and I trekked up to the Bronx – to the Forest Houses public housing complex – to see Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument, a compound, much like a low-lying adult tree-house, composed of plywood, plexiglass, and packing tape, and offered in homage to the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Throughout the summer the project, funded by the Dia Foundation and built by Hirschhorn and residents of the Forest Houses (who were paid $12/hour), had served as home to heady lectures, concerts, and art programs. As the New York Times’ Randy Kennedy put it, it’s an “inner-city intellectual Woodstock” composed of the “totems of a postapocalyptic garbage cult.”

[S33] The compound’s various platforms feature an arts workshop; a stage for presentations and performances; [S34] a restaurant with two-dollar burgers and one-dollar hot dogs and over-ripe bananas; [S35] a computer lab full of kids playing video games; [S36] an exhibition space featuring objects on loan from the Casa Museo di Antonio Gramsci in Sardinia and the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci in Rome; a radio station; a newspaper office where residents put out a daily photocopied edition; various seating areas; [S37] and an archive and library housing roughly 500 books on loan from CUNY’s Calandra Italian American Institute.

[S38] Hirschhorn supposedly met with folks at nearly 50 housing projects before he found a champion in Erik Farmer, president of Forest Houses’ Residents Association. Farmer appreciated not only the offer of temporary employment for his fellow residents, but also the potential to inject something new into the neighborhood:  “There’s nothing cultural here at all,” he said to the Times reporter. “It’s like we’re in a box here, in this neighborhood. We need to get out and find out some things about the world. This is kind of like the world coming to us for a little while.” Meanwhile, Hirschhorn must’ve felt he had found an ideal host in Farmer, who “was the only one who asked me to give him a book of Gramsci to read.”[xvi]

I must admit: the three of us felt rather sheepish about our intellectual-cultural tourism to the South Bronx, an area of the city each of us had visited only a handful of times in our many years in New York. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it was the archival impulse that drew us uptown. Here’s how Foster explains the draw of the archive: “archival artists seek to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present.”[xvii] They “elaborate on the found image, object, and text, and favor the installation format” and its “nonhierarchical spatiality.” They gravitate toward readymades, composed of objects “drawn from the archives of mass culture, to ensure a legibility that can then be disturbed or detourned, but they can also be obscure.” Much of this work is “relational” in nature, and thus adopts expression that is “far more tactile and face-to-face” than the uber-archive of the Web. These archives are “recalcitrantly material.” Work inspired by the archival impulse “not only draws on informal archives but produces them as well, and… in a way that underscores the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private.” [S39] And finally, it “arranges these materials according to a quasi-archival logic, a matrix of citation and juxtaposition, and presents them in a quasi-archival architecture, a complex of texts and objects (…platforms, stations, kiosks…).”

The Gramsci Monument — with its nonhierarchical circulation, its reclaimed materials, its bulbous nodes of packing tape and springy plywood platforms, its smells of grilled hot dogs wafting across the courtyard, its white plastic chairs arranged in clusters to foster conversation, its library shelves offering a mix of heady intellectual books and Ebony magazines — certainly bears out Foster’s description. Foster further proposes that Hirschhorn’s work is a response to, a “grotesquerie of,” our “immersive commodity-media-entertainment environment.”[xviii] [S40] These platforms offer the “intimation of utopian possibility, or at least a desire for systematic transformation” — new development atop the landfill borne from what Hirschhorn calls the collective “capitalist garbage bucket.” (We’d have to consider the specific ways in which that “garbage bucket” has spilled into the South Bronx.)

We’re not simply remixing and repurposing found texts and images and constructing readymades; nor are we simply rearranging archival materials. [S41] We’re also generating new materials, new knowledge, as is evidenced in the daily newspaper and ongoing radio broadcasts. [S42] While I was there, a group comprised of at least one Forest Houses resident, a former police officer, and an official Gramsci Monument worker (possibly a Forest Houses resident, too) spoke on-air about police brutality and stop and frisk, while periodically evoking Gramsci.

The Gramsci Monument is the fourth and final of Hirschhorn’s monuments; others for Spinoza, Bataille, and Deleuze appeared, for the most part, in the philosophers’ home countries, but apart from “official sites.” Gramsci gets stuck in the U.S., but he, too, is removed from its cultural capitals and finds himself situated in the Bronx. As Foster explains, “the radical status of the guest philosopher is matched by the minor status of the host community, and the encounter suggests a temporary refunctioning of the monument from a univocal structure that obscures antagonisms (philosophical and political, social and economic) to a counter hegemonic archive that might be used to articulate such differences.”[xix] [S43] More broadly, Hirschhorn “wants to expose different audiences to alternative archives of public culture, and to charge this relationship with affect” — with a mix of “love” and “politics,” as proclaimed on the basketball hoops we see here.[xx] “Hirschhorn applies these mixed means to incite his audience to (re)invest in radical practices of art, literature and philosophy — to produce a cultural cathexis based not on official taste, vanguard literacy, or critical correctness, but on political use-value driven by artistic love-value.”[xxi]

As much as I admire the mission, I just can’t help but read condescension in the rhetoric. I can’t get over that reference to the local population’s “minor status.” I can’t help but wonder if the Times’s Ken Johnson is right: if the Gramsci Monument is just “another monument to [Hirschhorn’s] monumental ego.” Yet in reading through the Monument’s extraordinarily text-heavy poster-size program, I found that Hirschhorn explains his relationship to the community in terms that are a bit less patronizing and actually rather redeeming:

I never use the term ‘participatory art’ in referring to my work, because someone looking at an Ingres painting, for instance, is participating, even without anyone noticing. I never use the terms ‘educational art’ or ‘community art,’ and my work has never had anything to do with ‘relational aesthetics.’ The Other has no specific ties with aesthetics. To address a ‘non-exclusive’ audience means to face reality, failure, unsuccessfulnesss, the cruelty of disinterest, and the incommensurability of a complex situation. Participation cannot be a goal, participation cannot be an aim, participation can only be a lucky outcome.

Participation here comes in many forms. As Hirschhorn admits, “I do not distinguish between a person who could be a ‘receptive participant’ and the person ‘hanging around.’” They’re all participating, and those myriad forms of participation are validated. Art blog Art F City  featured an illuminating post that drove this point home. They write:

[S44] The purpose of combining a computer room, art studio, radio station, newspaper room, philosophy library, kiddie pool, snack bar, and an open mic stage, is to validate any group cultural experience. Copies of People magazine sit across from a bookshelf of Marxist literature. A photo wall titled “Every book is important” shows kids holding up their favorite books, from textbooks to chick lit. It’s a living embodiment of Gramsci’s desire for proletariat liberation from cultural hegemony, and his credo: “Every human being is an intellectual.”

