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tions founded as bearers of our material
heritage provide an appropriate context
for our growing virtual one? It is a dilem-
ma. Our representative collections func-
tion on the principle that they acquire (and
then conserve) `actual' examples of the best
of artistic practice, so that future audienc-
es may enjoy and experience them as near
as possible to how the artist intended. What
constitutes an `actual' work, and what con-
stitutes `documentation', for instance? Can
such distinctions and definitions validly be
applied to digital artworks? Do we forsake
the works, or the definitions? And so,
should we collect? What
can we collect?
When should we collect it, and, of course,
how? How do museums document and
archive digital artworks so that they remain
perhaps physically, but certainly intellectu-
ally, accessible for the long term?
n Europe, Australia and particularly the
US, these issues are gaining a noticea-
ble momentum and support among muse-
ums, art historians, new media curators
and organisations. Several institutions have
begun to address the question of acquisi-
tion. Accordingly, numerous internation-
al projects and networks such as Archiving
the Avant-garde (http://www.bampfa.ber-,

the Variable Media Network (http://vari-, Capturing Unstable Media

and PANIC (,
and symposia such as 404: Object Not
Found held in Dortmund during June 2003
index_e.html) have brought issues of how
to accession, record and preserve longer-
term access to digital artworks very much
to bear. So far, there has been little broad-
based opportunity in the UK to take stock
of those efforts, or to address or contrib-
ute to them in any kind of dedicated fash-
ion. In part, that lack of opportunity is due,
for instance, to the fact that for the major-
ity of British public collections the acqui-
sition of digital artworks remains tentative
at best and highly selective. Indeed, a total
of six digital artworks currently reside in
collections three in the Arts Council
Collection, one in the Tate and another in
Aberdeen City Art Gallery. None of these
are artworks with a network dependen-
cy however; instead, they are stand-alone
items. Taken collectively, they do, of course,
represent a beginning, a first word, and it
is very much in that spirit that ERPANET
( and the Centre
for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow (http:// co-hosted a sem-
inar focused on the collection, archiving,
documenting and preservation of digital
aking on this occasion an unapolo-
getically European perspective, the
event, which took place on 8 October, pro-
vided the first invitation for five represent-
atives from a selection of German, Dutch
and Hungarian organisations to dissemi-
nate aspects of their policies, approaches,
research, and case studies regarding digital
art works and projects to a UK audience.
Hans Dieter Huber provided an excellent
and thought-provoking overview of the
numerous dilemmas that attend the collec-
tion and conservation of Internet art, while
Oliver Grau, Sandra Fauconnier and Peter
Cornwall elaborated the applied efforts of
projects such as The Database of Virtual Art
base.htm) and Capturing Unstable Media,
institutions such as ZKM (http://www. in Karlsruhe. Nikolett Eross from
C3 in Budapest ( relat-
ed a particular instance where they com-
missioned a programmer to recreate a work
by artist Zoltan Zgedey Mostak from docu-
mentation alone.
ne of the day's aims was to initiate
wider discussion within the artistic,
academic, museums communities in Britain,
and to invite them to contribute their own
experience and expertise, levels of ambi-
tion and viewpoints in relation to notions
of collection, documentation, archiving
and preservation. The three British-based
speakers Simon Faithfull, Peter Ride and
Susan Collins gave topical, discursive
presentations on how factors such as scale
and scope, and the context in which they
come into being, can make the archiving of
project and artworks difficult. Faithfull and
Collins, both artists, focused on issues such
as re-versioning, and raised the matter of
not only upgrading but also downgrading.
t is hoped that the seminar could be the
first of several such panels to be held in
the UK, to which other individuals commit-
ted to the exploration and development of
these issues might be invited to contribute.
Like many alternative art forms (concep-
tual, installation, performance) before it,
digital art challenges the art world not just
with new content, but with new forms.
This round peg is not intended to fit into
that square hole easily. In the arena of pres-
ervation, alternative art forms like digital
art defy museological methods traditionally
concerned with artefacts and original form.
Digital art is born variable, ephemeral,
technical, and multi-part. It is often as per-
formative as it is artifactual. How digital art
Chimera Obscura, 2000, Richard Rinehart & Shawn Brixey. A tele-robotic
internet / installation.