Levels of Visibility Permanence

The new era of archives is all about inclusion and challenging established “purposeless” methods of classification. The current discussion revolves around open mindedness and the brake of structural archival organization as to make it more democratic and reflective of contemporary times.

On paper it seems a positive step forward, yet this poses other troubles. For example, in the case of pre-internet material being digitized in order to be preserved, our new direction poses questions of not only copyright but of ethical values for the creators exposure. We constantly criticize that the archives are not all inclusive, yet when someone takes a group of work and decides to take it all in it is also villainized. We say that our hierarchy structures are faulty but we continuously create more hierarchical valorations. Erotica or Porn?, in the case of Tara’s article.

So, when reading Foucault when he states that all has to be considered including the incoherences, I am confused as to how will we get to an agreement of what is archival due process and what is not. I guess my main questions are, if every time a material changes medium the questions of ethics in terms of exposure have to be revised? and also, what are then the levels and considerations of visibility permanence?

Boston: Cabinet of Curiosities

During a Pre-Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Boston I was taken to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and it was a unique and pleasurable experience.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City and Married Bostonian John Lowell Gardner. Influenced by their travels Isabella became passionate about art. A passion that after receiving inheritance after her father’s death transformed into art collection. After accumulating a remarkable collection she began the planning for the building to house it. In 1903 the Fenway Court (name with which it opened) opened it’s doors.

It is remarkable that it was conceived and executed by a woman on her own terms with no constrictions and that it still functions and is managed as she had instructed. There is a lack of order, a mélange of objects lacking clear classification. It’s honestly a bunch of stuff thrown together, as you would organize your own home. All objects are displayed as she saw them and in relation to her hearts desires.

There are rooms so packed with paintings that you can barely appreciate due to the lack of breath between them, yet even this gives you a different experience, ironically of freshness. We are so used to super curated spaces that this saturation triggers a distinct response. From a curatorial view is very interesting, and in an archival sense I would assume challenging in terms of making your archive cohesive through time to keep the collection going and to contextualize it for the audience.

Interesting facts of the museum are: On March 18th 1990, a pair of thieves disguised a police officers stole 13 works of art. This remains to be the biggest unsolved art theft in world history. Also, in her will she stated that everything must remain as is and that nothing can be acquired or sold form the collection.

If your name is Isabella or if it is your birthday, entrance is Free!

On a same note, I also visited the Institute of Contemporary Art that currently has a Mark Dion exhibition that is pretty awesome.

This is how the exhibition is described in the ICA website: “Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist, the artist’s first U.S. survey, examines 30 years of his pioneering inquiries into how we collect, interpret, and display nature. Since the early 1990s, Mark Dion (b. 1961, New Bedford, MA) has forged a unique, interdisciplinary practice by exploring and appropriating scientific methodologies. Often with an edge of irony, humor, and improvisation, Dion deconstructs both scientific and museum-based rituals of collecting and exhibiting objects by critically adopting them into his artistic practice.”

All the pieces were so interactive and just fun and interesting. You can open the cabinet’s drawers and walk through the space as if t were your own. Hope some of you can go and experience it!

Net Art is Dead

Throughout the course my position on digital materials and their relationship to archives has changed. Previously, I considered any digital material to be intrusive and of minor importance. This, of course, came from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding. After researching and learning about the internet, hardware, software, The Archive, conservation, and the limitless interconnection with all disciplines and mediums, I have come to completely become immersed in the the digital world and all its implications in regards to our established infrastructures and environment.

Internet Art (Net Art) in particular intrigues me. There is something about the world it creates that draws me in. Specifically, I want to understand what goes on in the back end, which is the most interesting component. Also, the diversity of it. As Christiane Paul adjunct curator at The Whitney Museum said “We are looking at something that is becoming more hybrid. Pieces often have different manifestations: an application, a net-based piece, an installation.” This is what makes it so beautiful: it is limitless and unrestricted. It is democratizing and all inclusive, where not only “artists” are allowed. It is the transition from medium to medium that the net art community (digital art in general) has inspired that in the big picture has fed the art world and, by extension, the history of art.