That liberation comes in many forms. The aforementioned blog post featured several interviews with local residents. Dannion Jordan, who was on the paid construction team, said, “You work on something like this, and after a while it’s not like a job…. You start thinking it’s your thing, too. I mean, I’m no artist, but I’m making a work of art here.” Forest Houses’ Erik Farmer explained to Kennedy that, while for Hirschhorn the project is a work of art, “[f]or me, it’s a man-made community center. And if it changes something here, even slightly, well, you know, that’s going in the right direction.” Local resident Cash explained, “The way I see it is they provided fifty jobs to the community, for one. For two, everybody looks forward to coming here. If it were up to me, I would have this every year.” Another resident said, “It kept people busy, people out of trouble. And focused on something positive instead of negative. You could tell there was a change.” And yet another experienced an aesthetic liberation: “And this is art. I never realized that art…it really changed my idea of what art could be. Art could be anything.” So can an intellectual. And maybe an archive, too.[xxii]

[S45] Artist Ann Hamilton likewise expands our notion of what constitutes, and doesn’t constitute, an archive. For her, the historical document is fully embodied and vital and social; in this way, her work parallels that of Diana Taylor, who draws a distinction between the text-based “archive” and the performance-based “repertoire.” Much of Hamilton’s work engages with the materiality and sociality of communication and historical artifacts, and how that materiality determines what constitutes a culture’s “archive.” [S46] Through the material abundance of her work, and through its lack of familiarity to what Foster calls typical “archival architectures,” Hamilton’s work allows its inhabitants to create new, unfamiliar, affective connections to history. It calls attention to the limitations of the official historical record and suggests means of refreshing the archive’s architectures and materials with alternative sources that don’t always readily lend themselves to classification or preservation.

“I’m very interested in the hierarchies of our habits of perception,” Hamilton says, noting in particular “our” prioritization of “the discursive structure of words” over other “ways of knowing.”[xxiii] Her work frequently questions the authority of the verbal and textual record. [S47] Aleph, for instance, includes a video close-up of Hamilton’s mouth, full of marbles, rendering her mute. [S48] For myein, she recited Lincoln’s second inaugural address in phonetic code and covered the inside walls of the Venice Biennale’s American Pavilion with a Braille translation of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States (1885-1915). Both pieces questioned the universality of language and called attention to the archive’s – and, in the latter case, American history’s – unheard voices. [S49] Meanwhile, indigo blue and tropos involved the “unmaking” of a book through erasure, or by burning away the text, line by line. Rather than an act of destruction, however, this unmaking represented a means of “clearing the field,” making room for another “material kind of telling.”[xxiv]

Hamilton seeks to evoke history’s “untold stories…through a material presence.”[xxv] [S50] In mattering, for instance, a person sitting in a perch draws up from the floor a long line of typewriter tape and “weaves” it around his hands. The gesture links mechanical production to handicraft, and, considered in light of the installation’s title, “mattering,” represents the transformation of materiality, and the human labor that produces it, into something that matters. Embodiment is entwined with epistemology ([S51] even her experiments with mouth-held pinhole cameras argue for an embodied record-making). Hamilton’s work addresses, in her words, “the way the body through physical labor leaves a transparent presence in material and how labor is a way of knowing.”[xxvi]

Hamilton uses quotidian materials – from bread to blue jeans to pink Pearl erasers – and a variety of media formats, to form inhabitable, multisensory “archival” landscapes. [S52] At her 2012 the event of a thread at the Park Avenue Armory, we find newspaper, 8 x 11” lined paper covered with handwriting, scrolls covered with typewritten text, pigeons (which once, like the horse, served as a vital means of transmission), vinyl-record-engravers, erasers, bells, bellows, [S53] radios, the voice. In these installations, which commonly engage the histories of their sites, she creates palimpsestic landscapes by layering sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture, then activating the scene with simple, repeated movements, or what Clark Lunberry calls “accretions of gesture.”[19] [S54]  indigo blue and tropos, as I noted earlier, involved someone sitting at a table, [S55] “unmaking” a book through erasure, by burning away the text, line by line. [S56] I took my graduate Archives + Libraries class to see the event of a thread, where several students commented on the various kinds of labor, or performance, represented in the installation. We had “official” participants, [S57] including the artist herself, reading and writing and erasing and singing and recording. And we, the visitors, gleefully labored on our swings to move a giant curtain strung across the center of the Armory. Again, our bodies, through their physical labor, marked their presence in the material and contributed to a larger epistemological project.

[S58] How do we preserve these transparent presences? How do we ensure those quotidian gestures, that invisible labor, those unheard voices are registered in the historical record? What defies recording and preservation? These are among the questions Hamilton’s work raises for me. She proposes that a history rooted not only in extraordinary events, but also in the everyday – its artifacts, sensations, labor, simple gestures – requires an archive that is embodied, material, and living.

[S59] Then again, what if there are aspects of the everyday that we simply don’t want to be recordable and preservable? Voices that don’t’ want to be heard, gestures that don’t want to be captured? Are you familiar with the Invisible Australians project? It cross-references documents generated through the Australian Immigration Restriction Act to piece together the identities – and posthumously grant subjectivity – to non-white residents who weren’t recognized as Australians. The ethics of this project – and of the clearly unethical government policies it aims to redress – are worth debating.

[S60] I’ll end with an example that’s quite the antithesis of invisibility and silence.

Camille Henrot’s 2013 video Grosse Fatigue is the exhaustive aggregative archive – a world tour and grand history of archaeology and epistemology. Joselit describes the aggregate as a platform that “stages cofrontations” between disparate, semi-autonomous items; it brings “unlike things” into a “common space” in order to “have their conceptual unevenness heightened.” The video, based on her 2013 artist’s residency at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., exploits the aesthetic of the interface to contrast different materialities and aesthetics of preservation: [S61] a fish in a preservative bath, tagged bird carcasses in a drawer, proliferating browser windows and books and magazines and hard drives stuffed with gifs – and even technicians working in a natural history museum’s preservation lab. [S62] Art historian Pamela Lee suggests that the “windows within windows within windows” layering of these analog and digital preservation systems – which we might say echoes of the boxes within boxes of the Goethe Archive – shows the “digital windows and screens” to be “just as flattened out and drained of life as all those sorry animals carcasses accumulating in cold storage.” [xxvii] We’re missing that accretion of material presence. The screen, she seems to be saying, despite its riotous chromaticism and propulsive rhythm, fails to provide a “cleared field” for us where we can submerge our hands in boxes, take pleasure in the intellectual labor of mind and body, inhabit the dust, and breathe.

 

[i] See Kimberly J. Barata, “Questioning Aesthetics: Are Archivists Qualified To Make Appraisal or Reappraisal Decisions Based on Aesthetic Judgments?” Provenance, Journal Of The Society Of Georgia Archivists 12:1/2 (1994).

[ii] Lisa Hix, “Cassette Revolution: Why 1980s Tape Tech Is Still Making Noise in Our Digital WorldCollectors Weekly (June 2, 2015).

