In my last blog, I mentioned tortuous moral thought experiments, the possibility of too many books in the world, and the notion that artworks were probably being sucked out of existence at an astonishing rate. It was possibly a news item about a Roman mosaic in Lod in Israel that set this line of thought in motion. The mosaic was first uncovered in 1996, and is now being made visible again to the public. It is apparently a large-scale, spectacular, almost-intact artwork from 1,700 years ago. So there’s one art piece that has escaped the great art-annihilator, at least for now.
Can mosaic be claimed as a digital medium? The hard drive of this computer that I am working at is testimony to the fact that digital images may follow a different trajectory from their analogue counterparts. Digital images are instantly reproducible. Their biggest enemy is the delete button, though time also takes its toll, through damage and obsolescence: I may have thousands of images on this computer, but I also have more on digital tapes that I will almost certainly never be able to read from. ‘New media’ collections around the world have a hell of time keeping their ageing new media intact; conversely, anyone who saw James Coleman’s recent slide-projector-based installation in the main gallery of the RHA in Dublin earlier this year had to be wondering what the future holds for that art piece.
We used to have, it seems to me, a fairly reliable ‘system’ of removal of artworks from existence – basically, destruction (primarily by the artist), damage, neglect. When things go digital, though, new rules must apply; it’s in the digital domain that there may be a real issue of too much art.