Archiving Complex Digital Artworks

Dušan Barok, Annet Dekker, David Gauthier, Claudia Roeck, and Julie Boschat Thorez
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


Version Control Systems (VCS) check the differences between versions of code or other text-based documents. By archiving and making available ongoing versions of a project, VCS allow multiple people to work on elements of a project without overwriting someone else’s entries. Changes that are made can easily be compared, undone, restored, or, in some cases, merged. Finding a coherent and structured way to organize and control revisions has always been at the core of conservation, but it became even more urgent and complex in the era of computing and contemporary art. Not only do conservation actions produce new versions, but the artwork itself might be variable and branch out in a multitude of presentation options. In this presentation, we will briefly explore the different ways of using VCS for the purpose of conservation. Our research focuses on how VCS further collaboration in archiving complex digital artworks, while at the same time we explore how such systems could supplement collections management databases. With the aim to gain a better understanding of the underlying, but omnipresent, structures that support these VCS, we will present some of the outcomes of earlier workshops that we organized. The focus is on open-source systems, such as Git and MediaWiki. Based on a case study, the artwork Chinese Gold by UBERMORGEN, we will talk about the pros and cons of using VCS in conservation practices and discuss the usefulness of collaborative working spaces by answering questions such as: what is the value of concepts such as provenance in Git and MediaWiki, what is the function of metadata in these systems, how stable and secure is the data in a version-controlled archive, and how do these tools handle audiovisual data?

Keywords: art documentation, collaboration, archiving, preservation, digital art, MediaWiki, Git, version control


Dušan Barok, PhD Candidate
University of Amsterdam

Annet Dekker
Assistant Professor, Archival and Information Studies
University of Amsterdam

David Gauthier, PhD candidate
University of Amsterdam

Claudia Roeck, PhD candidate
University of Amsterdam

Julie Boschat Thorez, Independent researcher