[iii] See Thomas Demand: Constructing the AuthenticLouisiana Museum of Art, 2013.

[iv] See Shannon Mattern, “Infernal Archive: Media States of Matter in the Netherlands Institute for Sound and VisionFlow TV (May 21, 2010).

[v] See “Concept Developed to Build a State of the Art Gacaca ArchiveGacaca Community Justice (January 28, 2015).

[vi] Shaun Ellis & Maureen Callahan, “Prototyping as a Process for Improved User Experience with Library and Archives WebsitesCode4Lib 18 (2012).

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTgPl2jI390

[ix] Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse” October 110 (Fall 2004): 3-22.

[x] I don’t particularly care, in most cases, if I’m honoring the integrity of the Academic Sage’s gospel. Even our brilliant Theory Gods are still fallible humans – often driven by hubris, often prone to branded neologisms, often plagued with purple prose or a predilection for obfuscatory rambling – who have nevertheless done us a great service by bracketing and naming particular cultural phenomena, and offering us some potentially useful methods and concepts.

[xi] e.g., three.org‘s [Jon Ippolito / Janet Cohen / Keith Frank], “The Unreliable Archivist“; Olia Lialina’s “Anna Kerenin Goes to Paradise

[xii] e.g., Manuel Palou’s “5 Million Dollars 1 Terabyte” and Jason Loebs’s “Anthropomemoria

[xiii] e.g., JODI’s “Jet Set Willy Variations”; The New Museum’s XFR STN

[xiv] Terry Cook, “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms” Archival Science 13:2/3 (2013): 116.

[xv] See See Huey Copeland’s wonderful “Dark Mirrors: Theaster Gates and Ebony” Artforum 52:2 (October 2013): 222-229.

[xvi] Monument program.

[xvii] Foster 4-5.

[xviii] Foster 10-11.

[xix] Foster 9.

[xx] Foster 7.

[xxi] Foster 10.

[xxii] For more on the Monument’s aftermath, see Whitney Kimball, “How Do People Feel About the Gramsci Monument, One Year LaterArt F City (August 20, 2014).

[xxiii] Quoted in Mary Katherine Coffey, “Histories that Haunt: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton” Art Journal 60:3 (Autumn 2001): 15.

[xxiv] Quoted in Amei Wallach, “A Conversation with Ann Hamilton in Ohio” American Art 22:1 (2008): 54, 55

[xxv] Quoted in Wallach 68.

[xxvi] Quoted in Wallach 74.

[xxvii] Pamela M. Lee, “The Whole Earth is Heavy” Artforum (September 2013). See also Andrea Picard, “Camille Henrot: A Hunter-Gatherer During a Time of Collective ‘Grosse Fatigue’” Cinema Scope 56.

THE AFTERMATH:

As I said above, we had a long, heated, fruitful discussion, with lots of unancipated twists and turns. It’s typically a delight to find a conversation generating new frameworks and concepts, and unfolding in unpredictable directions — but parts of our conversation took on a register that made me a bit uncomfortable (maybe productively so?). I’m partly to blame for this: I made a poor choice in preparing my presentation: I spent waaaay too long writing the talk, then spent waaaay too long preparing my slides, then spent way too little time thinking about my coda: a video clip. I wanted to show a few segments from a glossy, impulsive video installation, but the only high-res versions of the video available online were integrated into a seven-minute documentary featuring an interview with the artist. And in that interview our artist said some not-jaw-droppingly-stupid-but-not-exactly-brilliant things about cultural production and ethnology and disciplinarity and epistemology. I, perhaps not-exactly-brilliantly, figured people would listen past her not-always-compelling commentary and instead watch the super-flashy footage of the video installation itself; as I said, by way of preface, that’s what I wanted to highlight: the flow of images in the video. And if members of the group did want to take issue with her commentary in our conversation, all the better! We could disagree with her! Her work, by offending our own sensibilities, could challenge us to articulate those sensibilities. I happen to believe that we don’t have to “like” or agree with work to learn from it. Besides, this particular artist is widely shown, the winner of numerous awards — so why not grapple with her work?

Surprisingly (to me), we spent a really long time talking about intellect and taste: the artist’s intellect and my taste. Why would I not have chosen a piece that was more “rigorous,” more “sophisticated”? There were plenty of more “avant-garde” examples that would’ve been much more intellectually potent (Farocki, of course, as well as other vanguard gentlemen). I suggested that the very fact that this “flawed” work generated such a vigorous discussion indicated that it was, in some sense, successful — in inciting viewers’ critical thought, in pushing us to fill in the gaps that the artist left behind. But, apparently, my standards weren’t high enough; I was letting the artist off the hook — by merely giving her some play, it seems.

I left feeling defeated and a bit stunned. Yes, I made a bad choice in showing a video that interrupted the artwork itself with jejune commentary, which then kinda derailed our discussion. But still, I wonder: can we not seriously examine less-than-“rigorous” art (flawed according to whom, by the way — and, besides, what art isn’t in some regard imperfect?), to see what we might have to learn from it? Does all art have to come with a built-in, air-tight theoretical treatise? Do we expect all of our artists to be verbally articulate critical theorists? Can we, the “viewing public,” not add that layer of intellectual rigor through our conversations about art? Can artists not embed critique into their work though parody or provocation? And what roles does taste play in academics’ critical-judgments-that-aren’t-ostensibly-about-aesthetics?

Categories
Publications

Speculative Archaeology

Speculative Archaeology,” Places (December 12, 2014)

on the myriad art and design projects that adopt the m.o., method, or metaphor of archaeology

Categories
Presentations

Scaffolding, Hard and Soft: Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures (2014)

On September 18, 2014, in Parsons’ “Design for This Century” lecture course — a class that’s required of all first-year Transdisciplinary Design, Design + Technology, and Design Studies students — I spoke about infrastructure as both a critical framework and a generative structure. This presentation, which you can find here, would later become a chapter in Jentery Sayers’s Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities, forthcoming 2017.

Categories
Presentations

Preservation Aesthetics @ Library of Congress (2014)

I was honored to join Matthew Kirschenbaum, Cole Crawford, George Oates, and Dragan Espenschied as one of the plenary speakers at the Library of Congress/NDIIPP “Digital Preservation 2014” conference in Washington D.C. Only July 23, I presented “Preservation Aesthetics”; you can find my slides and talk here, and watch a video of my talk here (I strongly advise against it).

Categories
Presentations

Preservation Aesthetics: My Talk for the LoC’s Digital Preservation Conference

md2

I’m honored to be giving one of the opening plenary talks — alongside the fantastic Matt Kirschenbaum — at the Library of Congress/NDIIPP “Digital Preservation 2014” conference next week. When Trevor Owens invited me, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute — given that most attendees are likely to be technological geniuses, and I’m, well, not. But Trevor assured me that my “schtick” would be — or at least could be — of interest to all the techno-savants in attendance. So I decided to talk about aesthetics and “preservation art.” I’ve been addressing the aesthetics of archives, libraries, databases, etc., in my “Archives + Libraries” class the past several years. And I’ve been drooling over archive art and the aesthetics of organization for as long as I can remember.

