by Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito. MIT Press, July 2014. 297 p. ill. ISBN 9780262027007 (cl.), $35.00.
Reviewed November 2014
The techniques and practices used to preserve traditional media artwork (such as paintings and sculptures) have long been defined and established, with such works undergoing standard processes of conservation, physical storage, and subsequent retrieval when needed. However, we now live in an era where art is found in variable media.
Works such as born-digital art or degradable/ephemeral installations populate museums - yet the preservation methods that worked so well for traditional media are neither ideal nor practical for new media works. Physical storage alone is not enough to preserve the works since technology becomes obsolete – the hardware or the software stops working and/or is no longer available, or instability itself is what defines the piece. An unfortunate outcome is that much of new media art, which serves as evidence of our own era's cultural heritage, is at risk of not surviving into the future.
While identifying the main causes for a short life-cycle of new media art (namely rigid and ineffective institutional practices, technology obsolescence, and copyright laws) Re-Collection approaches preservation from a different angle in that it urges us to scrutinize the ultimate goals of preservation in order to expand practices that will accommodate new media art.
The authors Jon Ippolito and Richard Rinehart open several discussions such as the significance of the original medium to the art, the master copy and the value of subsequent derivatives, along with notions of artistic authenticity, integrity, and intent – all of these considerations should inform thoughtful preservation decisions. Observing success stories in the preservation of similar materials outside the art world, the authors draw unique parallels to performance art, musical scores, film, and even video games - offering conservators unlikely leaders and perhaps suggestions for potential allies.
Re-Collection is not a detailed how-to manual, nor does it claim to be, as no single approach could possibly cover how to preserve all forms of new media art. However, it does offer critical points that anyone interested in successfully preserving new media art should think through carefully. Particularly useful are considerations institutions should make before acquiring the work – as by the time the work is ready to be preserved, key information needed for this process may no longer be available.
While Re-Collection is certainly beneficial for curators and conservators whose role is to preserve new media art, its theoretical approach will enrich the professional practices of archivists, programmers, lawyers, and art dealers alike.