Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pictures at an exhibition

I enjoy art galleries and especially work from the past 100 years or so. I was walking around one the other day and I looked at some video art. Of course I began thinking about preservation. Paintings and sculpture can of course be preserved for hundreds of years for future generations to admire and study but what about film and modern video? If future archaeologists discover a video tape or a DVD how are they going to play them?
Today's artists and writers have a vast range of media by which to express themselves but how will it be preserved for future reference? If Shakespeare had written exclusively on the net there wouldn't be anything left of his work now. The collected letters of Wordsworth or Dickens are still available but who will ensure that the collected blogs or e-mails of today's writers are preserved? Many artists are doing very interesting work using net-based tools but such work will be transient, available only as long as the server is connected or the format becomes obsolete.
I read a great science fiction story as a kid about space explorers who land on Earth to find it uninhabited and in ruins, presumably after a nuclear war. They find the remains of human civilisation and most importantly a film. They take the film back to their own planet and scientists discover how to play it. After years of analysis and study they feel that they have a good idea of what life was once like on Earth. Only one thing baffled them. At the end of the film were four words they couldn't decipher .... "A Walt Disney Production".

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