Impermanence and fragility have become the defining conditions of the digital age. Technologies that were ubiquitous barely a decade ago, like floppy disks, now look like archaeological relics. It takes only a few years, if not months, before software environments are replaced by newer versions, often with limited backward compatibility. At the same time, digital technologies rely on hardware that has short life expectancy. The radical obsolescence of this new digital register raises a number of important questions. How are we going to prevent the fragile memories of contemporary digital cultures from receding into oblivion? This essay answers this question by looking at one of the institutions in which the problems associated with digital fragility are most especially felt, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and by exploring the ontological displacements that digital objects are operating at the heart of the museum.
The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Fragility
Fernando Domínguez Rubio is an assistant professor of communication at the University of California, San Diego. His forthcoming book Still Life: Art and the Ecologies of the Modern Imagination is based on an ethnography of the Museum of Modern Art exploring the technologies, climatic infrastructures, and forms of care and labor required to prevent artworks from falling apart. He is also the coeditor of The Politics of Knowledge (2012).
Glenn Wharton is a clinical professor in museum studies at New York University. From 2007 to 2013 he served as media conservator at the Museum of Modern Art, and in 2006 he founded Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), a nonprofit organization focusing on the production, presentation, and preservation of contemporary art. Glenn codirects the Artist Archives Initiative at New York University, a project that develops resources about the display and conservation of contemporary artists.
Fernando Domínguez Rubio, Glenn Wharton; The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Fragility. Public Culture 1 January 2020; 32 (1): 215–245. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7816365
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