Sunday, June 29, 2014

[Yasmin_discussions] Fwd: crumb post

reposted with permission from the CRUMB list new-media-curating

This impassioned email from Johannes Goebel, founding director of
EMPAC, was just posted to the CRUMB list - he argues that new media
art needs to be through of as a fundamentally time based medium and
that institutions that deal with time based media are the likely
allies in conservation and restoration strategies rather than fine art
museums whose policies are derived from non time based media and also
in archiving 'collectibles' that are part of the system with private
collectors and gthe art market

jon and rick's proposal about emulation of new media art in their book
has stong connections to this point of view

however inevitable some new media art is 'collectible' and will be
housed in fine art museums as well is in museums of the moving image ,
performing arts etc so dual strategies can be anticipated


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Goebel, Johannes <>
Dear Crumbs,

Please allow me to share a different view to Oliver's perspective,
which may be perceived as being radical in a negative way by readers
of this list. Though I would certainly like my thoughts to be
perceived as being constructive.

Since I am not a known member of the new/digital media circles, I
should maybe give a few pointers to my background so what I write is
not by necessity heard as the voice of a disenchanted person, but as
coming from someone who has been involved deeply in parts of the field
discussed in this list. This background does not pre-qualify my view,
but it does give an indication of my continuous involvement in some
parts of the field.

I have worked in institutions focused on "digital" and "art" in two
phases. 13 years as a founding member of ZKM in Germany and then 13
years as founding director of EMPAC in the US. And then outside of
such institutions in the 13 years before ZKM, I was learning some
trades in the field starting with computer music at Stanford, trying
to get "something going" in Germany with a culture deeply averted at
the time to the combination of "digital" and "art(s)" – which is
another interesting subject.

As part of these positions I curated and organized in 1989 the first
MultiMediale festival of ZKM, which then took place up to the opening
of ZKM. At ZKM I was able to set-up the structure of "institutes" for
production and research as the first Leiter, "director", of music and
acoustics – and a year later Jeffrey Shaw joined us as the Leiter of
image media. During the first half of my time at ZKM, I was highly
involved with the design and construction of the ZKM building and
facilities. And at the same time I was deeply involved in a large
archival project of digital data (music) at a time when grants were
declined for such endeavors because "all-digital archives are not
feasible" (1990).

The discussion, Oliver spearheaded in this forum regarding museums and
digital art, would find a trove of materials by analyzing the process,
development and turns of the museums at ZKM. Indeed, the ZKM museums
did have the largest "media art" collections at the time and they have
invested a lot of energy, work and more or less deliberations into the
museumification of such art works. A highly interesting case study
some of you in academia might find a Ph.D. student to dive into…

An analysis of the productions and directions of the two producing
institutes at ZKM might be equally valuable. Both institutes had
distinctively different goals, methodologies and cultural perspectives
in pursuing their potential. And I think it is fair to say that an
analysis of how the production side of ZKM evolved after Peter Weibel
took the lead at ZKM and Jeffrey and I left in 2002 may indeed be of
high historical interest – how it all shifted, where the creation of
new works has been positioned in relationship to the agendas of the
ZKM museums, how exhibition, retrospectives and preservation
activities in conjunction with panels and intellectual activities have
shaped the change over time at an institution founded specifically as
a combination of production, public engagement and exhibiting museums.

Analyzing in concrete terms the activities of the ZKM museums
regarding "media art" works at ZKM will reveal in very concrete terms
the needs and necessities, strategies and difficulties, Oliver
addresses in his plea for (central European) museums to integrate
new/media/digital art into their corpus. I do not believe that so much
has changed in the field that an analytical dissection of ZKM museum
activities in regard to such art works can be most revealing.
(Starting with video monitors for Paik installations all the way to
operating systems and ports of "only digital" works) – worth another
Ph.D. thesis.

