Virtual, digital, immaterial. Documentation, conservation and contemporary art


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Technology, a factor coming more and more into play today in contemporary art, could at first sight be considered as a facilitating element. That this is not completely true - and that contemporary art museum professionals are faced by new and challenging issues - is the theme of this essay. Written in 2005, and only slightly revised for today's publication of Slide Share, it still presents some usable options to try and cope with them.

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Virtual, digital, immaterial. Documentation, conservation and contemporary art

  1. 1. heritage approach itself that now is changing, radically and brutally overturning (11) – for the first time in our national history, and even in the history of the pre-union Italian state – the guidelines of heritage management. But it is a fundamental task, nevertheless, to avoid standing witness – with culpable sluggishness – to the vain waste of financial resources and human efforts in short-ranged and sterile undertakings, and to avoid taking part to the slow effacement of the historic memory of contemporary art, of its many actors, and of its links to this tormented country’s cultural and social life. ____________________________ (*) - This text was first published in 2005, in Italian and English, as a critical essay included in the CD-Rom “Roma Contemporanea / Contemporary Rome 1995 – Repertorio delle mostre d’arte contemporanea a Roma”, © Comune di Roma 2005. Though the present version has been but slightly revised, endnote # 1 has been rewritten. The technological comparisons (see endnotes # 5 and 6) have not been updated. A comparison of the ZX 81 with today’s tablet computers, instead of the 2005 palm computers, would in fact only strengthen the trend outlined in the present analysis. The need for a technology transfer facilitation centre appears however to be even more crucial today than it was five years ago. 1 - The author, Ph.D. in Oriental Studies, is a member of the Canadian Museums Association, of ICOM, and of ICOMOS-UK. He has been involved since 1980 in the application of advanced technologies in managing cultural heritage collections. Since 1999 a part-time senior Curator at CRDAV, the City of Rome's Research and Documentation Centre for Visual Arts, he is a Cultural Consultant for UNESCO in Central Asia – first in Uzbekistan, then, starting from 2009, also in Afghanistan. 2 – “Fochi d’allegrezza”, Rome, Palazzo Braschi (September 15th - October 31st, 1982). 3 - On this regard: “ICOMnews”, 57/2004 n.4, Special Issue: “Museums and intangible heritage”. Regarding intangible heritage, see Hildegard K. Vieregg, Brigitte Sgoff, Regina Schiller (eds.), “Museums and Intangible Heritage II - 20th General Conference of Icom. Complete Edition of the Papers”, ICOFOM Study Series - ISS 33 Supplement, Museums-Pädagogisches Zentrum, München 2004. 4 – “Paramita. Quaderni di Buddismo”, XII, n°48 (October-December 1993), p. 37, with pictures by Sergio Rossi. 5 - Dell’s Axim X50 (520 MHz) has been chosen as an apt comparing device. 6 - Comparing the old Sinclair ZX 81 and the palm computer mentioned in the previous footnote, we find that in less than 25 years the RAM has increased by 36.000 times, the ROM by 16.000 times, while speed has increased by 150 times. Mass memory, previously virtually nonexistent, and if, only external, is now an internal device, and may well reach over a Gigabyte. Prices however, even considering the US dollar inflation rate, as well as the exchange rate between US dollar and British pound in the time span from 1981 to the first months of 2005, stand in a 1:5.5 relation. 7 - See
  2. 2. 8 - National Act # 41/1986. 9 - 1990, 1993, 1995 - oral communications. 10 – “Logically, we know how complete connectivity could be accomplished. Technologically, we know what developments are required in hardware and software. The question we must ask ourselves is, what are we willing to pay for flexibility and unified decision-making? Do we aim for using the appropriate tools in a varied and changing environment, or do we settle for using the currently available tool for all situations? … The decision is not a technological one, it is a logical one.” See: Robert Menes - Mark Sondheim, A Chicken in Every Pot… and a GIS on Every Desk. Proceedings of the GIS ’90 Symposium – “Making it Work” (March 13-16, 1990, Vancouver, BC, Canada) Vancouver 1990, p. 251. 11 - No longer the old fundamental criterion is a rule, stating public cultural heritage to be per se inalienable, but in exceptional cases to be cleared by the national cultural heritage Superintendence, but rather its opposite has now been established, stating that all public cultural heritage may be free to buy and sell, but in exceptional cases. See: Vittorio Emiliani, Da Raffaello al 2001, il Paese che tutelava il bello, in: M.S. Palieri (ed.) “Patrimonio S.O.S. – La grande svendita del tesoro degli italiani”, Nuova Iniziativa Editoriale, Roma, no date (but 2004), pp.11-28.