[-empyre-] Culturally specific archives

B. Bogart ben at ekran.org
Sun Oct 10 02:54:34 EST 2010

Hello all,

I found a few of Jon's points very interesting and wanted to comment on 
a couple. I am a emerging electronic media artist who manifests his work 
in computational systems. I'm also a copyleftist and my academic and 
artist productions have been entirely FLOSS oriented since 2003. I'll 
extract sections and comment inline...

On 10-10-09 05:29 AM, Jon Ippolito wrote:
> Much as we'd like to believe, conditioned by concepts like the
> Universal Turing Machine, that a digital file will run the same way
> on every computer, anyone who's actually tried to "write once run
> everywhere" knows how much execution varies with context. (Mention
> the phrase "Internet Explorer" to a Web designer and watch her
> grimace in pain.)

Currently it appears that software and technology are not really 
considered culture. Technologies and methods languish in storage, being 
kept dead due to IP restrictions. I think this is relevant to the art 
discussion, as somehow due to IP law, ideas become like works of art, 
loosing their meaning as they are stored and restricted, rather than 
being shared and integrated into culture.

I like the example of IE, having done some web design some time ago. 
Some companies simply do not want programs to be portable, as it gives 
their customers more choice, when really they want the customer to be 
chained to a single OS/browser, and perhaps way of thinking about 
computing. I think having a program really run anywhere would require a 
massive cultural collaboration, and I don't think that is possible in a 
world where technological ideas, especially software, can be owned and 
isolated from culture. Where profit is the single goal, and technology 
is not considered another artform, like painting or theatre.

One may say these other artforms have always been IP encumbered and why 
should technology be any different? IP has gotten to such an extreme 
that is it possible to claim (and legally defend) ownership of an idea, 
not an implementation, not a painting or a play, but the very idea of 
the painting or play.

Electronic media artworks, or digital (whatever the label), in this vein 
are hopelessly dependent on the technolgies that execute them, and so we 
inherit (perhaps invite) these issues of ownership and control from the 
technology industry (rather than the culture of technology). How could 
one ever hope to preserve an artwork where at every stage of its media, 
its images, its software, its video files, are all tightly owned and 
controlled by industry. The methods of accessing them and 'migrating' 
them requiring licensing agreements, or even worse disappear entirely 
because the company went under, and the software was never released into 
the public domain.

I believe that technology and IP, as it is currently practised, makes 
any preservation nearly impossible, and certainly complicates even 
migration. I think choices regarding what technologies an artwork should 
depend on should be a careful decision, that can't be limited by the 
here-and-now pragmatics of what warez software can easily be acquired, 
or happens to be preinstalled on our computers. How many would use 
windows if they have to buy and install it themselves, rather than it 
just being there when they turn on a new computer?

> Of course, it's daunting to think that typing Command-S doesn't
> really save a file--that we have to keep it alive by migration,
> emulation, sometimes even apprenticeship. It's also unnerving to
> imagine entrusting preservation to people from the future who will
> remake it, many of whom are even not part of traditional collecting
> institutions. Yet much as professional conservators might fear an
> army of amateurs, such "unreliable archivists" have kept cultures
> alive over decades (by rescripting Nintendo emulators) or millennia
> (by retelling Aboriginal Dreamings). Meanwhile our wonderfully
> highbrow electronic artworks are decaying into inert assemblages of
> wire and plastic in their climate-controlled crates.

Jon, this idea of "apprenticeship" really struck a chord with me. If we 
treat technological development (at least some of it) as a cultural 
production, then we can keep software (and more) systems alive through 
apprenticeship. Rather than us using the OS written a few years ago, 
imagine using the OS we contribute to, that was written by our 
grandparents. Apparently the "ls" command I use to list files was 
originally created in the 1960s, and reimplemented and revised countless 
times since then. Perhaps UNIX->Linux is not far from OS as culture, 
passed down from generation to generation.

When I pass on, to whom will I entrust the software that makes up my 

I think Jon's trinity of "migration", "emulation" and "apprenticeship" 
can only be broadly practised once we realize that any creation of any 
individual is indebted to the creations and ideas that came before. I 
think we can best contribute to the future by seeing the true nature of 
our creations as not just products of ourselves, but at least as equally 
so, products of our culture.

B. Bogart

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