The starting point for the digital art conservationproject was the insight that the conservation of digital artworks is fundamentally threatened as a result of the rapid obsolescence of digital technology, and that adequate theoretical as well as practical standards have yet to be developed and introduced at an institutional level.
The project was carried out as a collaborative effort by six institutions all active in the fields of collecting, education and research from the Upper Rhine region and the vicinity: the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (project management), the Espace multimédia gantner, Bourogne (Territoire de Belfort), the Haute École des Arts du Rhin / École des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg, Vidéo les Beaux Jours, Strasbourg, the Haus für elektronische Künste Basel and the Hochschule der Künste Bern. The Strasbourg media art festival Ososphère was also an associated project partner.
As part of an inaugural project symposium, the thematic field of digital art conservation was first outlined from the perspective of art history, media theory, museology and cultural heritage preservation, with an emphasis on philosophical and ethical questions. In a second project symposium, the current status of research and practice in this field was mapped out: current research projects in digital media art conservation, emulation, the maintenance of technical cultural goods were presented by conservators and researchers. Furthermore, artists discussed their strategies for dealing with the ageing of their own digital artworks.
At the Haute École des Arts du Rhin / École des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg a seminar was held on the theme of digital obsolescence and its repercussions, both conceptually and in terms of technique, on the very practice of art.
Ten artworks drawn from collections of the region comprised the object of the project’s case studies. By means of a broad range of conceptual and technological work typologies, a comprehensive catalog of problems could be examined and corresponding methods formulated, tested and applied. Significantly, a documentation model was developed which in a flexible manner enables the adequate documentation of digital artworks for the purposes of collecting and conservation, and which can be further expanded if necessary.
The results of the case studies were presented in the touring exhibition Digital Art Works. The Challenges of Conservation in Karlsruhe, Bourogne/Belfort, Strasbourg, and in Basel.
The publication marking the project’s conclusion (Bernhard Serexhe (ed.), Konservierung digitaler Kunst: Theorie und Praxis: das Projekt digital art conservation, Springer, Vienna, New York, 2013) comprehensively documents all the activities covered in the project. Moreover, it outlines for the first time the existing legal framework applying to conservation measures undertaken on born-digital artworks, and offers an assessment of the current training opportunities for conservators in this field. Finally, the publication provides insight into the conservation process within the framework of the case studies, including interviews specially held with all participating living artists.