Review of Digital Art through the Looking Glass: New strategies for
archiving, collecting and preserving in digital humanities

by Oliver Grau, Janina Hoth, and Eveline Wandl-Vogt (Eds.)
Edition Donau-Universität Krems and Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2019

Books on archiving, collecting, and preserving digital art are rare.
Oliver Grau, Janina Hoth, and Eveline Wandl-Vogt's open access book
Digital Art through the Looking Glass. New strategies for archiving,
collecting and preserving in digital humanities (Danube University Press
Krems and Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2019) provides us with this
content addressing the topic from a variety of perspectives. This book
elaborates on the problem of archiving, collecting, and conserving
digital art by treating on the one side the challenge of the
preservation of the early new media art, then describing in detail the
state of the digital arts and museums through six decades - since its
existence, as well as treating different perspectives and practices of
digital art archiving methods, not only from an artist's point of view,
but also from a collector's and curator's point of view. Furthermore,
this book also deals with digital cultural heritage with a focus on
methodology and research tools.

Already in a previous book edited by Oliver Grau, Wendy Coones, and
Viola Rühse Museum and Archive on the move. Changing Cultural
Institutions in the Digital Era (De Gruyter 2017) the issue of archiving
and presenting digital artworks in museums was addressed. Or, the
bilingual book edited by Giselle Beiguelman and Ana Conçalves Magalhães
Possible Futures. Art, Museums and Digital Archives (Editora
Peiropolis 2014) which is the result of a symposium held at the School
of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of Sao Paulo in
partnership with the Ars Electronica in Linz presents ideas on future
archives, or ways of digitizing different genres, and also analyses new
forms of information curatorship. In contrast to these books, Digital
Art through the Looking Glass includes extended practices and proposals,
e.g. of restoring and keeping artworks “alive”, and it includes a
comprehensive introduction to the integration of the research of digital
art within the field of digital humanities.

In the introduction Oliver Grau, Janina Hoth, and Eveline Wandl-Vogt
create and explain connections between digital art and digital
humanities, and emphasize the role of artists of digital art and their
impact on society. The authors state here that digital art's
developments often mirror the academic field of digital humanities; and
through ”transdisciplinary methods at the intersection of art, science,
and technology, digital art combines artistic creation with innovative
research and technological development” (p. 9). The authors draw
attention towards integrating the research of those artworks into the
digital humanities. Further Grau, Hoth, and Wandl-Vogt provide an
overview of the main sections of the book while also explaining the
background and how each contribution fits into this research.
The first section of the book begins with a chapter by one of the
pioneers of computer art – Frieder Nake- dealing with the origin of
digital media by discussing/treating Georg Nees’ and Harald Cohen's
artworks. Further, George Legrady – one of the artists who makes the
collection a central focal point of his work - deals with the
integration of noise as an aesthetic element in his early digital
photographic projects. José R. Alcalá Mellado and Beatriz Escribano
Belmar go back to the electrographic practices including art forms such
as copy-art or fax-art to research the historical development of media
art. This part of the book is being closed with another research on
media art histories - Anne-Marie Duguet deals with the “anarchive”
series which presents time-based artworks in which the archives had to
be constantly updated.

The second section of the book “Six Decades of Digital Art and Museums”
is a description of the DARIAH connectivity roundtable held at the
MediaArtHistories in 2017, where the panelists Giselle Beiguelman,
Howard Besser, Patricia Falcão, Oliver Grau, Sarah Kenderdine, Marianne
Ping Huang, and Christoph Thun-Hohenstein moderated by Wendy Coones
discussed questions such as how do museums and archives need to evolve
in order to collect, preserve, and show the digital art of our time and
what kind of strategies and concerted preservation tools might be
necessary to move forward. While the first panellist Falcão addresses as
main problem the fact that digital-based arts are being collecting in
different areas (museums, archive,...) and are not centrally
coordinated, Beiguelman—speaking about art online—thinks that
reinvention of memory is now necessary so that we can find artworks even
if there are social networks that one day might fail; data should be
further accessible by search engines. Oliver Grau considers that being
about 200 years old a museum is a bit outdated for collecting and
presenting digital art. For this, museums have to be restructured.
Considering that there are so many museums in the world, he proposes to
dedicate a small percent of them to specific kinds of digital art, as
for instance one for interactive art, one for bio art, one for
so that the entire field of digital art would be covered. The panellist
Ping Huang thinks that media art impacts society and it is even a
teaching institution, and museums should learn from media art about how
to evolve, while Thun-Hohenstein proposes to select in order to retain
the most relevant artists, designers, architects and others that are
associated, as well as commission projects that answer questions that we
need to ask, e.g. “What is the art of our time that is really
representative of this new digital modernity that we live in” (p. 89).
Kenderdine focuses on the problem of the nature of some digital artworks
that involve clusters of computers and not a single computer. She states
that the experience of the work should be documented as well as the
technical infrastructure that is involved in putting it together and
Howard Besser points out that conservators need to be more trained and
specialized particularly in the area of media art conservation.