Such analysis may yield, that the support system for digital "stuff"
and for the related technologies – as it was in exemplary fashion
tackled at ZKM – is financially unobtainable or not sustainable
(people, expertise, machines, budgets etc.). Two pointers: Currently
only the western military powers (and maybe the cloud giants???) are
most likely in the position to constantly monitor their data, copy it
before it deteriorates and port it to other formats and operating
systems. There is a reason why banks (certainly one of the most
powerful entities on this planet) stick for so long to old generations
of machines, languages and operating systems for decades way beyond
where the technology industry has moved the rest of the world; or why
they even print their data out on acid-free paper and store it deep in
a mountain.

I was hired to the US to build an "Experimental Media and Performing
Arts Center" (EMPAC) as part of the oldest technical university in the
US, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I worked with architects and
engineers to define parameters and functionality for an – eventually -
$220 million project, which did not have any museums, but which was to
be focused on "time-based arts" and creating a common infrastructure
and program that would span the digital (computer) and the physical
(experiential) realms and that would support arts, science and
engineering to use the facilities under the same roof with the hope
for serendipity to bridge between the different motivations, goals and
methodologies of arts, science and engineering. At the same time I was
enabled to create a team of four curators (covering time-based arts
from the visual arts to music, dance and theater) years before the
center opened its doors.

"All of the sudden" a center was created that stands in contradiction
to the main stream of how culture is viewed in this society (which is
detrimental to the European perspectives – and that is one reason why
Oliver's arguments sound totally different here in the US). And this
center for some mysterious reason has developed in a first phase the
"arts side" to its full potential with residencies, commissions,
technical development and events and installations, while the
"research side" (science) is now catching up - quite the opposite to
other such projects at universities. (It should be mentioned that
EMPAC is a university-wide center and is not part of any department or
school and there are no regular classes or teaching at EMPAC as there
is no faculty, but a staff of professionals dedicated to the mission
and program of EMPAC).

This now brings me to my "different perspective" in contraposition to Oliver's.

Indeed culture is only possible by tradition – that which is passed
from one to the other. And there are different paths for passing
things, for changing histories, for preserving that what was done, for
re-interpretation etc. – like oral, making objects, symbolic (writing
or math or digital encoding), and there are different media that are
or carry that what can get passed on (from papyrus to stone to paint
to engravings, etc), digital being the latest addition.

And the major difference being, that digital "stuff" is not an object
we can perceive without it being "brought back" through intermediary
materials (machines) into the realm of our senses – the only way we
can perceive and interpret that which is encoded in the "invisible,
mute, intangible" mode of the digital is the mapping of the
"invisible" into the realm of our senses, seeing, hearing, touching,
smelling, tasting …

So it might be worthwhile to regard all art that involves digital
technology as time-based art. It is not "an object", it needs at least
conversion from the "intangible" into the realm of our perception. So
even a digital image or just a text that gets displayed on a monitor
or screen would be time-based (remember flickering screens that might
interact with fluorescent lights); time as a constituent of the
machine and of the conversion (I/O) and of what appears.

And most certainly all executions of any computer program are time
based. Because the computer is time-based – not on a perceivable way
for sure, for if you want to see if a chip functions on the electrical
level you have to use a logic analyzer which slows "things" down for
our senses so we can figure out if a transistor functions properly –
again the digital operations needs to be converted to the bandwidth /
resolution / speed of our senses to be able to determine "what it is

Every piece of net-art is time-based art. Every digital video is
time-based art in a dual sense – it is something moving that needs to
get moved (converted) to be perceived, experienced and interpreted as
moving. (Movies on acetate substrate are time-based in a single sense,
since we can look at each individual frame and they are meant to get

Every work that involves digital technology is not only time-based
because the machine itself is time-based in its operational mode, but
also on the next higher level in the sense that the machine itself
(including operating systems, programming languages, video or audio
standards etc.) is time-based in an economic sense. Its ever-changing
"embodiment" gets changed continuously by powers outside of those who
use it (us). This is different from a sculpture deteriorating over
time or a painting building up grime on its surface or an acetate film
fading. It is also different from printing technology moving to the
next generation of printing machines. The book once printed, is an
object. But a new computer system may render that, which previously
could be executed and converted for our senses as being impossible to
get done. The "instructions" need to be "executed".

