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Michael Takeo Magruder, visual artist and researcher, discusses his digital and new media art and practice with Jeremy Pilcher, lawyer and academic, whose research engages with the intersection of art and law. Takeo's work asks viewers to question their relationship both to and within the real-time data flows generated by emerging technologies and the implications these have for archives. His art concerns the way institutions use such systems to create narratives that structure societies. This conversation discusses how Takeo's practice invites us, as individuals, to critically reflect on the implications of the stories that are both told to and about us by using gathered and distributed data.
Society's technological advancements have always inspired wider creativity and provided new frameworks for artistic expression. As artists often seek to assimilate the cutting-edge technologies of their time, the history of art has needed to progress alongside a history of preservation in which improved strategies and mechanisms for conservation have been devised in order to safeguard emerging forms of art deemed culturally significant. At present, the pervasive growth of digital media and its rapid uptake by artists has created different, currently problematic sets of challenges for those aiming to preserve the myriad of technology-based art works being realized by contemporary practitioners.
Now that the experimental use of digital technologies in art has fully expanded outside its previous confines of self-contained software and hardware systems, digital creativity has become firmly enmeshed within wider, complex and often non-digital contexts. Progressive work in this area commonly relies upon hybrid means of creation such as tapping into external sources of live data, exploiting user-generated media repositories, blending digital constructs with traditional analogue materials, distributing processes and outputs across varying combinations of virtual, physical and networked space, incorporating seemingly endless permutations for interaction and dialogue with spectators and participants, and engaging in interdisciplinary collaborations that are firmly rooted in non-arts subjects. The adoption of such possibilities, while opening new terrains for artistic exploration, has also necessitated a fundamental rethinking of historically straightforward issues regarding preservation, in particular, (re)defining what constitutes the actual art work that is to be documented and preserved.
Shifting from the digital to the hybrid
Given the current situation and its undeniable impact on artists using the latest technologies within their practice, it is important to acknowledge and address the apparent shortcomings that arise when traditional methods (or mindsets) of long-term preservation for material art objects are applied to creations that are either wholly or partially digital in nature. In terms of safeguarding the specific software and hardware components that comprise such work, it is certainly useful (if not essential) to gain insights from the technology sector and adopt industry-standard methodologies that have been devised to archive digital infrastructures securely. However, it is equally crucial to understand that technologically based art works are often not merely amalgamations of 0s and 1s or unique collections of integrated circuit boards, and, as such, cannot be defined (much less preserved) by only retaining these discrete digital elements.
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