Can Digital Art Last Forever?

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Image: View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826 or 1827, the earliest surviving camera photograph. By Ben Fino-Radin

Artists have always reached for the tools, materials, and technologies of their time. The 20th century in particular has witnessed the greatest explosion of new materials for artistic experimentation.

Celluloid, analog video, early mainframe computers, networks, robotics, the personal computer, the world wide web – you name it. Artists created works with these tools as soon as they could get their hands on them – be it by sneaking into a video post-production house after hours, or by private corporations sharing the wealth through artists residencies (for instance, Bell Labs). The year I am writing this, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), a Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver founded organization established to develop collaborations between artists and engineers.

Computer Music pioneer, Laurie Spiegel, in her studio. Photo credit: Enrico Ferorelli

While fifty years is young for an artistic medium, during that time, we have seen technologies come and go making artworks created with these tools and formats oftentimes inaccessible, obsolete and impossible to recover all with drastic stakes. We suddenly have an entire generation of artistic creation – cultural heritage and artifacts – that are at risk of simply disappearing. While all works of art can fall apart eventually if not cared for, even a sculpture made out of concrete, the materials of the 20th and 21st centuries do so at an alarming rate, and are at great risk of disappearing long before institutions deem it worthy of collecting and preserving (if ever).

Thankfully there is at least one preventative measure that can be employed: digitization. It is a well established fact that there are no analog media carriers that will last forever – by digitizing analog media, we can ensure that the contents can be losslessly preserved and migrated into the future. However, digital files can also fall apart – become corrupted, obsolete, lost, deleted. To combat that, an entire profession has evolved,  devoted solely to digital preservation. Museums, have experts (myself included) dedicated to preservation.

  • What does it mean to “preserve” something digital?
  • When you “preserve” a digital artwork, what are you actually preserving?

First and foremost, you are preserving the digital files (videos, sound files, still images, executable software) that make up the artwork and that are necessary to exhibit and/or view the artwork. These files contain the data: zeroes and ones that make up bits and bytes. Preserving these zeroes and ones perfectly (and being able to prove and demonstrate that one has done so) is paramount when talking about a work of art. No matter what storage medium these files are copied to, we must be able to prove that the same file, bit for bit, every zero and every one has been accounted for. This is how we can prove and validate the authenticity of digital art.

Preserving these bits and bytes however is just the first step – just because we have perfectly stored a file, doesn’t mean that in the future it will be understandable.  Therefore, we need to record data about the data – metadata - about what these files are, what they are supposed to look like, and what purpose they serve within the larger context of the artwork. For instance,  are these video files part of the artwork itself, and they meant to be projected in the gallery, or are they videos documenting the exhibition of the work? Without the preservation of this contextual information, the files are useless.  

Consulting artist Phil Sanders at the 2013 New Museum exhibition XFR STN. Photo courtesy Walter Forsberg

The last piece of the puzzle is storage - we need to put all of this information somewhere safe. Unfortunately digital storage is by its very nature fallible – just as there is no archival or permanent analog storage medium (safe for film, when properly cared for) – there is no permanent or archival form of digital storage. Thankfully we can design around this problem. First and foremost, we can build storage devices that have built in redundancy and safety measures, including the ability to identify problems. Secondly, we need to store multiple complete copies of all of this data and metadata in multiple locations. This protects us from natural disaster, or complete failure of the digital storage device.

In theory, all of these principles are quite simple. The problem is that in practice they are quite hard. People have limited time, money, and expertise, and unfortunately, uploading assets and artwork to a cloud storage platform meant for regular everyday use simply isn’t a viable digital art preservation plan. Most artists have a hard enough time finding creative headspace with everything they are already juggling: paying the bills, running their studio, getting ready for the next exhibition, seeing their friend’s shows. Worrying about digital storage, checksum algorithms, growth projections, format obsolescence, viruses, natural disasters is yet another challenge that very seldom addressed.

This is where Niio comes in. I am collaborating with the team to not only make digital preservation accessible, but to also make it affordable and sustainable. Not just to artists, but to all of the various stakeholders in the art world: galleries, private collectors, institutions, you name it.