To look at "digital" art as tangible objects misses fundamentally the
properties of computers and thus of the work itself. (I am using
"digital" in this context as short hand for "computer based" –
certainly there are non-computer based digital modes).

The declaration or viewing of all "digital" art as time-based arts
changes the perspective on such art radically. It is now part of
"performing arts", it needs to be "performed" or in the digital realm
"executed" (i.e. put on a time-line) to "come to live", to be
perceived, experienced and interpreted.

(Just to not get side-tracked too much: certainly viewing a painting
is also "time-based" as is the deterioration of a sculpture– but I am
referencing the mode of the "object" and "non-object" and not the mode
of us as living beings who cannot be but time-based and are born and
will die, with many heart beats in between.)

So museums as institutions based on collecting art in the form of
tangible objects may or are not be the appropriate place for
time-based arts. As for exhibiting time-based art museums certainly
have a "function" and offer opportunities. But the recent boom in
tying performing arts and performance art into the program of museums
shows the great, well: incapability, lack of expertise and
understanding of museums to deal with time-based art. Museums built in
the past decades do not meet any criteria for "time-based media art",
"digital" art or leave alone for "performing arts".

Even at ZKM where it was the program of the museums to show such art,
it was extremely difficult during the design process to integrate at
least a few elements that would allow the exhibition of such art in an
appropriate and easily manageable way. The lack of understanding came
from those in power who had little of an idea or experience with
"media" art even of the eighties… leave alone interactive
installations and their conditions And most of you who are curating
"media" or "digital" art in such institutions will know best the
difficulties you are up against on the institutional-political as well
as on the production side to for instance get that large spaces can be
dark, that projectors are not noisier than the potentially subtle
sounds of an installation, that there is no sound spilling over form a
neighboring installation, that adequate projection surfaces are
installed, that the lighting does not interfere or does supports
sensor technology etc. It is "absolutely maddening" for people who are
coming from the time-based arts to realize how little sensitivity and
expertise such institutions have allowed to grow within their walls to
show time-based art, not mentioning the design of new museums
integrating these arts.

Likewise the arts market: time-based art does not accumulate "added
value" over time. Musicians, dancers and actors have understood that
forever – their art is gone as soon as it is performed ("executed")
and experienced and it is needs a new performance to enter the realm
of perception, to meet an audience. "Media", "digital" art falls into
the same category. Only tangible objects accumulate value and can be
market driven.

Why does a major museum like MoMA pay a pittance for the screening of
a video or for acquiring videos (unless you are a star)? Because the
value is time-based and "expires after use". It cannot accumulate
value wile sitting on a shelf, because time cannot sit still.

So the argument that museums have a cultural mission and one could
pressure them to accommodate and preserve "digital" art, can at best
be valid for central European countries. But even that direction of
thought may be flawed because – as I tried to point out – museums are
not institutions that were ever meant to deal with time-based
"entities". They are deeply rooted in the 19th century as a successor
to arts collections by the courts and churches. And as containers for
the trophies of colonial enterprises.

Before, courts and churches had, besides their arts collections and
libraries, a separate entity for time-based arts– their musicians,
composers, dancers, actors, writers. And under an institutional
perspective, the visual and the time-based arts were all part of the
same entity and were paid from the same source. But then these
organizational structures were separated out in the 19th century when
the museums took over the public viewing of objects and viewing of
time-based arts moved to ever growing numbers of opera houses and
theaters, and then to movie theaters, and then to Biennials and …
Disney Land : )

So we can view and position all "digital" arts as time-based arts and
as being connected to the cultural and economic model of the "old"
performing arts – and NOT as being part of the traditional visual arts
canon and the related institutions. If museum show such "digital" art
– great – for whatever reason they might do it. As it is equally
"great" if they put on performances. We wish all time-based artists to
find such opportunities. But one will observe that, as mentioned
before, there is little observance of the needed requirements in
details (which are carefully observed when presenting "static" art) to
put such works or shows on.