Trevor and I talked about “teaching with art” on the Library of Congress’s Signal blog last month. Since then, I’ve thought more about what art — both analog and digital — might have to say about preservation, specifically digital preservation. I’ve finished a draft of my talk. It’s a bit too long, so I won’t be able to deliver it in its entirety at the conference, but I figured I’d post the full text, with all the footnotes, here. With the slides, too.

Mattern PreservationAesthetics by shannonmattern

PRESERVATION AESTHETICS

Archives and libraries are intensely aesthetic environments. [S2] Libraries, in particular, have historically been among our grandest buildings. And today, with an increasingly diverse program and patron base, it’s the source of many sounds and textures… and smells. Information reaches us in various forms and materialities. [S3] We store that information on bookshelves and server racks, and we access it on tabletops and laptops and through interfaces. Our engagement with these “furnishings,” both physical and virtual, is a multisensory experience. [S4] Aesthetics are particularly germane to the work of preservation that takes place within these archives and libraries. As you well know, one of preservation’s central concerns is determining whether something has “intrinsic value” based on its “uniqueness…of informational content, age, physical format, artistic or aesthetic qualities, and scarcity” – and if so, then safeguarding the original item.[1]

[S5:Blank] These aesthetic variables have huge epistemological significance. Acknowledging archives and libraries as aesthetic entities not only helps patrons to better understand how they think and learn; but it also, ideally, helps practitioners recognize that the physical and digital environments they create aren’t neutral containers of information: they give shape to data, information, knowledge, and history; condition how patrons access and process them – and, in the process, constitute what those intellectual constructs are.

[S6] At The New School in New York I regularly teach a graduate seminar that explores the history, values, politics, and aesthetics of archives, libraries, and databases. We focus not only on the aesthetics of the institutions themselves – the library’s rows of books, the archive’s “dusty boxes,” the database’s interfaces – [S7but also on the flood of archive-related and data-driven art that’s been generated in recent years. In this presentation, I’ll examine a group of artists who take up issues pertinent to digital preservation – [S8] file formats, versioning, migration, the lifespan of storage devices, metadata, digital decay, etc., as well as their pre-digital precursors. By pushing certain protocols to their extreme, or highlighting snafus and “limit cases,” these artists’ work often brings into stark relief the conventions of preservation practice, and poses potential creative new directions for that work. As I hope to show, practicing archivists, librarians, and database managers – and the patrons who use those resources – have much to learn about the nature of their enterprise from artists.

PRESERVATION OF DIGITAL ART + DIGITAL “PRESERVATION ART”

[S9] I’d like to distinguish between the “preservation of the aesthetic” and “the aesthetics of preservation.” The former, let’s say, refers to practices of preserving the “intrinsic value” of original objects. One application in which these practices have been given careful consideration, and which is especially pertinent to this group, is the preservation of digital art. We have plenty of folks here today who know a lot more about this than I do, so I won’t say too much about it. Yet I do want to quickly address how the rubrics and “best practices” developed by organizations committed to the preservation of new media art offer frameworks and vocabularies that can help us to better appreciate the aesthetics of preservation, my second category. And by that I mean the sensory contemplation of preservation itself – and particularly, for my purposes here, art that takes as its subject matter the practices, values, poetics, politics, ethics, and especially the limitations of preservation.

But first, returning quickly to the “preservation of the aesthetic”: [S10] Various consortia of scholars, artists, and archivists have been concerned with the preservation of new media art in light of the inevitable obsolescence of digital platforms. One such group, the Variable Media Network (whose purview extends beyond the digital to encompass any work on potentially unstable platforms), is dedicated to understanding a work’s “behavioral characteristics and intrinsic effects” – there’s that word again: intrinsic – independent of the medium in which that work is created and displayed.[2] [S11] Forging the Future’s Variable Media Questionnaire captures information about artworks’ various behaviors and medium-specific aspects, including how the work is contained, installed, performed, how it’s made interactive, how it’s reproduced, encoded, and networked.[3]  [S12] There are then four main strategies storage, emulation, migration, and reinterpretation – for preserving “variable” media so as to responsibly address these behavioral characteristics.[4] Of course you know this already.

[Update: 7/21: Jon Ippolito wrote to tell me about a relevant — and tremendously exciting — book he recently published with Richard Rinehart. See Re-Collection: Art, New Media & Social Memory (MIT Press, June 2014).]

[S13] But what about the aesthetics of these preservation practices themselves? What if we considered not only how the aesthetics qualities of, say, a Nam June Paik installation are “preserved” in a reconstruction of the original work, but also how the practice of reconstruction – or emulation, or migration, or even storage – has its own aesthetics (and attendant politics, poetics, etc.)? [S14:Blank] Upon beginning this project I knew of a few artworks and exhibitions that grappled with these issues, but I asked my New School colleague Christiane Paul for other recommendations. She’s a curator of new media art at the Whitney Museum, and she’s long been a central figure in discussions regarding the preservation of net art. There isn’t much digital art that explores preservation-related issues, she said, because “most artists understandably would consider it too boring.”

They would be wrong, of course. I want to thank Christiane for directing my attention to several illuminating examples, particularly of works that highlight preservation by defying it, or highlighting its limitations. I’ll only briefly explore a few of these examples because, once again, there are folks in the room who know this work much better than I do. Hell, some of this work is yours (I’m lookin’ at you, Dragan!).

[S15] To start, we have examples of the self-erasing disk, the self-destructing file, the self-deteriorating page – for example, William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa, about which Kirschenbaum has written beautifully). [S16] We also have digital artists who highlight the volatility of data models, net architecture and storage media by building intentionally irreverent, idiosyncratic, unstable archives, or by constructing hypertext narratives meant to disintegrate with advancing link rot (e.g., three.org‘s [Jon Ippolito / Janet Cohen / Keith Frank], “The Unreliable Archivist“; Olia Lialina’s “Anna Kerenin Goes to Paradise”).[5]  [S17] We have artists aestheticizing the hard drive and other storage technology, reminding us of the materiality of the digital object and of memory (e.g., Manuel Palou’s “5 Million Dollars 1 Terabyte” and Jason Loebs’s “Anthropomemoria”). [S18] We have artists highlighting the questionable veracity of emulation, using as their primary source material their own memories of the “spirit” – hardly a reliable “record” – of historical technology (e.g., Olia Lialina & Dragan Espenschied’s “Once Upon”). [S19] We have artists transforming the processes of digital preservation and emulation into performances, and framing the documentation of those processes as aesthetic objects (e.g., JODI’s ”Jet Set Willy Variations”; The New Museum’s XFR STN).[6] And there are artists who take up other issues pertinent to digital preservation – file formats, versioning, migration, metadata, digital decay, etc. In aestheticizing the failures and limitations of digital tools and techniques, they make manifest, perceptible – aesthetically experiential – the underlying values, tacit politics, and invisible “structuring structures” of preservation.

