Original vs Experience: The Quandary of New Media Artwork

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When it comes to art, the original is king. Collectors and museums don’t like fakes duplicates or copies (most of the time), they want the original. This also means that since there can only be one original, that it can only be truly seen in one place. Sharing an object is common through loans and trades but generally not for the purpose of recreating or copy making. After all, the original reigns supreme.

New media art is a little different, because it is art that is made digitally. New media art can include anything from computer graphics, to digital paintings and pictures, to videos, to virtual art, installations, and anything created using a digital means. However, as we are all aware technology ages fast. Consequently, new media art is at risk of obsolescence, loss, and corruption in a way that physical art is not. As new media art is often transient in nature, the focus is less on that original and more on recreating or emulating the work in the future. This involves a very different line of thinking than art preservationists are typically used to. For curators and conservators the focus is less on preserving the original work and more on recreating it. Artists are allies in this regard and they are questioned as to how best re-interpret or re-create the work in the future. Lawyers are faced with who is allowed to recreate an artwork rather than who owns the rights to an artwork.

Once a new media artwork is owned, it is at risk of corruption, loss, or obsolescence. Who has the right to make changes to a digital artwork for preservation purposes and what changes are allowed? What can be done so that the artwork can be viewed in the future without completely forsaking the original intent of the artwork? Often the original artists can help answer these questions the best. Programs such as the Variable Media Questionnaire, help digital preservationists make digital artwork available for future users by asking artists which aspects, user experiences, and mechanical components of the artwork are crucial to achieve the same experience in future iterations.

New media artwork requires a fair bit of reprogramming on the part of art preservationists as there is less focus on the original and more focus on recreating the same experience for the future. The original artists can help guide future iterations by necessitating which elements are crucial to generating the same experience. One thing is for certain though, in the digital art landscape, the original cannot feasibly be the king.

— Article by: Chris Rahmeh

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