[Note: This article is the first in a 5-part series of preservation.]

Read Our In Depth Q+A With Ben

Part 1: A Conversation With Ben Fino-Radin, Preservation Expert Part 2: A Conversation With Ben Fino-Radin, Preservation Expert

About Ben Fino-Radin

Ben is a NYC based media archaeologist, archivist and conservator of born-digital and computer based works of contemporary art. Until recently, he was the Associate Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where he developed strategies and policies that contributed to the preservation of the museum’s digital collections. Today, he is the founder of Small Data Industries,  a consultancy providing services to support the collection, exhibition, preservation, and storage of digital and time-based media art.  His clients include the Whitney Museum, The DIA Art Foundation, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the studios of Cory Arcangel.

Prior to MoMA, Ben worked as a Digital Conservator at Rhizome at the New Museum where he structured preservation and collecting practices for collections management, documentation, and preservation of born-digital works of art. As an Adjunct professor at NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program, Ben taught a course on Digital Literacy designed to equip first year graduate students with fundamental technical skills for careers in digital archives as well as Handling Complex Media, a course designed to give second year graduate students practical skills for the identification, risk assessment, preservation and treatment of creative works that employ complex and inherently unstable digital materials.

Research interests include: digital preservation, digital cultural heritage, web based creative communities, computer history, information architecture, metadata and animated gifs.

 

Fall in NYC: Must See Shows

This Fall we had the opportunity to attend several great openings in NYC.  Needless to say, we were  thrilled that there was so much incredible new media art to see. If you find yourself in NYC, MUST SEE shows include: Michal Rovner @ Pace Until Oct. 22

Bruce NaumanSperone Westwater gallery Until Oct. 29

Casey Reas @ bitforms Gallery Until Oct. 16

Rashid Johnson @ Hauser Wirth  Until Oct. 22

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ArtHelsinki + Moving image + NIIO

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Brand New Moving Image Program

This Fall, ArtHelsinki in collaboration with Moving Image co-founders and directors Murat Orozobekov and Edward Winkleman, launched a special video and film program. Galleries were invited to submit up to 3 "moving image" works with those selected presented at the fair (Sept. 7-11, 2016).

We were thrilled to have been selected by Moving Image's Winkleman and Orozobekov as the platform of choice for supporting open call submissions and for powering the moving image portion of the ArtHelsinki fair.  Learn more about how Niio supported this entire process.

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Professional Tools: The Submission Process

Cobbled Together Solution Supporting an open call for for moving image artwork comes with many challenges.  Immense file sizes and multiple rich formats make open calls challenging for curators. Often times, they receive works in many different ways (USB, Gmail, Dropbox, FTP site) making the management and review of submissions a very time consuming, non-centralized process.

New Work Flow Niio supports all rich file formats (4K to VR) up to 250GB thus enabling all participant to submit to a single platform enabling curators and event organizers to manage submissions from one single location.  In addition, when ready they can view the submission as intended by the artist in the highest possible quality, thanks to Niio's 4K/60fps player.  Gone are the days of watching low res, compressed previews on non-intended platforms such as youtube or vimeo.

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Professional Tools: Powering the Fair

New Work Flow For Display With all of the artwork submissions neatly organized in their Niio account, the Moving Image team was able to easily plan and organize the show which featured a synchronized 90-minute video installation across 3 screens.

The Moving Image team opted to use our Niio ArtConsole (4k/60fps player) which they plugged directly into their 3 projectors. With the works pre-downloaded to the Niio ArtConsoles, they didn't require Wifi for display.   During the show, the Moving Image team was able to control the manage the show via their Niio Remote Apps.

Access to Niio

If you're interested in using the Niio platform, its professional tools, ArtPlayer (4k/60fps) and Remote Control App for your event,  please request an invitation to our Private Beta.  

 

 

Studio Visit: Refik Anadol

Studio Visit: Refik Anadol

This summer we were thrilled to be invited to the Los Angeles studio of cutting edge media & data artist Refik Anadol. Located in the Silver Lake area on the east side of LA, the studio is accessed from a small side door. Step inside and you're immediately enveloped by a sleek white space with 20ft ceilings, desks dotted with enormous computer screens, a brand new projector and great Mid-century modern furniture.