[S20]THE AESTHETICS OF CREATIVE DESTRUCTION

I imagine that the territory I’ve covered thus far is familiar for some, if not most, of you. What I ultimately want to argue – and this next section, “The Aesthetics of Creative Destruction,” is where I think I might finally be able to share with you something you don’t already know! – is that there are plenty of analog precedents and contemporary analog counterparts to these digital works. And there’s much to be learned by historically contextualizing the aesthetic concerns central to digital preservation, and examining how core preservation principles extend across materialities and media. [S21] Agrippa is actually a great example of the latter point: not only did the floppy disk storing Gibson’s electronic poem encrypt itself after a single use; but the pages of Ashbaugh’s artist’s book, in which that disk was embedded, were also treated with photosensitive chemicals and erased themselves over a period of time. We thus see here two different material processes, two different timeframes, two different aesthetic experiences of preservation and decay, of memory and forgetting. In addition, surrounding the work we find different paratexts and “pirate” practices that aim to subvert the logics and aesthetics built into these “original” embedded objects.

There’s been a long history of artwork that “eats itself,” that defies its own preservation. [S22] Gustav Metzger first wrote about “auto-destructive art” in 1959. But well before we had the term to label the practice, we had plenty of self-destructive precedent, much of it rooted in Dada and Futurism and motivated by iconoclastic desire to demolish the hegemonic museum, the aesthetic canon, and “good taste.”[7] [S23:Blank] The 1920s brought Max Ernst’s sculpture with attached ax and Francis Picabia’s erased blackboard drawings – [S24] and 30 years later we had Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. [S25] Meanwhile in Japan, the Gutai Art Association, whose name translates to “embodiment,” shot at and tore through their artworks, celebrating the creative potential of destruction. [S26] Rauschenberg then collaborated with Jean Tinguely on Homage to New York[8], a kinetic sculpture that worked itself into a fiery fervor in the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden in 1960.[9] [S27] MoMA has preserved a fragment in its collection (which of course raises questions about what, exactly, is being preserved).

[S28] Just a few years after Tinguely’s pyrotechnics, Yoko Ono sat on a stage and invited guests to come up and cut away her clothes. Art history scholar Kristine Stiles suggests that projects like Ono’s “Cut Piece” are like much destruction art in that they “take the body as the principle site of destruction,” but this work also exemplifies women’s specific stake in destruction because it explores the “obliteration of identity,” too. Stiles thus reminds us that much of this work is rooted not only in the rejection of the authoritarian institution, but also in artists’ frustration over their own “otherness” or “statelessness,” and their “profound disgust and rejection of the patriarchal models of discipline, punishment, violence, and authoritarianism.”[10] We should consider how these forces are grappled with in the act of preservation, too – and perhaps where preservation falls short, inciting such drives to destruct and delete.

[S29] Ono’s London performance – which, tellingly, elicited such aggressive responses from visitors that a security force was engaged – was part of Metzger’s 1966 “Destruction in Art Symposium,” where visitors found …

Tony West running classic books through a crank meat grinder, Schreib artfully burning large photos of Willy Brandt… Al Hansen exploded a big motorscooter… Ralph Ortiz demolished a piano with a sledgehammer… Pro-Diaz exploded pyrotechnic powders and fuse cords on three large painted surfaces… John Latham burned several Skoob Towers of Encyclopedia Britannicas… Wolf Vostell of Germany destroyed TV images with paint, food and manual controls.[11]

[S30] Many of these historical examples remind us that some art, much like digital archival material, requires enactment. These works aren’t simply there “to be looked at”; they have to be “turned on,” replayed, refreshed, reenacted, migrated to new platforms. This history also reminds us of the centrality of embodiment, a quality critical to emulation-based preservation, and of the variation inherent in reinterpretation. [S31] Gustav Metzger’s own work – paintings made of acid on nylon screens, metal monuments that corrode in the atmosphere – reminds us further of just how many material means and temporalities there are to deconstruction, analog or digital. “[F]orms implode. Matter is carbonized or pulverized… Most of these transformations are visible,” Metzger wrote; yet in “auto-destructive art a great deal of activity takes place on the microscopic level and is not seen.”[12] Corrosion by acid or atmosphere, burning up from overwork or arson, implosion by explosives or longue duree decay – all things conservators aim to prevent, and all processes that unfold at variable speeds – thus become “intrinsic parts of the artwork.”[13] Metzger’s various pieces could take anywhere from 20 seconds to 20 years to die. We see this variation in material process, scale, and temporality copied in Agrippa, too.

[S32:Blank] And ultimately we are made aware of the many fronts on which the larger preservation battle is so often waged. Destruction art defies preservation, although many cultural institutions devise solutions to transform the ephemeral and processural into something collectible. In his fantastic Masters thesis for the Museum Studies program at the University of Leicester John D. Powell notes that these institutions often take into account the artist’s intention in making decisions regarding preservation. [S33] Some institutions preserve the material residue from ruinous performances, as MoMA has done with some remains of Tinguely’s Homage to New York (notably, much of this preserved detritus is then classified as painting or sculpture); [S34] others consider strategies of documenting the performance of destruction, yet doing so presumes to make reproducible a destructive act that was never meant to be so.

[S35:Blank] While many of the digital art projects I mentioned earlier seem to embody similarly destructive – or, on the lighter end of the spectrum, parodic – values, and to highlight the futility of preservation, it’s important to remember that there’s a creative dimension of destruction, too. Projects like Ono’s “Cut Piece” and JODI’s “Jet Set Willy,” in their “making strange” or “making problematic,” also make us question our choices to destroy or preserve, and the aesthetic and epistemological and political consequences of those choices. They create an awareness of the aesthetics and politics of destruction and preservation – acts that today become so radically casualized with “click to save” and “drag to delete.” What’s more, Stiles argues that destruction art, in its refusal to be collected and circulated, has the potential to “recover the social force of art from instrumental reason and the economies of late capitalism.” It also reinforces “the survivability of the body, the very materiality of existence.”