"Digital media artists" produce time-based arts as their art needs to
be "executed", "performed", with machines, operating systems, programs
and I/O devices and maybe by the audience in "interactive" and
"participatory" art or be it in performing arts integrating digital
technology or be it as a large slide show on the side of a building.
(This certainly does not apply to all artists using digital
technology, like those creating "still" objects with prints of digital
photographs or 3-d printing or algorithmically developed static

And indeed I think such artists and their work do underlie the same
economic conditions like all time-based arts. I have not heard of many
artists who made a fortune from such a time-based "digital" works
being bought by museums or individuals (besides video installations
from a few stars).

Now to take this a step further: "digital" art works will have to die,
fade away, maybe being restored at some later point in time – but they
are an acceleration of the changes traditional performing arts

It is the signature characteristic of "digital" art that it's life
cycle is indeed very brief. It almost approaches the time-scale of
oral tradition. The survival in the

"cloud" is a myth once any kind of programming is involved in the
"performance" of a digital art work. The documentation of such an
artwork may be around for a while in the cloud (or on your computer) –
that is why documentation is the only way to keep such works in some
way accessible in the future. This documentation may include program
code, screen captures or video documentation with maybe multi cameras,
either edited into a single video or where the material form each
camera is kept. But the documentation is not "the work" and it will
hardly ever lead to anyone reconstructing a work from its

Looked at from the traditional perspective, the artist of "digital
art" is confronted with being the most vulnerable artist. We know that
texts only survived if they were copied by hand on sturdy material or
printed on (hopefully) acid-free paper. We have no idea how music
pieces from the 12th or 17th or 19th century sounded, where we still
have a symbolic notation, but where tradition has changed "the sound"
once it gets performed. Dance tries to cope with their specific
problem that there is no common notation – they try it now with the
help of digital technology. And theater (words) never minded to have
all their texts being edited, augmented, cut for whatever performance
a director was aiming for.

Or the artist of "digital art" is the most avant-garde because the
inherent properties of the work make clear what digital technology
offers us contrary to what we are told: The reality of a fast and
quick obsolescence and disappearance of "anything digital" that does
not get maintained continuously (!) by a highly expensive and
labor-intensive system. And such systems – as mentioned before – are
in our world only created by those who see a financial or military
interest. Even one of the greatest (largest and of high importance)
collections of data, the one in the scientific community, has no way
to be all "saved".

Not to speak of the programs and algorithms, which are used and
modified and programmed to create art as part of an interactive work
or of live-processing. Again, here we have an important example in
music with live-electronics, be they analog or be they digital. They
simply disappear very rapidly unless an institution (like IRCAM)
invests to port programs and patches to new system, to keep old
computers alive or to document in flow-charts and with mark-ups in the
scores what actually is supposed to happen. And the decisions, which
works will be elevated to this level of care, is a matter of politics,
of money and of "stature" and of power – like in the old days, when it
was decided, which manuscript was worth to be copied by hand on a new
set of vellum with new ink.

Maybe the "digital artist" has to understand her/himself like
performing artists do: once you cannot perform a piece anymore, once
the hardware or software does not run anymore, once you cannot dance
anymore, once you die, your work disappears with you. Is that not a
great perspective? Being freed from reaching eternal relevance –
creating for the "here and now", the actual realm of the arts – of the
performing arts?

And this will not make culture get less rich and will not result in
tradition being eroded. It is the indication of what digital culture
actually means and does contradictory to what seems to be the standard
anthem sung by the choir: Digital culture makes it incredibly clear
that it is the owners of resources who determine how history and
tradition are shaped, interpreted and used. (You might say: Nothing
has changed. And indeed digital technology has not resulted in a
change in this aspect, but has made it sharper, more apparent: digital
technology maybe democratizing a wide range of areas, but it certainly
closed off an after-life for more and more people. I am not sure this
makes a difference – but it does make a difference if we are told and
we believe it IS different). We all have digital "devices" – but we do
not have the power to even port data and programs through more than
3-5 generations of devices or through 2-3 generations of new operating

As we know from theater, music and dance, most works disappear with
their creator or performer – they still continue to live for a while
in "trans-substantiated" form in some individual or collective memory,
they may contribute to a fertile ground for new works. But they will
disappear eventually. Which indeed is not bad at all.

