Class 3. Conversation 2. Reliability
Conversation 2 of 3
From “Vacuuming and Digesting,” a fall conversation series about interactive design
November 28, 2017, 1:30pm
Yale School of Art, EIK (32 Edgewood Ave)

‘Reliability: Preservation & Primary / Secondary

Suggested readings:
  • Jill Lepore, “The Cobweb,” The New Yorker (2015)
  • Alexander Galloway, "Jodi’s Infrastructure” e-flux Journal #74 (2016)

Speakers (in order of appearance):

Dan Michaelson (Critic), Ayham Ghraowi (Fellow), Simone Cutri (Graphic Design ’19), Nilas Andersen (Graphic Design ’18), Bryce Wilner (Graphic Design ’18), Laurel Schwulst (Critic), Matt Wolff (Graphic Design ’18), Nate Pyper (Graphic Design ’18), Rosa McElheny (Graphic Design ’19)



  • Introduction
  • Fidelity of Documentation
  • Heap or Archive 
  • Accessibility and the Institution
  • Context: Image, Medium and Content
  • Audience
  • Distribution, Publishing and Narrative
  • Moments of Punctuation


Dan Michaelson: Today’s umbrella topic is “reliability,” which contains two other topics.

On the one hand, we’re hoping to talk about issues of preservation in a digital context. This is relevant specifically to all of you, because almost all the work you make as a student in this program intersects with the digital—you’re using a software program and/or a hardware device (your computer, RISO, etc.). How do you all think about preservation in that context? For your own work? And also with respect to the work of other artists, designers, makers, cultural producers?

On the other hand, we’re thinking about a difference or gradation between making primary work and secondary work. As you all start to think about your thesis books that might document your own work, so too will you also be thinking about documenting your work. Inherently, there is a primary and a secondary, because you’re objectifying your own work, to some extent. It’s good to pull out some interesting themes from that idea. Documentation is never a neutral, crystal goblet.

Last week, we talked about We talked about the site’s history function—that it versions everything—and some of the problems and shortcomings of that. Even though the content is versioned, web browsers are not. So we looked in some detail last time at some of the unreliability of that documentation, or some of the places where it breaks down a little bit…

Kang Ma: actually, not only digital archiving, but also physical archiving, has this problem, think about the dilapidated books in libraries

Dan: … and what those old pages look like now is not exactly what they looked like at the time. We also talked about reliability in the literal sense—that these systems can just break and stop doing what you expect them to do. They may not be around forever. 

Kang: That's true, digitalized data also relies on physical hardwares, and of course, hardwares could be broken

We also touched on reliability in the sense of trust. That is, what is in these systems isn’t what you think it is. Can you really know what people are saying and communicating? What kind of cultures are evolving out of a system like this? There are going to be moments when that culture is doing things that are unhealthy or destructive or misleading. How do we work around that very contemporary condition?

Having monologued for five minutes now, I really hope that today's conversation is participatory. We are especially curious how this all connects to your own work.

Ayham Ghraowi: Institutions like the Internet Archive put such a significance on the idea of documenting and preserving the web because it’s something that's changing, this includes unsolvable problems like links breaking or web pages being taken down. It is a significant project to try to preserve that. How does this affect the relationship of being online? For example, sometimes screenshots of events that happened are important—so that it's preserved and documented so it can be referred to, maybe in a legal situation, or something more subtle.

More importantly, how does the documentation affect the work that you're interested in and making? We should talk about anxieties related to either your work being ephemeral or the possibility of losing the material. Or, is there greater anxiety that instead of being wiped away, all of it will be preserved? (I think this is especially relevant in this program. Particularly in regards to the thesis book's idea of reflecting and preserving the two years we're here, and having a legacy and putting that in the library.) Is there a greater concern of losing it all or preserving it in a library?