Restoring 'The World's First Collaborative Sentence'

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Douglas Davis, "The World's First Collaborative Sentence" (1994). Detail.

On Monday, the New York Times ran an article describing the Whitney Museum's restoration of an early online artwork by Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence (1994). 

Many of the comments posted to the article offered sage advice for the conservation team, free of charge. According to Francesco of New York, “it was probably build in java or php and they need to update the server.” VJBortolot of Guildford, CT, expressed surprise “that the Whitney didn't … use an legacy browser … and run it in a Win95 environment on a vintage computer.” E.W. Chesterton of Palm Beach simply wrote, “Oh please! It’s html!”

Expert diagnoses notwithstanding, it’s well worth delving a bit further into some of the complex issues that emerged during the Davis restoration.

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The Signal Interviews Ben Fino-Radin about Conservation and Digital Art

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Barbra Latanzi,  The Letter and the Fly (2002 )

Trevor Owens interviewed Rhizome Digital Conservator Ben Fino-Radin for the Library of Congress blog on digital preservation, The Signal. In the interview, he discusses Rhizome's ArtBase collection, including work like Barbara Lattanzi's The Letter and the Fly (2002) and Lev Manovich's Little Movies (1994). He also talks about the role the collection plays in the Rhizome community as well as his unique job with the organization:

Trevor: Could you tell us a bit about how the collection is being used? To what extent is the audience for the collection artists in search of inspiration? To what extent is it for the general public? To what extent is it for scholars and researchers?

Ben: Currently the collection is used most heavily in academia, and by curators and researchers. Many professors of new media integrate the ArtBase into their lesson plan, designing research and curatorial assignments centered around the students using our members tools to curate exhibitions.

Trevor: I don’t think there are many people out there with the title of digital conservator. Could you tell us a bit about how you define this role? To what extent do you think this role is similar and different to analog art conservation? Similarly, to what extent is this work similar or different to roles like digital archivist or digital curator?

Ben: I drew the distinction with my title for two reasons: 1) I am at the service of an institution that lives within a museum, and 2) the digital objects I am cataloging and preserving access to are not “records” by the archival definition. They are artifacts – and as such require a different kind of care.

I am responsible for the stewardship of intellectual entities that are often inseparable from their ...

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