Questions about collecting digital art

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Aug 6, 2014 10:24PM

When we show art that plugs in at Upfor, we get a lot of questions, many of which boil down to:

- How do I own/show it; does it always have to be on?
- Is it really unique, and how do I assure myself of this?
- What happens as the technology ages?

These questions are smart and legit, and also reveal a great deal about the biases we bring to art we live with (as opposed to art in an institutional setting, where conservation is someone else's problem).

We think of entertainment and literature as something we can buy, keep in a library and enjoy from time to time as a private or group treasure. Why don't artworks fit in the library metaphor? As well, we live with always-on screens throughout our lives, which increasingly stream data from all kinds of sources. I'd rather see more streams of art and fewer weather forecasts.

In some ways the hardest questions are about longevity of technology platforms. Although very little art is timeless in either a quality or conservation sense, collectors are right to hope that they can pass a work along to the next generation. Artists, curators and gallerists have patched together various solutions to ensure longevity of plug-in artworks; the cloud and virtualization offer some further promises of comfort. But stewardship for technology that sunsets rapidly remains part of the bargain, and that provisionalism can be part of the excitement of owning new forms of art.