Another important component is the value of experimentation, which allows for the richness of the net art culture, and which consequently also feeds technological advances. This correlation between art and technology can not be underestimated because one does not exist without the other. We have come a long way from “Cybernetic Serendipity,” an exhibition held by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1968, which coincided with the pop-art movement and ARPANET, the first TCP/IP network. Both of these were groundbreaking. The pop-art movement on one hand challenged the notions of high art vs low art, and ARPANET in itself the red carpet of the internet.

Gordon Pask Colloquy of Mobiles
installation view video 1
ICA, London, 1968.

On that same note of transcendance, Net Art has created a more egalitarian relationship between the creatives and the institutions, hence the desire of museums to contribute to not only the creation and recognition, but the proliferation of digital works. A great example of this is the not-for-profit organization Rhizome, an affiliate of the New Museum, which gives digital media artists a platform to showcase their work.

As Rhizome other institutions, organization and platforms should be mentioned, as are:

Archive of Digital Art (ADA): a database for virtual art,
DiMoDa, a virtual institution dedicated to collecting and preserving digital art, and
MoMa’s Digital Art Vault.

Given that the third edition of The Wrong Biennale is currently live through January 31, 2018, I decided to chose it as an example to illustrate the complex environment of Net Art and the difficulty it poses not only in the curation practice in terms of classification (due to its hybridity), but also and in our case most importantly for storage and preservation purposes. In 2013, Spanish cultural curator, writer, producer and artist David Quiles Guillo created the The Wrong (digital art Biennale). The Wrong Biennale is a global digital art biennale that aims to display digital culture to a wider audience on the basis of open participation.

“The online biennale happens in pavilions: virtual curated spaces in any online accessible media where selected artworks are exhibited. The offline biennale happens in embassies; art spaces, galleries, institutions and artist-run spaces in cities around the world that feature temporary AFK projects, live performances, workshops, artist talks and exhibitions.”

This virtual exhibition has a total of +1,100 artists, 80 curators and an estimated +12 million unique visitors. This is massive. The mediums used by the creators are multiple, the use of the media is interchangeable and it creates a never ending loop of clicking. Once you land on the main website, virtual pavilions greet you, each one promising to take you into an infinite world beyond the net universe. In this biennale, you will find art created to be showcased on Instagram as is the case for “The Future for Today,” which “is a series of Instagram stories about what is to come. Every weekday, a different medium artist posts their predictions, employing divination techniques from the past and future.”

Then you will find a hyperlinked directory called 15cmdments, which “derives from 15 different Macbook keyboard shortcuts one is able to perform using the “cmd” key e.g. Command-C = Copy. 15 Artists have been invited to choose one of the 15 as a starting point to create new art.” Furthermore, in the same ecosystem you find an overwhelmingly uncomfortably curated virtual installation called “Curating Spam,” which is described as “Spam as information, Spam as aesthetics, Spam as communication strategy, Spam as curating, Spam as all the things you never wished for but happened anyway.” The “Curating Spam” pavilion was first intended as ng) shit”, which perfectly takes us to the important point of it all. How can all this inter-linkable material be stored and preserved, maintaining its essence? Should we store everything without discrimination and just amass for posterity? And if not, who shall be given the responsibility to decide what needs to be preserved for posterity?

The most problematic situations with preserving Net Art are: server payments, keeping the software to date, and the conceptualization and context of the art. This according to Annet Dekker in “Assembling traces, or the conservation of Net Art” article for Necsus Journal. With standardization and the defeat of capitalism (which I think is digital media conservation’s biggest issue) not foreseen in the near future, “the caretakers” (net users that appropriate the pieces to keep them alive) seem to be our only current viable net archive.

E. Coli is now a Movie Star!

Out with the Old, In with the New… not exactly. Technology is interconnected. The software and hardware may become obsolete, yet what is produced from them are not. It is this interconnectivity that makes digital material so hard to store and preserve.

This week what has impacted me the most is human behavior in relationship to stuff and its environment. We create stuff, destroy stuff, and then become insanely anxious about not having “The” stuff so we hoard, in a last attempt to conserve it and have it available. Hint: We are saving motion pictures in DNA. I will not be a hypocrite and say that this is not intriguing and exciting. The thought of cell spies is very interesting, yet at the same time I feel it is a symptom of our recklessness. The only reason we would need spy cells is too counteract our own neglect in tacking care of ourselves (not to discredit scientific advancements).