Read More

A Conversation With Kelani Nichole of Brooklyn's TRANSFER Gallery (Part 2)

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We are big fans of Brooklyn based TRANSFER. Gallery founder/director Kelani Nichole, started the exhibition space nearly four years ago in order to support and and cultivate artists with computer-based practices. Get to know Kelani: kelani-nichole-headshot

What are the biggest challenges you face dealing in a digital medium both as a gallerist and as a curator?

Technical details aside, I’d say the biggest challenge currently facing the market for media-based artworks is around preservation and documentation of the artists’ intent.  Much of the work I deal with is software-dependent, ephemeral, or online public artwork, so preserving the larger context and supporting platforms becomes the major consideration when appreciating these works.  Just as any traditional format of artwork, new forms of media require restoration and care, and have the added complexity of authentication.

What are the biggest challenges in collecting digital art?

Preservation and authentication are the two biggest challenges to growing a secondary market for these artworks.  Additionally, the body of criticism is still developing – the artworld is warming up to how to talk about these works, and successful institutional displays are somewhat few and far between.

I’m very keen to explore new methods of authentication. The current standard for authentication is a signed certificate, often accompanied by a digital still, editioned media storage device/object or other accompanying physical ephemera.  In the near future I believe digital transfer of ownership will become more prevalent, as new standards emerge. 

How do you think a platform like Niio will affect the medium of digital art?

I think Niio has solved some of the challenges related to displaying these works. I’m particularly interested in the workflows and collaboration points of the software between collectors, curators, galleries / institutions, agents and artists and believe a method of seamless exchange is an important step to making the work more accessible.  

You’ve said that this year all the shows you’re staging at TRANSFER feature only women artists.  Why is a series like that important to you?

I dedicated 2016 to showing new works from the studios of women, all of them experimental in their format and looking to test new ideas from the studio at TRANSFER.  Gender balance was a hot topic in the artworld last year, a group of women working with new forms of performance and media were featured in ‘Women on the Verge’ in artforum.  

This article crystallized a movement I had started to engage with during ‘gURLs’ a night of performance at TRANSFER  in 2013, and have been tracking ever since.  I found this article inspiring, and saw a timely opportunity to deepen my own understanding of the ways in which women are pushing into new forms of performance, installation and time-based media unlocking new opportunities for technology that are emotional and deeply human. Carla Gannis launched my 2016 program, introducing a new body of 4K video works of self portraiture, a continuation of a year-long performative drawing project.  Claudia Hart’s large-scale media installation was extended through the summer at TRANSFER.  Next I’ll launch Angela Washko’s first video game artwork in September, followed by a new body of work from Morehshin Allahyari in the fall.

Read Part 1 of our interview With Kelani.

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A Conversation With Kelani Nichole of Brooklyn's TRANSFER Gallery (Part 1)

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Kelani Nichole, Founder/Director of Brooklyn based TRANSFER Gallery, started the exhibition space nearly four years ago in order to support and cultivate artists with computer-based practices through solo exhibitions, events and international art fairs. She's passionate about nurturing and growing the digital art market via exposure and education and has taken the time to share some of her insights, challenges and hopes for this fascinating medium.  Get to know Kelani. 

Kelani Nichole

What led to your interest in digital art, specifically computer-based work?

I studied Art History at university and in 2010  joined a curatorial collective in Philadelphia.  As I planned my first exhibition it seemed natural to engage with studios practicing online.  I gravitated toward the avant garde online movement loosely referred to as ‘net art’ and I was hooked.

Over the years, my curatorial specialty has developed along with these studios and I am happy to have a hand in evolving the means of support for artists working with distributed online art practices.

What inspired you to open a physical gallery space dedicated exclusively to digital art?

Opening the gallery was an experiment – I wanted to continue working with the studios I supported in my early curatorial projects.  An article from Claire Bishop in Artforum late in 2012 titled ‘The Digital Divide’ was influential in my resolve to further develop these works through exhibition format in the gallery.

The idea was to focus on solo exhibitions featuring new, challenging work coming from the studio that didn’t have another venue to be realized. The roster of artists was strong right out of the gate and the market came knocking on our door.  

