ISEA version 1.4

Right-click To Save: Preservation, NFTs, and Distributed Ledgers

John Bell, Regina Harsanyi, and Jon Ippolito

A presentation at the 2nd Summit on New Media Art Archiving, ISEA2022

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00:00 Potential and challenges for blockchain as a preservation tool

What this panel is not about

Assumptions (right and wrong) about NFTs

03:08 The three parts of this presentation

Medium-specific preservation issues (Harsanyi)

03:48 "Receipts" as inappropriate metaphor for NFTs

05:11 Sample works with significant on-chain dependencies

Mad Dog Jones, John F. Simon, Jr., Rhea Myers, Kevin and Jennifer McCoy

07:48 Rhea Myers' Tokens Equal Text (2019)

09:23 Kevin and Jennifer McCoy's Quantum Leap (2021)

11:49 Time-based media documentation standards and NFTs

12:27 The vulnerability of blockchain nodes

Only 2000 Ethereum operators at the time of this talk

Medium-independent preservation issues (Ippolito)

13:50 Blockchain failure points

15:00 Net art precedents

John F. Simon Jr's Unfolding Object (2001) and Keith Obadike's Blackness for Sale (2001)

16:58 Variable media strategies

18:01 Storage strategies

Expire, freeze, or sustain?

19:11 Migration strategies

20:23 Emulation strategies

Reset, fork, or continue?

Emulation as a solution (Bell)

21:26 Obscurity in blockchain technology

22:58 Components of a blockchain

25:20 Components of a blockchain-based artwork

26:55 Components of the viewer

27:36 The spectrum of paranoia

28:30 Reconstructing these components with a virtual machine

29:03 Open questions for blockchain emulation

Can public transactions really be emulated?

When should you collect a copy of the blockchain?

Should you reset, fork, or continue the existing chain?

Audience questions

30:38 Response from Oliver Grau

31:24 Will one museum suffice or is a network required to preserve a blockchain?

33:35 Are collections considering NFT works that engage cultural content rather than just code?

35:19 Is it possible to emulate currency transactions?

Timecodes are in Minutes: seconds

22isea Right Click To Save Nfts Slide Xvga

22isea Right Click To Save Nfts Slide XvgaA claim frequently repeated in the last year by advocates of blockchains and NFTs is that distributed cryptographic ledgers will ensure an accessible and immutable record of born-digital and digitized art for posterity. This panel examines this idea in a nuanced way that neither buys into the hype around NFTs nor rejects the reality that artists are experimenting with these technologies. The analysis draws on cutting-edge experiments such as archival packages prepared for artworks that utilize distributed ledgers, as well as historical precedents such as net art collected by museums. While the field is still in its infancy, the presenters forecast the viability of the most promising proposals for preserving, and being preserved by, the blockchain.

John Bell is a software developer and artist at Dartmouth College. His work there includes acting as Director of the Data Experiences and Visualizations Studio, Associate Director of the Media Ecology Project, Manager of Dartmouth Research Computing‘s Digital Humanities Program, and teaching as a Lecturer in Film and Media Studies. In addition to his work at Dartmouth, he is also an Assistant Professor of Digital Curation at the University of Maine and Senior Researcher at the Still Water Lab.

Regina Harsanyi is passionate about improving and promoting best practices for the longevity of variable media, from plastics to distributed ledger technologies. A graduate of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, Harsanyi focuses on time-based media art from historical and technical perspectives in private and public sectors. She has led major time-based media conservation projects for multiple institutions, studios, and collectors, including the Museum of the Moving Image, bitforms gallery, and TRANSFER gallery.

Jon Ippolito is Professor of New Media and Director of Digital Curation at the University of Maine.

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