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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  December 2017

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING December 2017

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Subject:

Thought on time, temporality and new media public artwork

From:

David Rokeby <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

David Rokeby <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:38:02 -0500

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Re Johannes Goebel’s comments:

> This in consequence might yield a less “how do I preserve my works for the future” perspective, less of a historic perspective that is derived from culture of “preservation” and “things”  but on that of “tradition of time-based culture”. “Preservation” (freezing to stay out of time) might be – for the given reasons – totally against time-based art.

This is the perspective within which I created much of my interactive work, but I am not sure that it is entirely satisfying. There is a difference between traditional time-based works and works that are supported by the operation of an on-going algorithm. Certainly, the software program can be compared with some justification to a musical score… the computer and any input devices are therefore the conductor/director and performers.

But:
Unlike performers, the computer is, in relative terms, extraordinarily tireless and patient and the incremental cost to perform for a week rather than a day is minimal, so continuous performance is possible. 

Also, a recording of a performance of a musical composition, while not identical to the live performance, is substantially similar from an experiential perspective to a live performance.
For Dance and Theatre productions, the distinction between performance and recording is larger, though most of the salient aspects of the live performance experience can be gathered from the recording. On the other hand, documentation of interactive works is often a completely different proposition than the live experience… not always unsatisfying, and often usefully descriptive, but definitely incomplete and often missing the raison d'être for the work itself.

These differences alone make a comparison unsatisfying.

From the perspective of temporality, it is also lacking… To use an example relatively specific to the topic at hand, public art works are in many cases, viewed regularly, sometimes even daily, so in addition to a new media public art work often being time-based in the common sense, also operates through time, allowing for a cumulative effects on the public. While we are often instructed to remember that the average museum goer spends less than 30 seconds with the average work, when considering a public art work, we have the opportunity to consider regular repeat viewing over a significant period of time. Of course in many cases, this duration leads to invisibility, it also offers some tantalizing possibilities for slowly inducing ideas or shifts in perception.

Perhaps more significantly, the temporality of an interactive work is not necessarily one that manifests as an unfolding narrative with a relatively predictable appropriate viewing period, but rather as a modal, experiential state that is active and manifest in time, but presents as a ‘constant’ transformation of the experience of being in a certain place. This is not uniqued to interactive work. Architecture and installation can do the same thing in different ways, but they are a different sort of manifestation than a temporal performance.

It does depend on the nature of the work, of course, with specific works crossing the lines I have roughly drawn here.

I do agree that it is interesting nonetheless to think about decommissioning of public artworks as an integral part of the life-cycle of a public work. Some works do lose meaning in a shifting context. It would be much easier to consider public new media artwork commissions of everybody came to the table with a very realistic grasp of the challenges involved. Many current rules and expectations around public art are grounded in the expectation that the work will endure. There is a larger discussion to be had here which is not confined to the realm of new media public art… the new media stuff just adds a bundle of thorny technical issues to the existing problems around the optimal lifetime of any sort of public artwork.

I guess what I am realizing through my own ruminations is that, while there are lots of reasons to be frustrated by the processes and challenges of producing and maintaining new media public art (and the related challenges of placing complex new media artworks in collections), there remain really compelling reasons to continue to try to come up with frameworks for solutions. I am not satisfied with just accepting that the work is time-based so I should just accept the model of performance which manages to make the problems disappear.

I am concerned that not planning for legacy means that only the most mainstream media explorations of our time will survive. I am tired and harried and not getting any younger, but I do think that there are things that we can do to give our works a better chance of enduring, so that those that do manage to remain relevant have a chance to be maintained or resuscitated or emulated in a way that accurately reflects that ideas and intuitions that lead to their creation. 

I am approaching this by daring to think in terms of 100 years rather than the 20 years that has been the norm for me and apparently for others. I do this partly as a thought experiment, having lived through the equivalent of I don't know how many generations of technology. It may be an entirely quixotic endeavour, but I am not ready to give in yet!

Excuse my ramblings… I don’t have answers, but I am enjoying the challenges of this conversation.

David

—————————————————————————————————
David Rokeby
135 Manning Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M6J 2K6 Canada
(416) 603-4640
[log in to unmask]
http://www.davidrokeby.com
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