What do you believe are the biggest misconceptions about digital art and what would you like people to understand?

The biggest misconception with ‘digital art’ is that it’s any different than other means of contemporary artmaking. I’m keen to stop using the word ‘digital’ to talk about these practices.  One of the biggest challenges to the appreciation of these emerging formats is our lack of vocabulary to discuss these practices and their implications on the institutions of the artworld.  The practices I support are contemporary art practices that have a fundamentally computer-based process – the works that come from the studios are an even split of moving images/software pieces and physical objects.  

The genres of practice are moving image, photography, sculpture, performance, time-based media, glitch, procedural animation, algorithmic art, installation with a heavy conceptual slant present in my program. I’m specifically interested in Internet aesthetic, distributed art objects, the public space of the Internet, and emerging display technologies such as VR/AR and high-definition 4K formats.  I am working to build a new market for animated GIF artworks, distributed public artworks and application based artworks.

How or where do you see the medium of digital art in 5 years?  Do you see a time when digital art is considered mainstream?

Yes. I believe it is nearly there.  However, there is a grey area in the visual landscape we live in, a world flooded with creators and curators. I believe the art world is still struggling to address these practices and figure out meaningful ways to adapt and contextualize the explosion of creative authorship in our contemporary moment within the canon of art history.

What do you think about all the hype surrounding VR?  Do you think it’s a tool that artists will widely embrace?

Yes. Absolutely.  If you haven’t used HTC Vive go do it immediately.  Go, and you won’t even ask that question anymore. Our world is rapidly virtualizing and I hope artists will deeply engage with VR to help ensure this technology develops with criticality and humanness.  I actively support VR/AR practices and believe this is the future for much of our human experience.

Carla Gannis

Tell us a little bit about your current collaboration  with the Minnesota Street Project, TRANSFER DOWNLOAD. 

I visited the Bay Area this spring just as Minnesota Street was launching, and found my way there on the recommendation of Magda Sawon of Postmasters Gallery.   I could tell this was an opportunity to engage with a fresh new energy around contemporary art. I was lucky to meet the folks involved and found the rotating media room to be a (somewhat smaller) replica of my own space in NYC. MSP has been hugely supportive and I’m excited to spend the summer hosting salons and tours at the space.  I’m fortunate to have fabulous collaborators on the west coast, which is home to an incredible creative coding community.  

A Conversation With Ben Fino-Radin, Preservation Expert (Part 1)

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PART 1 Ben is a NYC based media archaeologist, archivist and conservator of born-digital and computer based works of contemporary art. Currently, he is the Associate Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In this role, he develops strategies and policy that contribute to the preservation of the museum's digital collections.  He has also worked with the Whitney Museum, Cory Arcangel, JODI, Rhizome just to name a few.

We are thrilled that Ben has joined us as an Advisor and is working with us on a key part of  the Niio platform - - digital preservation. 

Ben Fino-Radin. Photo by @textfiles

What led to your interest in digital preservation?

Early in my graduate work, I learned about digital preservation. Until that time, I had never stopped to consider who was ensuring that contemporary (read: digital) cultural heritage would be around in 100 years.  At that moment,  it struck me as such an incredibly fascinating problem and I knew that I wanted to see how I could contribute to answering some of those questions.

Why do you think digital preservation is so important for artists, collectors and museums?

You cannot simply put something digital on a shelf and expect it to be readable in ten years. Lack of active and systematic stewardship equates to benign neglect.

Artists working with digital materials must actively consider preservation or run the risk of their work being inaccessible some day in the future when an interested collector comes knocking.

For museums or collectors it is a matter of responsibility both to the cultural record, and to one’s own financial investment. If you hold digital materials in your collection and you are not thinking carefully about digital preservation, the odds really are stacked against you.

What is the biggest misconception people have about digital preservation and what would you like for them to understand?

Many people think that if they are just one person or a small institution, that there is nothing they can do because digital preservation is expensive and complicated. While ensuring proper care and preservation of your important digital assets certainly isn’t free, there are many approaches one can take for varying levels of expertise and budget.