Was that not the goal of performance art – to get out of the white
cube, to put things on a time-line, which could not be replicated? And
is it not amazing that we now revive inside the white-cube that which
was meant to be outside of the institutional-temporal structure of
museums? Are we building mausoleums?

How great (seriously) – now we have digital art, which has an inherent
expiration date. Maybe that is what is meant by "artificial life".

We should welcome the "digital" artists to the performing arts world –
and work on the unifying understanding of time-based arts.

And you "digital" artists, you may dive deep into the tradition of
performing and time-based arts from a new perspective – namely that
here may be your (new) roots.

The gatekeepers to history and museums need not be convinced to take
on "digital" art. Either they get it or they don't. They have the
power to support me or to turn me away. But, once again, that is the
fate in performing, in time-based arts, that cannot accumulate value
but lives only with and through the audience in the moment if enters

It is a necessary luxury that we have academics, thinkers, writers,
curators who reflect on all this – we do need this intellectual work
because it keeps culture alive as a complex environment and it enables
to go into different directions within a cultural context. To stop and
then continue to stumble, walk or run.

What I am proposing is that we need to support the artists even more
so – because what will the academics, thinkers, writers, curators do
if there are no artists creating new works :)

The "digital" artists wake up as time-based artists, as part of
performing artists and the authors in these fields. The real challenge
is not how we enter institutions, which are petrified or have an
"incompatible agenda" – I have been trying that approach for ever and
I will continue to do so for the sake of creating new opportunities
for new works and their reception, to support the artists and their
work – but not for the sake of these institutions or for the sake of
history or my contribution to history (haha). It's only for the moment
I want to experience with an art work someone created to share time
with me in its own moving through time.


On Restoration, Preservation and Documentation

As I mentioned above, dealing with vanishing media has absorbed quite
a chunk of my professional life and keeping works afloat that are
inherently based on digital technology.

These experiences have contributed greatly to the thoughts I sketched above.

The earliest experience was using the then new technology of Audio-CDs
to create the first CD series, which pulled "digital music" (music
only possible with a computer) together and made it available in
digital format through a label which had started to move form vinyl to

At that time there were a wide variety of digital audio formats. So
the actual mastering process was to convert all the pieces submitted
in a variety of formats to the Audio-CD standard. A nightmare. This
taught me what everyone knows but does not want to consider when they
are creating new works: The actual digital formats dictate how long we
can keep "the work". The only way out is to analyze which format will
most likely survive the longest – and which format will be supported
by mass-market devices in millions of clones (which one may cheaply
buy and which one will find on dumps even in a hundred years to
reverse-engineer them). The Audio-CD format fulfills this criterion.
With compatible DVD players (and maybe, maybe Blu-ray players)
extending this strain of devices.

As part of this process I had to re-create a piece form the early
seventies, which had never existed in a digital copy, but only spliced
on analog tape. We dug up an old 9-track data tape on a dusty attic
and then found a still existing digital tape drive, to get the bits
off – not the audio bits, but the program that created the audio. The
compiler for this program did not exist anymore, but a more recent
version. The composer and I had to sit together and adapt the old
program structure to the new compiler – and then we had to go by the
memory of the composer if what we cobbled together was the "original"
piece. This taught me that there is absolutely no way to maintain
programs (leave alone specific hardware) to reconstruct pieces later
on. Many experts are involved in porting programs to new machines and
operating systems. The "arts world" cannot support such approach but
has to rely on individual fanatics who dedicate their life to such

An example of pre-digital machines is the Labor für antiquierte
Videosysteme at the ZKM, which has more than 300 pieces of equipment
to be able to play videos from the fifties to the eighties and to
digitize them. Which is important – but it reveals that the next
question will be how to preserve and copy now the content in the
digital domain. A continuous effort without end. Which does not mean
one should not start. But it shows clearly how time-based arts
underlies different conditions than non-time-based arts.