[S36]VITRINES, VISION MACHINES, AND OTHER AESTHETICIZED TECHNOLOGIES OF PRESERVATION

Now, many of these “destruction” works aren’t explicitly about preservation, in that they’re not overtly critiquing the practice and aesthetics of preservation itself, outside of highlighting their own un-preservability. Yet there are a host of others, inspired by the “archival” and “museological” turns in contemporary art, and by the rise of “institutional critique,” who take the aesthetics and politics of preservation as central (even if implicit) themes in their work. [S37] Take Theaster Gates, whose Dorchester Projects, a group of reclaimed buildings in Chicago that have been refashioned into a local arts-and-culture center that includes a slide lantern library acquired from the University of Chicago; book and LP collections acquired from the now-defunct Prairie Avenue Bookshop and Dr. Wax Records; and the library of John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines. [S38] The assemblage of media and architecture inspires its immediate South Side Chicago community, and the global audience that studies Gates’s work, to consider the significance of preserving others’ cast-off media, and of integrating these collections into a vibrant, multi-purpose community space. It also prompts us to consider the roles those specific materials (architecture books, “ethnic” publications) played in constructing Chicago’s — particularly Black Chicago’s — history, a history that other institutions had to “deaccession” in order for Gates to step in as its conservator.[14]

[S39] Consider also Mark Dion, whose work frequently involves combing and dredging river beds and flea markets and existing museum collections, then staging his finds in displays that detourn traditional museological conventions. He’s asking how preservation and classification and display structure our cultural representations of, and our relationships to, nature. With all its vitrines and labels and dioramas, Dion’s work is ostensibly about preservation – but it, too, has a destructive element. [S40] As critic Martha Schwendener argues, Dion is “dedicated to highlighting and undermining Enlightenment values through the use of his own formal vocabulary. Just the act of looking at Dion’s work – all those books, photos, drawings, specimens, and [found objects] – can be fatiguing.”[15] [S41] And in one of his early works, “Artful History: A Restoration Comedy” (1988), Dion and Jason Simon offer a mock public television documentary on the work of a commercial restoration studio, where they hear tragi-comic tales of aesthetic forgery in preservation: historic paintings cut in two to increase resale value, damaged sculptures with limbs sutured on from other pieces, forgeries passed off as authentic. [S42] In the gallery, Dion accompanies the film with strips of paintings cut from works whose restoration was deemed too expensive or cumbersome. According to the curators of the 1988 Whitney Independent Study show, “The Desire of the Museum,” which included Dion’s film, “Artful History” demonstrates that restoration “respond[s] to the prompts of art dealers and museum curators as they alter paintings to suit format requirements and marketplace pressures.”[16] “Preservation” is thus driven by an aesthetic informed by display and commercial values, not by ensuring “intrinsic value.”[17]

[S43]Yet as with much auto-destructive art, the aesthetic exhaustion of Dion’s installations, and the aesthetic deception in his film, are also epistemologically generative. Schwendener makes the case quite poignantly:

[W]hat he re-creates in his art simulates the fatigue of Western history: the headlong rush to conquer, acquire, accumulate, consume, collect, classify, arrange, display, reconfigure, reconstruct, restore, preserve, and represent. Art for Dion is both academic – evoking a history lesson or a science project – and highly social; working in idiosyncratic ways, he reminds us how effective art can be when it collapses these varieties of experience.

Camille Henrot “Grosse Fatigue” from Collectif Combo on Vimeo.

[S44] We see many of the same themes echoed – through a similarly exhausting aesthetic of preservation and classification – in the work of Camille Henrot, particularly in her Grosse Fatigue, a video based on her 2013 artist’s residency at the Smithsonian. [S45] Within the aesthetics of the interface, she contrasts different materialities and aesthetics of preservation: a fish in a preservative bath, tagged bird carcasses in a drawer, proliferating browser windows and books and magazines and hard drives stuffed with gifs – and even technicians working in a natural history museum’s preservation lab. [S46] The “windows within windows within windows” layering of these analog and digital preservation systems, suggests Pamela Lee in Artforum, shows the “digital windows and screens” to be “just as flattened out and drained of life as all those sorry animals carcasses accumulating in cold storage.”[18] (I can’t tell you how much I love this video, and I wish I could say more – but we must move on…)

[S47] For artist Ann Hamilton, however, preservation is fully embodied and vital and social. Much of Hamilton’s work engages with the materiality and sociality of communication and historical artifacts, and how that materiality determines what constitutes a culture’s “archive.” [S48] I think that, through the material abundance of her work, and through its lack of familiarity to typical “archival architectures,” Hamilton’s work allows its inhabitants to create new, unfamiliar, affective connections to history. It calls attention to the limitations of the official historical record and suggests means of refreshing the archive’s architectures and materials with alternative sources that don’t always readily lend themselves to preservation.

Hamilton uses quotidian materials – from bread to blue jeans to pink Pearl erasers – and a variety of media formats, to form inhabitable, multisensory “archival” landscapes. [S49] At her 2012 the event of a thread at the Park Avenue Armory, we find newspaper, 8 x 11″ lined paper covered with handwriting, scrolls covered with typewritten text, pigeons (which once, like the horse, served as a vital means of transmission), vinyl-record-engravers, erasers, bells, bellows, [S50] radios, the voice. In these installations, which commonly engage the histories of their sites, she creates palimpsestic landscapes by layering sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture, then activating the scene with simple, repeated movements, or what Clark Lunberry calls “accretions of gesture.”[19] [S51] Her indigo blue and tropos, for instance, involved someone sitting at a table, [S52] “unmaking” a book through erasure, by burning away the text, line by line. Rather than an act of destruction, however, this unmaking represented a means of “clearing the field,” making room, according to Hamilton, for another “material kind of telling.”[20] She reminds us (as did many of the female destruction artists) of the body itself as the site or means of preservation and/or destruction.[S53] I took my graduate Archives + Libraries class to see the event of a thread, where several students commented on the various kinds of labor, or performance, represented in the installation. We had “official” participants, [S54] including the artist herself, reading and writing and erasing and singing and recording. And we, the visitors, gleefully labored on our swings to move a giant curtain strung across the center of the Armory. Hamilton’s work addresses, in her words, “the way the body through physical labor leaves a transparent presence in material and how labor is a way of knowing.”[21]

[S55] How do we preserve these transparent presences? How do we ensure those quotidian gestures, that invisible labor, those unheard voices are registered in the historical record? What defies recording and preservation? These are among the questions Hamilton’s work raises for me. She proposes that a history rooted not only in extraordinary events, but also in the everyday – its artifacts, sensations, labor, simple gestures – requires an archive that is embodied, material, and living.

[S56:Blank]Then again, what if there are aspects of the everyday that we simply don’t want to be recordable and preservable? [S57] This is where my final (anti-)preservation aesthete, Hito Steyerl, comes in. Her films and writing focus on the ubiquity and global distribution of images – including images that reduce identity to data. “Identity goes far beyond a relationship with images,” she says; [S58] “[I]t entails a set of private keys, passwords, etc., that can be expropriated and detourned. More generally, identity is the name of the battlefield over your code – be it genetic, informational, pictorial.”[22] One of the battles being waged is the right to exempt or extract oneself from “Leviathan’s” database, to regain some control over how one’s identity is constructed. [S59] Her 2013 “How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File” – she specifies the file format! – offers several strategies for “disappearing” oneself from the database, for rendering oneself “un-preservable” (my term). [S60] Possible approaches: camouflage yourself, hide in plain sight, shrink yourself down smaller than a pixel, live in a gated community, wear a full-body cloak, or become a female over 50.