Facilitating digital preservation on  small budget, with limited expertise is just a matter of good systems design. Work with someone who  has experience devising actual solutions, and develop an immediate plan, and a five year plan for the preservation of your materials.

How do you think a platform like Niio will affect the medium of digital art  and its multiple entities (artists, galleries, museums, curators)? I think that Niio has a huge potential to offer to artists, galleries, and museums, in that it offers a turnkey solution for collections management, digital preservation, display, editioning, and distribution. I can confidently say that no other platform can even come close to making that claim.

Read Part 2 of our interview with Ben.

About Ben Fino-Radin

Ben is a NYC based media archaeologist, archivist and conservator of born-digital and computer based works of contemporary art. He is the Associate Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In this role, he develops strategies and policy that contribute to the preservation of the museum's digital collections.

Prior to MoMA, Ben worked as a Digital Conservator at Rhizome at the New Museum where he structured preservation and collecting practices for collections management, documentation, and preservation of born-digital works of art. As an Adjunct professor at NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program, Ben taught a course on Digital Literacy designed to equip first year graduate students with fundamental technical skills for careers in digital archives as well as Handling Complex Media, a course designed to give second year graduate students practical skills for the identification, risk assessment, preservation and treatment of creative works that employ complex and inherently unstable digital materials.

Research interests include: digital preservation, digital cultural heritage, web based creative communities, computer history, information architecture, metadata and animated gifs.

Digital Art in the News // CNN

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Articles of Note

Suddenly "digital art" is everywhere.

Recently, Art Basel's Global Director Marc Spiegler guest edited a series of conversations for CNN with four pioneering leaders & gallerists  in the digital art community (Steven Sacks/NYC, Pilar Corrias/London, Nadine Zeidler/Berlin and Leo Xu/Shanghai),  entitled, Decoding the Thrilling World of Digital Art. His thought provoking questions (e.g. How do you sell an algorithm?) resulted in several must read articles on digital art.

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We particularly loved this exchange:

Marc Spiegler: "If you could only use one software/app in your gallery work what would it be?

Nadine Zeidler: "We are still looking for this program.  If you find it, let me know."

This speaks to exactly what we've spent the past two years passionately working on here at Niio, a purpose-built, end-to-end platform for the management, distribution and display of video and new media art.

Read the entire series here:

Decoding the Thrilling World of Digital Art

 

  • Who buys digital art
  • Are you worried about getting sued?
  • How do you represent digital artists? 
  • What would Da Vinci do with Snapchat?
  • What is the next big thing? 

Niio @ Unpainted Art Fair '16 (Munich, Germany)

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Earlier this year, Niio Co-Founder Oren Moshe had an opportunity to visit and participate in UNPAINTED lab 3.0 in Munich, Germany, a unique art fair featuring 40 international digital artist organized by artistic director Annette Doms in collaboration with New York curator Nate Hitchcock,  Co-Founder of East Hampton Shed and former Co-Curator of Rhizome (NY). Oren had the opportunity to join colleagues Chris Fitzpatrick (Director Kunstverein Munich), Nate Hitchcock (Co-Curator, UNPAINTED, New York), Ioannis Christoforakos (Collector, Athens) & VT ArtSalon (Taiwan) on the stage for a panel discussion about "The Impact of Digital Media on Our Real World." 

Fair participants included international curators and thought leaders, art collectors, gallerists, and artists, as well as an interdisciplinary team, who understand the challenges of these new art forms. It's fair to say that all were "united by a love of art, innovation and the changing times". 

Some personal snaps from the weekend:

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Winter Art Fairs

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Niio in NYC

This winter we were in NYC for Armory week. It was a great opportunity to meet many of the gallerists and curators supporting and promoting "moving image" works.  More importantly, it enabled us to continue to learn about the extensive challenges that artists, gallerists, curators, fair organizers and museums/institutions face while trying to manage, transfer ownership and of course display digital works as intended by the creator - - all topics we're passionate about.

We spotted videos and web based works throughout the fairs from The Armory Show and the Moving Image Art Fair to the very fun Spring Break Art Show, which explored curators' interpretations of ⌘COPY⌘PASTE.

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Moving Image Art Fair