Monday, February 01, 2016

Preserving and Emulating Digital Art Objects

Preserving and Emulating Digital Art Objects. Oya Rieger, et al. National Endowment for the Humanities White Paper. November 2015, posted December 11, 2015. 202pp. [PDF]
     This white paper describes the media archiving project's findings, discoveries, and challenges. The goal is the creation of a preservation and access practice as well as sustainable, realistic, and cost-efficient service frameworks and policies. The project was looking at new media art but it should also help inform other types of complex born-digital collections. It aims to develop scalable technical frameworks and associated tools to facilitate enduring access to complex, born-digital media objects.

Interactive digital assets are much more complex to preserve and manage than regular digital media files. A single interactive work can include a range of digital objects, dependencies, different types and formats, applications and operating systems.  The artwork can consist of "sound recordings, digital paintings, short video clips, densely layered audiovisual essays that the user navigates and explores with the clicks and movements of a computer mouse. Expansive and complex, the artwork may include many sections, each with its own distinct aesthetic, expressed through rich sound and video quality and intuitive but non-standard modes of interactivity." The interactive and technological nature of these assets poses serious challenges to digital media collections.

About 70 percent of the project artworks could not be accessed at all without using legacy hardware. The project team realized that operating system emulation could be a viable access strategy for those complex digital media holdings.

Project Goals
  1. Identify significant properties needed to preserve and access of new media objects.
  2. Define a metadata framework to support capture of technical and descriptive
    information for preservation and reuse.
  3. Create SIPs that can be ingested into a preservation repository.
  4. Explore resource requirements, staff skills, equipment needs, and associated costs.
  5. Help understand “preservation viability” for complex digital assets
The project team analyzed content to determine classes of material, and setup a digital forensics workstation using BitCurator and the AVPreserve Fixity tool to monitor the stability of directories. The final metadata structure consisted of a  combination of MARCXML for the descriptive metadata, Digital Forensics XML (DFXML) for the technical metadata, PREMIS XML for the preservation metadata and also unstructured descriptive files.

"Emulation seems an excellent and flexible approach to providing fully interactive access to obsolete artworks at very reasonable quality." However there are issues with using emulation as an archival access strategy:
  • preserve emulators must be preserved as well as artworks.
  • creating archival identities for emulators is difficult and documentation tends to be inconsistent.
  • emulators will eventually become obsolete with new operating systems 
  • new emulators must be created
  • no emulator can provide a fully “authentic” rendering of a software-based artwork.
"The key to digital media preservation is variability, not fixity." It is important to find ways to capture the experience so that future generations can see how the digital artworks were created, experienced, and interpreted.

Artists have increasing access to tool for creating complex art exhibits and objects, but it is "nearly impossible to preserve these works through generations of technology and context changes." Digital curation is more important that ever. Access is the keystone of preservation. The appendices include  Emulation Documentation, the Pre-Ingest Work Plan, and Artwork Classifications:
  • Structure of the classifications 
  • Browser-Based Works 
  • Virtual Reality Components 
  • Executables in Works 
  • Macromedia and Related Executables
  • HFS File System

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