On that same note, after reading “Arks of the Apocalypse” by Malia Wollan I literally cried. Bio banks, Coral Nurseries, Environmental Banks, Milk Banks! It all seems insane to me. We are saving all this biological material in the hopes that in the future “smarter scientists” fix the mess we created. In this regard, the reason behind this practice I feel distorts the concept of the archive, because we are no longer conserving materials to preserve knowledge or a picture of a time. What we are doing is amassing anything and everything. In the end, what will we do with all of it? Anything can happen (and things have happened and will continue to happen), and stored material can be lost in a blink of an eye. So, shouldn’t we be more considerate with our environment and our intellectual creations and change our behavior now? There is so much the Archive can do or handle.

Theory, emulation, classification…

The over-theorization of archives confuses me more as my study of it deepens. I enjoyed reading Rick Prelinger, because to me the best way to understand things is to ground them, and he did just that for me. What are archives? Who is an archivist? Should and/or archives participatory? Archives as an institution and a political actor… I mean it goes on and on and on! This is why I now have more questions than answers and with no clear way in which I will start to unravel all my confusion because the archive is a complex organism that interacts with many actors and contains many roads.

Maybe my questions arise from a naive place, yet the separation of scholars from the archives and the separation of the archives from media archeology as reflected in “Media Archeology of Poetry and Sound”, demonstrate a constant in the field, which is the non recognition of the archive and therefore all that it comprises, hence in a way alienating it from intellectual processes and research. Moreover, I am conflicted with the dichotomy between the “bureaucratic, inflexible” traditional archive and the participatory archive being considered in contemporary culture. On one hand, I believe that the archive should be more adaptable to the changes that time imposes, yet on the other the idea of newcomers dancing within the archive realm makes me very uncomfortable.

Photography : Elusive Materiality


Photography is one of the mediums that I rarely connect to problematic situations. Whether it be interpretation, classification and in this case even less archival work. This is possibly explained by the assumption that photographs are so straight forward that what needs to be understood beyond their own existence? Unlike books, manuscripts, even paintings and other mediums photographs are considered a stolen moment encapsulated in a photograph to document.

I became aware of this dismissiveness while reading Elizabeth Edwards’ Photographs: Material Form and the Dynamic Archive. She states “An archive—of photographs—something separate from the dynamic of a discipline, something to be mined when useful, ignored at whim; a mere passive resource, tangential to the main business, a mere supporting role whose significance is defined not through its own identity but through asymmetrical relations with other objects which it serves to confirm in some way or other.”

A perfect example of this is the outstanding work Julia van Haaften did for the NYPL’s photograph collection, which had been neglected and forgotten until her personal interest sparked this great endeavor of classifying, organizing and eventually creating a collection out of the photographic material.

The retrieval and storage aspects of the archive are structural components that undoubtedly are of great importance for the conservation and organization of them. Nevertheless, as Jhon Tagg shares in “The Archiving Machine, or, The Camera and the Filing Cabinet”, it is the relationship of classification and knowledge that make the archive a well of wisdom. The importance of classification is essentially making sure we have as less lost narratives as humanly possible and that through classification systems we can diligently and responsibly reflect truth, whichever that may be.

The Future of Archives

Storage, storage storage. It seems we are always running out of space and in the midst of material chaos. Reading through Lischer-Katz article it felt like I have read all of this before. Actually my perception is that all I have read about archives lately talks about the same points. Firstly, the question of the immateriality of digital material. Second, the ecological impact of not only maintaining the new infrastructures to store and preserve digital media, but also the impact of our analog media material that needs to be discarded. And Finally, the worry that a significant amount of our analog collections and in the future even our digital collections will be lost.

A fascinating aspect of this moment in archival history is that I can’t stop but think about how the archives have always been overlooked and seen as transparent, even before the digitization era. Before digitization maybe because it was too big and in your face and now because through digitization everything gets sent away to the “Cloud”. With this transparency that follows archives a worry surfaces. What is the future of archives and how will archivists, scholars and the public’s relationships to it change? Will we loose the archives as we know it?

On the other hand, the ecological aspects are clearly not addressed as often making it more difficult to come to a well rounded solution for this reality. We talk about the problems that we know so well, but what are we going to do about it? It’s like we are in a constant loop of recycled conversation.