The obsolescence (more or less planned) of technologies of reproduction ("old" as well as "new") and the fragility of the supports for audio-visual works are little-considered "emergencies", tackled by museum institutions and by "archives" in an almost casual manner in terms of their "indifferent" recourse to the process of digitization, as if computer technologies themselves were not susceptible of becoming obsolete and subject to "physical" deterioration...
and as if digitization itself did not involve a whole integrated system of practices involving documentation, semantic indexing, preservation, restoration and cultural dissemination. Digitization, even if understood simply as a process of conservation, consists of a complex totality of procedures which are not in the least “indifferent”, especially when they are applied to audio-visual works on magnetic tape. It is simultaneously an instrument (transient) for conservation, for transfer to future memory, but it is also an instrument for the re-programming (N. Bourriaud, 2004) of the “digitized” works. If, for example, one considers the conservation practice of the artist’s videotape which has taken root in the last decade in Europe, and not just in Europe (in the absence of an international protocol to regulate methodologies and establish ethical criteria), one may observe how the widespread recourse to "indifferent” digitization risks producing the rather paradoxical situation in which, on the one hand, restoration of the video work (understood as a work of art, although a special case because sub specie tecnologica) is undertaken in an aesthetic key and, at the same time, on the other hand, the documental integrity of the work itself is systematically cancelled out – in that it is adapted (or it is subjected to a principle of “assimilation”) to formats, to qualitative solutions, to visualizations which belong to contemporary video-digital images - in the name of the "necessary" technological convergence of the media and of the adaptive logic which such convergence appears to require. In other words, what is not preserved are the modes of perception implicit in the technologies of the period, with clear consequences for the principle of preservation of the authorial intent and the linguistic forms implicated in the medium. Digitization intervention therefore requires, in the case of videotapes, re-elaborating the electronic signal aimed at diffusion in accordance with a logic of adaptation to the new interface used. Now it cannot be denied that direct and immediate access to the digital versions of works enables them to be studied and culturally disseminated in completely novel ways, but it is likewise clear that this is no substitute for enjoyment of the original work “in presence” which can be “mediated” philologically or by way of “remediation” (J. D. Bolter, R. Grusin, 1999). When the artist’s videotape is re-presented at an exhibition, in a museum space, any intervention aimed at re-mediation – if simply in terms of visualisation in a video projection on the big screen (which “translates” the effusive light of the electronic monitor into projected light) – alters the work and raises another issue in relation to the work – of a curatorial kind.
The "indifference” which characterises the process of digitization, for purposes of conservation, brings with it a problematic corollary, which has to do not only with the loss of the “memory” of the works (of the time which is inscribed therein, which reveals itself as an “inconvenience”, as an “imperfection” of the electronic image, the “trace” testifying to the technological context and its associated modes of perception), but also with the “cosmetic” modification of their texture or of their "original” expressive form. This “indifference” also impacts on the models by which semantic indexing occurs and by which the works are digitized in the “digital libraries” with a view to their electronic distribution and circulation via the Internet.
To this may be added the lack of attention given to the fate of the master copies (or sub master copies) and of the copies on “original” supports which, after obtaining the digital intermediary (or “copy for conservation”), are treated as no more than empty relics to be “disposed of” together with the reproduction technologies of the period.
This phenomenon of compulsive digital archiving which is underway (supported by significant financial contributions from the European Community), is clearly tainted by a destructive impulse which, now more than ever, requires urgent interrogation, in that it produces a curious theoretical short circuit. It reveals a series of significant impasses which are born out in an extraordinary way in the very practices of “active conservation” of the audio-visual artistic collections in question. Such impasses derive from precise aesthetic assumptions (of an ontological kind) and they put to the test the methodological system of procedures of documentation and semantic indexing (not just of the data but of the works themselves) which are oriented both towards practices of conservation and restoration and towards the diffusion of the audio-visual artistic heritage through the “digital libraries”’ In such a thematic context, research and study of the historical video art collection art/tapes/22 of the Historical Archive of the Contemporary Arts (ASAC) will act as a litmus test to highlight the fluctuation between “archive” and “anarchive” which, from what has been revealed in advance by Jacques Derrida, appears to characterize the “production of memory” in contemporary times.
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