In Pur­suit of Time Re­gained: Rec­on­cil­ing the Un­sta­ble Past, Pre­sent and Fu­ture of Web-Based Art


Session Title:

  • Slowness: Responding to Acceleration through Electronic Arts

Presentation Title:

  • In Pur­suit of Time Re­gained: Rec­on­cil­ing the Un­sta­ble Past, Pre­sent and Fu­ture of Web-Based Art



  • Panel: Slowness: Responding to Acceleration through Electronic Arts

    “The enor­mous mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of books in every branch of knowl­edge is one of the great­est evils of this age; since it pre­sents one of the most se­ri­ous ob­sta­cles to the ac­qui­si­tion of cor­rect in­for­ma­tion, by throw­ing in the reader’s way piles of lum­ber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of use­ful lum­ber, per­ad­ven­ture in­ter­spersed.” _Edgar Alan Poe (1845)

    By ti­tling the last vol­ume of his novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) as Le Temps Retrouvé [Time Re­gained], Mar­cel Proust in the first decades of the 20th Cen­tury, cap­tured and an­tic­i­pated our con­tem­po­rary anx­i­ety about time and con­scious­ness of time pass­ing. A mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, the aware­ness of the speed­ing up of time is a re­sult of the in­creased rate of change since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. In re­cent decades, and with elec­tronic media, this change has quick­ened into a tidal wave of ‘too much in­for­ma­tion.’ Per­cep­tion of change has al­tered as well, from an aware­ness of ac­cel­er­a­tion of time gen­er­ally, to an acutely in­ter­nal­ized sense of change. In a pro­gres­sion from Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 quo­ta­tion de­cry­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of book pub­lish­ing and the dif­fi­culty of fil­ter­ing for qual­ity, to more re­cent books like Alvin Tof­fler’s (1970) In­for­ma­tion Over­load re­port­ing height­ened stress and im­paired judg­ment as a con­se­quence of rapid adap­ta­tion, and Richard Saul Wur­man’s (1989) In­for­ma­tion Anx­i­ety pre­sent­ing strate­gies for pro­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion over­load, there has been grow­ing alarm re­gard­ing the ef­fects of ac­cel­er­ated change. More re­cently, there has been a lot writ­ten on the ef­fect of the In­ter­net on deep think­ing, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing polemics on how the Web, so­cial net­work­ing and the cul­ture of in­stant re­sponse is ac­tu­ally chang­ing our brains. Yet if speed, frac­ture and over­load are the out­come of the 20th cen­tury cel­e­bra­tion of the dy­namism of change and the ma­chine age, there are also many works of con­tem­po­rary art which en­gage ‘real time’ as coun­ter­weight. It’s pos­si­ble that ‘real time’ as an artis­tic con­ven­tion be­came in­ter­est­ing just as our per­cep­tion of ac­tual ‘real time’ in lived ex­pe­ri­ence sped up. In Warhol’s Em­pire (1964) or Michael Snow’s Wave­length (1967) time is ex­pe­ri­enced minute-by-minute, with a slow­ness that can be med­i­ta­tive, con­tem­pla­tive, im­mer­sive or al­ter­na­tively bor­ing, suf­fo­cat­ing and lack­ing drama. Yet even ‘real time’ isn’t safe from ac­cel­er­a­tion. The ‘real time’ for­mat of the TV se­ries 24 is para­dox­i­cal: the minute-by-minute equiv­a­lence be­tween plot ac­tion and view­ing time is exact, yet the ac­tion in each mo­ment of nar­ra­tive is so hopped-up it feels like real time on metham­phet­a­mine. That image of real time adren­a­l­ized is an apt frame­work for look­ing at the chal­lenges to artists work­ing with tech­nol­ogy. As an artist mak­ing pro­jects for the In­ter­net, I am aware of the tech­nolo­gies push­ing me for­ward in new work at the same time I am look­ing back­wards at erod­ing and van­ish­ing tech­nolo­gies, and ear­lier pro­jects that are stranded, mu­tated or ir­re­triev­ably changed by browser ob­so­les­cence.

    This pull of si­mul­ta­ne­ous op­pos­ing di­rec­tions is a Prous­t­ian night­mare in which the in­vol­un­tary mem­ory is not the savor of a trea­sured bite of the past, but a con­stant reverie on the in­sta­bil­ity of past, pre­sent and fu­ture. The ten­sion of this pull in two di­rec­tions raises many ques­tions about ap­proaches to mak­ing, main­tain­ing and con­serv­ing In­ter­net-based art­work. Do we ac­cept the ephemer­al­ity and ex­pend­abil­ity of web art as it has a brief mo­ment and then ‘breaks’ when the tech passes on; mi­grate the work by up­dat­ing to cur­rent browser stan­dards; or ‘show’ the work in an­other form that may con­vey the ap­pear­ance and pre­serve the con­tent, but is no longer the ‘orig­i­nal’ work. What is the ‘shelf-life’ of art made in the con­text of rapid evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­ogy, and is it pos­si­ble to adapt one’s stu­dio prac­tice and re­la­tion to tech­nol­ogy in a way that as­sim­i­lates rapid change? This pre­sen­ta­tion will ex­plore these is­sues of adap­ta­tion to change in the preser­va­tion and con­ser­va­tion of art made for the In­ter­net and will also ex­am­ine a va­ri­ety of ap­proaches to the ex­pe­ri­ence of du­ra­tion in web-based art­work.