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Saturday, June 1 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Electronic Media) The Role of the Technical Narrative for Preserving New Media Art

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In 2009 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art initiated a project to develop a sustainable, long-term preservation strategy for software-based artworks. For this research two artworks in its collection were examined.

The first work, Julia Scher's Predictive Engineering 2 (1998), a web-based artwork that accompanies a large media installation and mirrors the formative years of HTML programming in the 1990s.

The second work, Agent Ruby, was created by San Francisco-based artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, a pioneer of media-based and conceptual art Hershman’s work features a custom code for artificial intelligence that is embodied by an avatar that can talk back to viewers.
The technical complexity and different media components of these works created a need for new forms of documentation and the concept of a technical narrative was developed. It is a standardized system for documenting digital artworks. The purpose of the technical narrative is to describe:

  • A high level functional description of the work. This is a general description of how the work functions and operates as a whole. This part of the narrative is a platform-neutral description of the work in a general and functional way.

  • A modular examination of the individual components of the work and their specific functions. The intent of this section is to look at every individual component of the work in detail. Additionally a high level examination is given to how all of the parts work as a complete system. This section attempts to map out a general technical schematic of the work.

  • A detailed description of the artwork as it exists upon acquisition. This section is specific about the hardware, software, operating systems, languages, algorithms, video codecs, etc. These platforms, components and technologies are examined closely to inform an understanding of how they serve operational requirements of the work. This section is closely tied to the technical documentation provided by the artist and their engineers, describing the pragmatic requirements for operation and display.

  • An analysis of the current technology platform and an evaluation of its longevity against the current state of technology. Here we consider the long-term stability of the piece upon acquisition. It calls out strategies and concerns in preserving the work over the long term and informs ongoing conservation and maintenance protocols including possible strategies for migration or emulation.

  • The technical narrative is now a standard piece of documentation for all digital based artworks that are acquired by SFMOMA including video, audio and software-based art. This presentation and paper will describe the technical narrative in detail and the processes involved in its creation. Some real world examples from the documentation of software-based artworks and multi-channel video installations will be covered.


    Mark Hellar

    Owner, Hellar Studios, LLC.

    Saturday June 1, 2013 11:30am - 12:00pm EDT
    JW Marriott Meeting Room 201-203 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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