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Database | Narrative | Archive

Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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January 27 2013

“In its finished state, White Dust portrays a complex depiction of history and its paradoxes, perhaps more so than it might have been as a finished work.

Preliminary aspirations (what I have only been able to map): exploring the Theresa Cha Collection at Berkeley Art Museum in a way that foregrounds the complexity of archiving practices as archives take new digital forms and produce new representations. Some preliminary research questions that remain unanswered: What is the primacy of the material artifact and the specificity of the digital version when it is reproduced for, and leads a double life in the online archive? What is lost and wanes, and what is enhanced? How does this challenge us to devise creative forms and practices for animating archives in new ways? And how can this contribute to contemporary scholarship on and practices of media archiving and digital preservation in relation to conceptual art practices, intermedia and digital environments?

If access to the Berkeley Art Museum’s collections tend towards more specialized scholarly visitors (knowledge of the collections, communication and appointments with the Berkeley-based archivist, Stephanie Cannizzo), access to the Online Archive permits a more generalized, and less directed exploration of reproductions of the artifacts in the Museum’s collection, with a cross-referencing to archival documents (type-written plans, drawings, aspirations). Some of the more fragile objects, such as the artist books, become more accessible for viewing.

Richard Rinehart, who initiated the Cha online archive in the early 1990s, noted its naming as a “collection,” not a “finding aid,” that would more traditionally be associated with an archive. This highlights the cross-referencing between museum collections and archives that becomes possible in the online environment and begins to speak to the distinctions between the collection artifact and archive. Rinehart writes:

“MOAC [Museums and the Online Archive of California] set out to learn whether the emerging EAD [Encoded Archival Description] standard could be appropriately and effectively applied to museum collections (including not just document or 'archival' collections in museums, but also to primary artifact collections), and in various real-world museum environments. MOAC chose to call their EAD encoded documents 'collection guides' rather than 'finding aids' because the term was clearer to museums and the EAD accommodated both types…. Archival collections are typically paper-based records and documents. Museum collections are often acquired at, and oriented toward, the item level where most description tends to focus less on the archive-like history of the object, or the library-like subject of the object, and more on the 'thingness of the thing' including the physical properties such as material, dimension, and object or genre classification.

What else will these fragments offer? Perhaps (as Kook-Anderson suggests), even more so than finished works?
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