[S61]Steyerl also acknowledges the entwined virtuality of the image and the materiality of the infrastructures that make their capture and circulation possible. In order to thwart the preservation and distribution of our identities as datasets, we sometimes simply have to rage against the machine, kill the drones, pull a 1984 and smash the screen. [S62] In Strike, which is currently on exhibit in Chelsea, she strikes an LCD screen to make visible the structures structuring our viewing, to show that “images also have a physical existence.”[23] The implication is that we need to understand the physical infrastructure of surveillance and data mining in order to undermine it.

And thus we’re back to destruction – but, again, epistemologically generative destruction. These are destructive practices that strive to reassert, as Stiles puts it, the “very materiality of existence,” to recover the archive and the human subjectivities it documents from “instrumental reason and the economies of late capitalism.” [S63] By aestheticizing the intellectual and technical and social infrastructures that undergird choices regarding what gets preserved, and how, and why; by playing out speculative “limit cases” of what our museums and archives and databases can do; by making sense-able the cracks and leaks in the system; by demonstrating what’s lost and gained in storing and migrating and reinterpreting our cultural productions, these artists – working in media of myriad materialities – demonstrate how aesthetics can pose powerful questions about the ethics and politics of what you do as archivists. And they can ideally inspire creative ways for thinking about destructive preservation, for approaches to conservation that are anything but conservative. [S64]

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[1] See Kimberly J. Barata, “Questioning Aesthetics: Are Archivists Qualified To Make Appraisal or Reappraisal Decisions Based on Aesthetic Judgments?” Provenance, Journal Of The Society Of Georgia Archivists 12:1/2 (1994)

[2] Alain Depocas, “The Variable Media Network, “ Daniel Langlois Foundation (2003): http://www.fondation-langlois.org/html/e/page.php?NumPage=98

[3] “Behaviors” Variable Media Network: http://www.variablemedia.net/e/index.html

[4]Storage, the “most conservative collecting strategy,” is “to store a work physically, whether that means mothballing dedicated equipment or archiving digital files on disk.” The “major disadvantage of storing obsolescent materials is that the work will expire once these ephemeral materials cease to function” (“Strategies” Variable Media Network: http://www.variablemedia.net/e/index.html).

Emulation involves devising “a way of imitating the original look of the piece by completely different means.” Its possible disadvantages include “prohibitive expense sic) and inconsistency with the artist’s intent.” Matthew Kirchenbaum further explains that emulation “entails the literal, formal reproduction of the logic instantiated in the hardware or software of some now-vanished platform…. Importantly, an emulator is actually executing the original machine instructions in the reproduced logical context of the absent program.” The gaming community, he says, is the largest constituency for this approach – and for them, emulation can result in the “experience of the original game or program” being altered “by such environmental variables as screen quality, processor speeds, sound cards, controllers or peripherals, and so forth” (Matthew Kirschenbaum, “Preservation” In Marie-Laure Ryan, Lori Emerson, Benjamin J. Robertson, The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). The Guggenheim’s 2004 Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice exhibition examined the aesthetics of emulation, typically a behind-the-scenes practice, by presenting computer-based works – Cory Arcangel’s “I Shot Andy Warhol,” Mary Flanagan’s [phage], JODI’s “JET SET WILLY Variations,” etc. – in various emulated systems and hardware configurations (http://www.variablemedia.net/e/seeingdouble/; see also Lisa Adang, “Untitled Project: A Cross-Disciplinary Investigation of Jodi’s Untitled Game” Ver. 2 (May 2014): 4).

Migration involves “upgrading equipment and source material”, or, as Kirschenbaum explains, moving bits from one physical medium to another, as well as (sometimes) updating their format and logical (symbolic) context… Such migrations of format and logical context always introduce changes to the appearance and behavior of digital objects, necessitating trade-offs in terms of fidelity to its original manifestation as a digital artifact.”

Finally, reinterpretation, or reconstruction of the work each time it’s recreated, is the “most radical” strategy – on that’s labor intensive and may result, as Kirschenbaum says, in, at best, an approximation of the original experience.” It involves asking “what contemporary medium would have the metaphoric value of” the original medium. Answering that question, Kirschenbaum explains, draws on “documentation (usually some combination of source code, screenshots and still images, video, design notes, artist’s statements, fan products, reviews, and published scholarship) to remake the original digital artifact with contemporary tools, techniques, and materials.”

Christiane Paul argues that the work of preserving variable media, and the “living,” archives of “mutable ‘records’” it generates, requires diligent attention to documentation. “This type of archive would need to document the different versions of a work that develops through user contributions—for example, by keeping copies of the project in its different states; and it could potentially document aspects of the ‘environment’ in which the work existed at different points in time, such as discussions of the piece on blogs, mailing lists etc. The contextualization and archiving of net art require new models and criteria for documenting and preserving the process and instability of works that are often created by multiple authors and constantly develop over time” (Christiane Paul, “Context and Archive: Presenting and Preserving Net-based Art” In Dieter Daniels & Gunther Reisinger, Eds., Netpioneers 1.0: Contextualizing Early Net-Based Art (Sternberg Press: Berlin, New York, 2010)).

[5]“The Unreliable Archivist reorganizes the renowned adaweb by means of the categories of “language,” “image,” “style,” and “layout.” In each category the visitor can also choose between four tunings. Texts, videos, and sound from the recorded artistic projects are pieced together in a new combination. This form of systematization raises the question as to the motives and aims of archiving” (http://on1.zkm.de/netcondition/projects/project12/default_e); Olia Lialina’s early net art piece Anna Karenina Goes to Paradise, for example, sets up three “Acts” – “Anna Looking for Love,” “Anna Looking for Train,” “Anna Looking for Paradise.” The content for each act is provided by pages that list the results that search engines returned for the words love, train, and paradise at the time of the work’s creation. Lialina’s piece (obviously referencing Tolstoy) was meant to point to constant shifts of context, which ultimately are the focus and content of the artwork. If one visits the work today, most of the links will be “dead” – the piece has been reduced to its concept while the implementation is inaccessible. Even if one would rewrite the piece so that it allows returns “live” search results, the previous versions of the piece will be lost unless their documentation – for example, through screenshots of all the sites that are linked to – is “programmed” into the piece itself (Christiane Paul, “The Myth of Immateriality – Presenting & Preserving New Media” In Oliver Grau, Ed., Media Art Histories (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006)).

