“The 1s and 0s of digital art degrade far more rapidly than traditional visual art does, and the demands of upkeep are much higher.”
– Melena Ryzik in “When Artworks Crash: Restorers Face Digital Test”,
The New York Times
If there is one thing “The World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence”, an internet piece created by artist Douglas Davis in 1994, could teach us is that the preservation of any form of artwork or performance done in the cyber space is as equivalently important as, the preservation of traditional artwork such as paintings, sculptures and artifacts that we have up in museums.
The artwork, which began with “I DID NOT FEEL SEPARATED I FELT VERY CLOSE EVEN THOUGH WE WERE THOUSANDS OF MILES APART,” motivated users from all over the world to participate and have their inputs contributed into a never-ending chain of messages that varied in thoughts, motives and languages. It was a platform that encouraged communication and interaction between people coming from different remote spaces to be done in one collective space. The piece collated a total of 200,000 contributions in a matter of 5 years, before the shifting in computer servers put it to a complete stop.
“… a seemingly simple technology-based artwork can go very, very wrong when it is not properly cared for, or when parts of the work are not collected at all.”
– Michael Connor in “Restoring ‘The World’s First Collaborative Sentence”, Rhizome Blog
From the text above, we could see how fragile online artwork is especially with the advancement in new technology and how the ciphering of codes gets lost due to encoding damages. Take for example, backing up works on the computer is essential to ensure that we are still be able to access those files in the event that any unpredictable technical issues come into play.
When curators from Whitney Museum of American Art attempted their restoration efforts on “Sentence”, it is found that the change in servers has led to several technical problems in the artwork itself. Words that were typed in Korean in the Hangul text were degraded as indecipherable garbled text and to this day are left not able to be decoded. Sustaining online art is not only important, but also comes with its own challenges and difficulties.
However, Whitney Museum of American Art managed to resolve this issue by having the frozen original version exhibited as well as providing a new live version of “Sentence” to act as a platform for users who are still interested in contributing to the ongoing quest to create a never-ending collaborative sentence. I feel that this is a great way for Whitney Museum to sustain online art such as the one discussed above. With this a fast-moving technological world that we live in, we could raise our efforts in taking better care of online works, having precautionary measures taken into consideration, to ensure the preservation of great works like “Sentence”. Online artwork is starting to emerge to have similar significance to traditional artwork. We should also start preserving them like how we would to ancient artifacts and paintings.
It’s very interesting that you pointed out the first sentence of the World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence, because it recognizes the fact that the world was becoming smaller with the advancement of the Internet and the World Wide Web. And yes, you are absolutely correct, preservation of net art is as important, if not more complicated than traditional art. A painting will last hundreds of years, but net art starts to break down with a few. What does that say about how we can archive digital art? Excellent research.