Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Experiencing Technology

I want to expand a bit on a cross-posted thread from Musematic. There is an open question in the Museum world about how digital mediums should be stored and what constitutes a "final" state. This conversation is especially important to film and video mediums. Is the state of a digital work platform-dependant? How does the artist’s intention for a work conflict with the public’s interest in maintaining a historically-rooted versions of works?

This is an interesting question, especially for works that are presented in public in one state (i.e. cinema distribution or gallery installation) and then altered/polished by the artist for archiving and presentation in another medium (DVD-format or other digital mediums). Which is to be considered the final or authoritative version? Who gets to define this?

On the one hand, it is easily defensible to argue that it is the artist that makes this determination. One can draw parallels here with print artists tuning and altering a print across a variety of states. Only when the print-maker makes the determination is the state considered final.

For presented media though, there are two important differences: 1) in printmaking the previous states are lost to the process of creation – covered by the subsequent revision. If they are discarded, that can be done immediately. 2) The other difference is the presence of the public in a state of participation. When a work is performed in the public setting – the state of presentation is not a relic or artifact but is a shared experience. Regardless of the artist’s determination of finitude, the work lives in that moment in the media it is presented.
Presentation platforms reflect the concurrent state of their society and culture.

As an example, I am reminded of the 2004 Whitney Biennial that included lo-fi works by Corey Arcangel. If you’re not familiar with the artist, his work has included hacks into 8-bit Nintendo games where he removes portions of the programming. The piece from the Biennial was a hack of Super Mario Brothers that left only the bright blue sky and fluffy blue clouds projected on the gallery walls. Link

What stands out in my memory of the installation was the actual Nintendo box sitting in the corner of the room: extension chords, A/V chords and controllers. It was a mess. This was, of course, intentional from a curatorial perspective; it recreated the dissonance of fluffy blue clouds and disarrayed technology on dingy basement carpets. The installation strikes at the heart of the power of legacy platforms - they are not just a medium but are a shared experience and carry psychological weight. Though the visual sense can be ported to YouTube or the Internet, the visceral experience is evoked with the presence of the antiquated, legacy platform.

Transferring this experience to "superior" mediums might make storage and archive sense - but it will not evoke the wonder of first moving Mario with a controller and the world-view revolution that induced. Similarly, Star Wars can be changed, digitally-altered and archived, but the first state, the sound and the fury of first participation will persist.

5 comments:

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