[6] The original 1984 Jet Set Willy, programmed in BASIC, was one of the first non-linear narrative games. According to Lisa Adang, Jet Set Willy Variations ca. 1984 [2002] was “developed in an emulator, which JODI used to recreate the ‘proto-computer’ environment of the ZX Spectrum, a very early home computer produced from 1982 to 1987” (“Untitled Project: A Cross-Disciplinary Investigation of Jodi’s Untitled Game” Ver. 2 (May 2014): 4). In a forthcoming chapter in a collection edited by Christiane Paul, Annet Dekker explains that

…over the years Jet Set Willy ©1984has been exhibited in various ways. The first time it was shown on a table, with a 1980s television (CRT) monitor, the audiocassette with the tape, and the ZX Spectrum displayed on it. At other times JODI showed Jet Set Willy Variations (2002), a DVD containing multiple videos of modifications of the game, alongside the game itself. Almost ten years after the launch of the project, Jet Set Willy ©1984transformed into Jet Set Willy FOREVER (2010) when it was presented during the exhibition Funware at MU in Eindhoven. This time the artists decided to add documentation of the work as part of the presentation, thus making documentation part of the “final work.” Jet Set Willy FOREVER included the game on a ZX Spectrum; the DVD; video documentation of the artists demonstrating how the game can be played during a previous presentation of the work; a set of written instructions on how to play the game, and sixty prints showing the interior of the game — a cross-section of the house” (Annet Dekker, “Enabling the Future, or How to Survive FOREVER” (forthcoming)).

Notably, “the website jetsetwilly.jodi.org for Jet Set Willy Variations ©1984 [also a game modification like Untitled Game] contains a direct link to a list of downloads for various emulators needed to create a playable environment for the work: www.worldofspectrum.org/emulators.html.” As Lisa Adang argues, “The artists are explicitly engaged here in archival strategies and documentation. They also provide a link on this site to images of Jet Set Willy ephemera, a ZX Spectrum keyboard, and a short list of key commands for the original game [http:jetsetwilly.org/use.html].” (Lisa Adang, “Untitled Project: A Cross-Disciplinary Investigation of Jodi’s Untitled Game” Ver. 2 (May 2014): n. 29, p. 43)

[7]These historical precedents to “auto-destructive” art are smartly chronicled in John D. Powell’s “Preserving the Unpreservable,” his Masters thesis for the Museum Studies program at the University of Leicester.

[8] D.A. Pennebaker, “Breaking It Up at the Museum” [film]

[9] Homage to New York was constructed from materials collected from dumps in New Jersey. Its components included roughly 100 wheels, 15 motors, a piano, and addressograph machine, a baby’s bath tub, klaxons, chemicals, metal drums, bell, child’s cart, piece of the American flag, bottles, fire extinguisher, radio, oil cans, hammers, saws, etc.

[10]Kristine Stiles, “Thresholds of Control: Deconstruction Art and Terminal Culture” Ars Electronic Archive: http://90.146.8.18/en/archives/festival_archive/festival_catalogs/festival_artikel.asp?iProjectID=8900.

[11] Al Hansen, quoted in Powell: 13. Kristine Stiles’s work focuses on the Destruction in Art Symposium.

[12]Gustav Metzger, Damaged Nature, Auto-Destructive Art (London: Coracle, 1996), p. 43-53; quoted in Powell 53.

[13] Powell 53. Destruction need not be incited or accelerated by the artist; see also ephemeral art like the work of Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Smithson, or Dieter Roth.

[14] See Huey Copeland’s wonderful “Dark Mirrors: Theaster Gates and EbonyArtforum 52:2 (October 2013): 222-229.

[15]Martha Schwendener, “Mark Dion: American Fine Arts / Aldrich Museum” Artforum 41:10(June 2003).

[16] Whitney Museum of American Art, The Desire of the Museum (New York: Whitney Museum, 1998).

[17]We might also consider how techniques of preservation shape, and are shaped by, the aesthetics of other disciplines, including architectural preservation. In the CFP for a “Photography and Preservation” special issue of Future Anterior, the editors write:

By the 1840s, John Ruskin was urging preservationists to seize ‘every opportunity afforded by scaffolding to approach [art and architecture] closely, and putting the camera in any position that will command’ it…. [The] now standard practice of systematically photographing all phases of a restoration, and archiving the pictures for future reference and to insure the reversibility of treatments…

The institutionalization and professionalization of preservation in the mid-nineteenth century was spurred in part by national and colonial photographic surveys, which not only inventoried heritage efficiently but also helped to shape public perception, concentrating attention on, and therefore changing the cultural value of, a select group of buildings and objects. It is well known that the first photographic surveys mapped only earlier established travel routes such as the European Grand Tour… Photography was arguably the most effective mass media instrument to construct and disseminate visual knowledge and appreciation of buildings and immovable objects that were distant both in time and in place, and as such it also formed the necessary evidentiary basis for the internationalization of preservation movements.”

…[C]ould the obsession of preservationists with building facades be traced to Denis Baldus’s (1813-82) and Gustave Le Gray’s (1820-82) development of the standards for the elevation photograph? What were the aesthetic touch points of preservation photography, and how have they changed as the field has evolved?… How did…the sudden availability of hand-held cameras in the postwar era figure in the expansion of preservation from a restricted focus on canonical monuments to include popular and vernacular buildings? How has the popularity of so-called Ruin Porn photography influenced notions of post-industrial heritage and debates about its authenticity, and conversely, how do preservation aesthetics figure in the subtle framing of patinas, decaying timbers, and flaking paints that Ruin Porn stereotypically catalogues?…

What is the role of photography in the nascent field of architectural forensics?… In extreme cases, photography also sometimes figures as a substitute for preservation, a measure of last resort when the material object is certain to be lost. How did the photographic image come to be conceptualized in discourse as an extension of preservation?…

What role did photography play in shaping the practice of comparing, contrasting and categorizing heritage in typological and stylistic terms? What was the role and influence of architectural photographic archives in the teaching and practice of preservation? Photography figures in preservation both as a lingua franca, and as the undecipherable visual language of specialization, such as in thin section petrography or thermal photography. (CFP: Future Anterior Journal: Photography and Preservation. In: H-ArtHist (March 16, 2013): http://arthist.net/archive/4872)

[18] Pamela M. Lee, “The Whole Earth is Heavy” Artforum (September 2013). See also Andrea Picard, “Camille Henrot: A Hunter-Gatherer During a Time of Collective ‘Grosse Fatigue’” Cinema Scope 56: http://cinema-scope.com/columns/tiff-2013-preview-grosse-fatigue-camille-henrot-franceusa/

[19] Clark Lunberry, “Theatre as Installation: Ann Hamilton and the Accretions of Gesture” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 37:1 (March 2004).

[20] Amei Wallach, “A Conversation with Ann Hamilton in Ohio” American Art 22:1 (Spring 2008): 55.

[21] Wallach 74.

[22] Hito Steyerl, with Marvin Jordan, “Politics of Post-Representation” dis magazine (n.d.): http://dismagazine.com/disillusioned-2/62143/hito-steyerl-politics-of-post-representation/

[23] Andrew Kreps, “How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational Installation, July 2 – August 15, 2014” [press release]: http://www.andrewkreps.com/exhibition/561/press-release