The next larger project was the International Digital Electronic Music
Archive (IDEAMA), collaboration with Stanford University between 1989
and 1996. More than 600 works of electro-acoustic music were collected
worldwide. Besides the mountain of collecting the pieces, the
information and the legal issues, the question was how to store the
digitized data. At the time the first professional CD-Writer had
entered the market with a professional program to edit and burn
Audio-CDs on writable CDs that would not get destroyed easily by
UV-light, temperature and humidity. Already then it was known how
"regular" writable CDs would get destroyed over a rather brief period
of time because of the organic material used in them.

The archive was distributed world-wide on such archival CDs. Then
later on the distribution was switched to hard discs because it was
easier to copy than to produce individual CDs. This was actually a
step in the wrong direction, because hard discs do not have the
longevity of CDs.

I do not know how many of you have experience with keeping a rather
large complex installation alive over an extended period. Here at
EMPAC we produced between 2003 and 2008 an interactive film
installation with the Wooster Group / New York City. The work is based
on Jeffrey Shaw's panoramic screen system having augmented some
parameters. This installation consists of a very large panoramic
screen (12m diameter, 4.5m high), panoramic projection with first 6,
now 5 video projectors, an interactive chair, 32 channels of audio and
a 20 minute video the viewer can navigate through. To maintain the
hardware and software over just the past 6 years, to port to new
systems etc. has been a major challenge and demanded expertise, labor
and finances, which I cannot imagine many institutions would invest
(Jeffrey certainly is probably the most knowledgeable in this area
since he has a large number of different installations set-up in Hong
Kong and has diligently maintained his works.) I could not imagine any
museum (but the Media Museum at ZKM) maintaining such a work and
updating it. The hardware and software expertise to update all the
integrated systems and to make such a work portable is quite difficult
to find in one place (Bernd Linterman at ZKM certainly being an expert
in many aspects of this.) The accumulation of this knowledge in a new
team like here at EMPAC – which would need to be the case if Oliver's
proposal to have museums take on such work – is especially
complicated. I wonder if such pragmatic examples are taken into
consideration in the conferences and discussions, Roger Malina
mentioned in his recent contribution to this list. And what the
conclusions and resulting strategies might be.

As I proposed above, the only way might be to have a video/audio
documentation of such work instead of keeping the work itself
functioning. The video formats will certainly be kept supported for an
extended period of time, especially if they are used by commercial

Which brings me to the final consideration: How do we store the
resulting documentation without having to constantly monitor the state
of corruption of the data stored on some medium. Again, we in the art
world cannot afford complex systems of automated error checks and
automated replication processes. And museum certainly will never be
able to create and support such automated systems.

It is always good to go with standards, which some important business
is relying on – like Hollywood. So we went with LTO-5 tapes to back up
our productions. Having been through many generations of back-up
considerations, I still felt uneasy about tapes – or in a generalized
way about media, which have moving parts integral to their functioning
- which can crash (heads on hard disks), stretch or tear (tape) or
have a magnetic storage life, which will run out at some point in time
(hard disks, SSD).

For all these reasons, I have been "fond" of writable optical media
like CDs, DVDs and maybe Blu-ray discs. The only shortcoming of these
media was (maybe so far) that they used organic material, which will
deteriorate and eventually make it impossible to read the disc. The
reflective layer will peel off if exposed to UV-light and they don't
like high temperature and humidity.

I used at ZKM high quality archival CDs, which have been available now
for almost 25 years. The seem to stand up to their advertised 100 year
life-span …

Recently I came across the Millennium Disc (DVD and Blu-ray), which is
supposed to not have any organic materials as part of its make-up and
which withstood reportedly tests by the US-army in excellent shape
(nowhere comparable to standard discs).

I would like to hear feedback on my current strategy (for video,
audio, images and documents in a format that will most likely be kept
around to convert to then newer formats) :

Put everything on these Millennium discs; buy a few computers and a
few disc reading devices and put them on a shelf, maybe restart them
once a year and replace batteries on the mother board …) and otherwise
just let them sit there. The investment might be $5,000. But I can be
certain that this is the cheapest way to keep the documentation and
documents available for say the next 30 years, maybe 50 or until
someone decides to throw them out - without the constant need for
"checking the state of the bits".


Ending on this pragmatic note,


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