Re-Collection: Art, New Media, & Social Memory


Re-Collection: Art, New Media, & Social Memory

Publication Date

Summer 2014


How will our increasingly digital civilization persist beyond our lifetimes? Audio and videotapes demag- netize; CDs delaminate; Internet art links to websites that no longer exist; Amiga software doesn’t run on iMacs. In Re-collection, Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito argue that the vulnerability of new media art illustrates a larger crisis for social memory. They describe a variable media approach to rescuing new media, distributed across producers and consumers who can choose appropriate strategies for each en- dangered work.

New media art poses novel preservation and conservation dilemmas. Given the ephemerality of their mediums, software art, installation art, and in- teractive games may be heading to obsolescence and oblivion. Rinehart and Ippolito, both museum professionals, examine the preservation of new me- dia art from both practical and theoretical perspec- tives, offering concrete examples that range from Nam June Paik to Danger Mouse. They investigate three threats to twenty-first-century creativity: tech- nology, because much new media art depends on rapidly changing software or hardware; institutions, which may rely on preservation methods developed for older mediums; and law, which complicates ac- cess with intellectual property constraints such as copyright and licensing. Technology, institutions, and law, however, can be enlisted as allies rather than enemies of ephemeral artifacts and their pres- ervation. The variable media approach that Rinehart and Ippolito propose asks to what extent works to be preserved might be medium-independent, trans- latable into new mediums when their original for- mats are obsolete.




art, museum, preservation, new media, digital


Art and Materials Conservation | Fine Arts | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Interactive Arts | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Other Film and Media Studies | Visual Studies


The MIT Press


Cambridge, MA


Art & Art History


“Three specters haunt the digital cabinets of the cultural heritage sector: death by institution, death by law, death by technology. This book explains our options. Read it if you want to prevail.” —Bruce Sterling

“This book will arrive like a bombshell in the twin citadels of art museums and conservation departments. The incredibly interesting and compelling narrative explains the need to rethink conservation and the very idea of the artwork.” —John G. Hanhardt, Consulting Senior Curator for Film and Media Arts, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and former curator at the Guggenheim and Whitney Museums “With years of experience in curation, preservation, art making, and writing, Rinehart and Ippolito have written their definitive statement on 'variable media,' that is, any kind of artifact designed (or doomed) to change over time. Materials decompose, technologies grow obsolete, and software stops running. But far from simply bemoaning the entropy of our times, this book offers a bold and inspiring manifesto on how best to care for the art and culture of the digital age.” —Alexander R. Galloway, author of The Interface Effect “For almost 20 years, there has been debate and speculation about a potential digital dark ages, when we lose our collective memory through a plague of digital depredations. Re-collection is not just a clear-headed summary of the issues. Ippolito and Rinehart have written a manifesto and a virtual Swiss Army knife of what should and can be done to prevent such degradation. Curators, conservators, archivists, collection managers, programmers, lawyers, creators, and dealers alike will benefit and hence benefit the future by committing these principles and lessons to memory.” —Steve Dietz, Founding Curator, New Media Initiatives, Walker Art Center

Rinehart, Richard, and Jon Ippolito. Re-collection: Art, new media, and social memory. MIT Press, 2014.


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Re-Collection: Art, New Media, & Social Memory