The third section of the book which is about collective and curatorial
methods for digital archiving begins with a chapter by Rafael
Lozano-Hemmer representing the artist’s side and giving advice to trust
the specialized conservators. Giselle Beiguelman as an artist who has
been working on the web states that discussing the preservation of implies discussing its transmission aesthetics and new archiving
models. She links the conservation of net artworks to a post cloud
Internet world (where platforms such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook
have become “the Internet itself”), besides to the technological
obsolescence, also to the ideological obsolescence. Annet Dekker
distinguishes between light and dark digital archives, where the dark
archive consists only of meta-data and is not for public use, while the
light archive is visible. Thus, moving (circulating) from one to another
a new method of networked co-archiving emerges. In the last chapter of
this part Janina Hoth draws attention to the fact that in order to
preserve media artworks many qualias can be lost in the process of
historicization, whereas a historicized artwork should represent the
artistic intention in its originality due to the idea, form, experience
as well as its classification by integrating the collectivity into
archival methodology.

In the fourth section of the book which deals with digital cultural
heritage – methodologies & research tools –first Laura Leuzzi relies on
the re-enactment of early video art as a research tool for media art
histories, while Diego Mellado deals with the recreation of media art
from the systems engineer's perspective using the artwork “n-Cha(n)-t”
by David Rokeby as an example. One of the editors of this book and the
creator of ADA (Archive of Digital Art), Oliver Grau, points out that we
might lose digital art because of the technological obsolescence and,
therefore, through an innovative strategy of collaborative archiving,
social web 2.0, 3.0 features we need to foster the engagement of the
international digital art community through the use of a “bridging
thesaurus” linking the extended documentation of ADA with other
databases of traditional art history. “Narrative Book Collection” - a
unique model for digital exhibitions of pre-modern Japanese books, which
uses both, verbal and nonverbal aspects of books to reveal cultural
features in a narrative format, is presented by Goki Miyakita and Keiko
Okawa as the last chapter of this part.

The fifth section of the book which is about curatorial practices
including commissioning policies and conservation strategies for digital
art begins with a chapter by Sabine Himmelsbach who discusses the
challenges of the net-based and networked art focusing examples of HeK
(House of Electronica Arts Basel). Next is a chapter about the future of
museums by Howard Besser who posits that museums will lose their
exclusive role in showcasing art. Within this context a further chapter
by Francesca Franco discusses the history of computer art through the
example of the exhibition “Algorithmic Signs” with pioneering artists of
this field curated by her in Venice 2017. Patricia Falcão deals with the
conservation of software-based art at Tate Modern, while the last
chapter by Beatriz Escribano Belmar and José R. Alcalá Mellado treats
the development of digital narratives using as a case study Fred Adam,
who as one of the first visited the International Museum of
Electrography (MIDE) in Cuenca in the 1990s.

Although written by many authors, organizing the issues in chapters, as
well as the unified language, the professionality of this book for the
specific area, including numerous important examples and practices from
different perspectives of this kind of art, makes it appear to the
reader from the first page as she was reading a novel. Given that the
authors are already well established and eminent leaders of relevant
institutions, critics, researchers, or artists in the respective fields
for which they have written, I recommend this book as basic literature
in institutions such as universities, museums and archives. Besides,
this comprehensive book also needs to be read by free archivists,
collectors, and preservers of digital art, then curators and presenters,
historians, critics, researchers and students of humanities in general;
I would suggest it as complimentary literature for artists of this kind
of art.
The book is available as open access e-book here:         

Penesta Dika, art curator and lecturer at University of Art in Linz; 

rohrpost - deutschsprachige Liste zur Kultur digitaler Medien und Netze

Antwort per Email an