Interactive born-digital artworks and authenticity

Digital art objects are often presented as a very difficult category of digital objects to preserve. Recently a report of Cornell University Library documents their efforts to set up the “Preservation and Access Frameworks for Digital Art Objects (PAFDAO)”. Even if you preserve other kinds of digital objects, the report contains some interesting remarks of which I took two topics “authenticity” and web archiving.

cornellCultural Authenticity

In order to find out what the users expected of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell, the project group did a survey amongst the users of their interactive born-digital artworks. Cornell University Library had already chosen a preservation strategy for this material, namely emulation. It came as a surprise to find out that their potential users had other opinions about emulation. “Emulation was controversial for many, in large part for its propensity to mask the material historical context (for example, the hardware environments) in which and for which digital artworks had been created”. This historical context was seen as part of its authenticity, in the report called “cultural authenticity” , present outside the digital object. Perhaps not quite the same but at least related to the concept of  “the original look and feel”.

Harvesting web art

Another interesting aspect of the report is that they witnessed an “increasing prominence of video and web art.” But the currently available technologies for web harvesting are in their opinion not mature enough and too costly. I wonder whether they thought the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) could play a role there? At the IIPC there is a lot of experience in web harvesting, also of difficult material. The IIPC could at least help them with the Environments Database. In finding the right emulation system, requirements of the original environment are needed. But what if that is not available? Then “it is recommended to consider which operating systems and web browsers (and versions) were contemporary with the work, and configuring an emulator or virtual machine to closely match that environment”. (p. 28) And that is exactly why the Preservation Working Group of the IIPC started their Environments Database, in which IIPC organisations regularly give an overview of the equipment in the reading rooms where the public can look at the web collection.

We preservationists have more in common than we sometimes think of. Perhaps you’ll find other interesting topics in this document!

© 2021 Barbara Sierman