Internet Silent on New Media Art

Would Anyone Care To Listen For Just ‘One Week’?

Late the other night, there was an interesting discussion among friends about rare and old films. Everyone has their favorites — many are long out of print, or just plain hard to find. Among my personal favorites is Buster Keaton’s One Week, embedded above. It paints a hilarious picture of Buster and his newlywed Sybil putting together their portable house. Now, that’s Media Art definitely worth preserving!
[Found at the Internet Archive, part of the collection: Silent Films]

This week’s challenge involved searching for any local, national, or international archive of audio or video worthy of recommending as a cultural resource. I’m not just talking about YouTube here — I’m suggesting that there are important new advances in high-quality compression and delivery methods that should make it much easier to preserve and archive both old films and ‘New Media’ art alike.

First stop: Media Art — an engaging exhibit produced by The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), funded by CHIN, and hosted by the Virtual Museum of Canada. Their definition of ‘Media Art’ includes “…artworks that depend on a technological component to function…”

The Media Art Exhibit includes: a history and timeline; a description of how media artworks are physically installed in museums; a discussion of conservation challenges associated with technology that changes over time; and a brief (very brief) on current research being done in Canada on the conservation of media art. Richard Gagnier, Head of the Conservation Department at MMFA, discusses the process of emulation, or “creating effects to imitate obsolete technologies.”

“Its purpose is to recreate the original “historical” feel of a work using more contemporary technologies.” . . . “certain equipment or platforms available when the work was created are no longer around. The most important thing is to seek to recreate the impression and the impact of the work.”

Daniel Dion — The Moment Of Truth on Sony Video WalkmanThere are four media artists featured, with accompanying digital audio and video examples and interviews. The videos are generally rendered at a very low resolution, which detracts quite a bit from the user experience. Sometimes, it’s the technology used in the original that’s to blame, as evidenced by Daniel Dion’s The Moment of Truth, which was originally presented on a portable Sony Video Walkman in 1991.

Certainly it can be difficult — not to mention expensive and time-consuming — to digitize important film, video and spoken word artifacts, and then create high quality Audio and Video formats for streaming over the Internet.

Digital still seems to be a dirty word in the conservation community — so here are a few new reasons why embracing digital copies, and delivering them on the web at high resolution is beginning to make a lot more sense.

  1. Simply bringing valuable and culturally historic collections out of their vaults and making them accessible to the public, many of whom cannot physically or financially afford to travel
  2. New compression techniques and streaming delivery formats, such as those found in current versions of Adobe Media Encoder
  3. Encouraging advancements in HTML 5 include support for embedding media content with the <audio> and <video> tags
  4. High bandwidth connections are now commonplace throughout the world, and our ‘interconnected network‘ is finally growing up

Meanwhile, I’d like to visualize the future, where the science fiction of Star Trek’s Holodeck becomes reality for virtual tourists, heritage junkies, and students all over the world. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, but I’m still hopeful that one day my children will be able to ‘beam themselves aboard’ any museum of their choice from the security of their own home, to access past history, and understand the value of the cultural experience in context of their own lives and potential contribution to society.