Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Archiving Artwork in the Digital Age


This article from Hyperallergic describes a recent initiative to develop a system to document and archive art on social media. New York based digital arts nonprofit Rhizome is currently developing a software called “Colloq”, which will help artists document their online work by both archiving the website as well as a replica of the website itself, along with user interaction and layout information.

As an artist who frequently creates online work, I was really excited at the possibilities suggested by this article. In order to document my work in the past, I’ve resorted to simple screenshots and link sharing. However, what if the site is taken down? Colloq could ensure that a ‘ghost’ of the original work remains no matter what happens to the actual website.

Despite the obvious pros of this new software, the article also brought up the issue of temporality. Isn’t this what is so fascinating about web based work itself? Its fleeting nature and the fact that it is intangible? Promoting documentation and archival forms of web based art work might seem like a good practice for artists, but it could negate the ‘mission’ or goals of the work itself.

“For the most part I have little interest in revisiting the majority of my old projects as they were meant to be experienced in real time, and, well, they’re in the past,” said artist Man Bartlett.

This issue of real time suggests that some online artworks are meant to be experiences, akin to works performed in real life which take place entirely in real time and are often documented in photographs of the performance or video excerpts. Bartlett also acknowledges that there are some pros to Colloq, and Hyperallergic also points out that the software could be used by museums and other institutions, rather than just artists:

“For one, Colloq could prove invaluable for museums trying to archive their social media initiatives and gauge the success of their online engagement projects.”

Colloq is still being developed, but I’m interested in following it and the artists and institutions who might begin to use it, and how it can change the way we experience and remember artwork!


2 comments on “Archiving Artwork in the Digital Age

  1. hshambroom
    October 22, 2014

    This is such an interesting example of cataloguing and archiving in the digital age. I am reminded of a sort of digital Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is a land artist who creates equally temporary work that changes over time. While his work is based in nature it changes rapidly in much the same way as social media. He uses photography to document his work, but insists that the photographs of his pieces are not his work itself, they are merely archival images of it. I wonder if the same will be true of this type of archiving system – that the digital works will continue to change and evolve on the internet but archival images can be captured by this device.

    In a sort of related note, contemporary artist Richard Prince did a series of “New Portraits” this year where he has made large scale screen shots of instagram pictures he has commented on – some taken by him, some by his “friends.” I thought it was an interesting example of an artist taking this type of documentation into his own hands and actually making it his work. If you’re interested check it out on his own instagram –

  2. benjamendouglas
    October 22, 2014

    I love this!

    I remember several years ago, when I toured the Library of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia) that they had a massive project that catalogued every webpage that ever existed. So, in theory, if you created a work of art online, it was catalogued, and is saved on their servers.

    I haven’t thought of this in years, and just went back and found this link, which says it will let you access the database – but I can’t get it to work for me. 😦

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