Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory

By Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014.  297 pp, $37.00 hardcover. ISBN 978-0-2620-2700-7, (eBook) ISBN: 978-0-2623-2407-6.

In Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, Richard Rinehart, Director of the Samek Art Museum at Bucknell University, and Jon Ippolito, Professor of New Media and Co‑director of the Still Water Lab and Digital Curation Program at the University of Maine, examine the challenges of preserving art in new and ephemeral media. The problem of conserving new media is urgent, they argue, because of the potentially significant impact its loss will have on social memory, or “the long-term memory of civilizations (p. 14).” The authors use new media art as a case study to demonstrate how we can slow or halt new media obsolescence and argue in favour of implementing a variable media approach. In addition, the authors identify and consider the three factors they feel are most likely responsible for the destruction of new media art, technology, institutions and law, and consider how the negative consequences of these factors could be reversed.

 Re-Collection is organized into five sections. In Part 1, Introduction, Rinehart and Ippolito present their theoretical and methodological framework, providing definitions for the four strategies used in a variable media approach (storage, emulation, migration, and reinterpretation), defining the concept of social memory, and describing the challenges of preserving new media art. In part 2, Technology, the authors discuss the strategy of variability arguing that “some art is better served if it is considered medium‑independent (p. 49).”  They suggest using metadata, for example, to preserve new media art in a similar manner that a musical score is used to preserve music, stating that “musical scores provide a useful model for the preservation of new media art, because they provide a well-known example of a standardized way of describing highly variable works of art that aids in the reperformance or re-creation of those works (p. 63, italics in original).” In Part 3, Institutions, the authors examine the reliance on storage as a preservation strategy and propose ways of working against this institutional norm through, for instance the strategy of “emulation.” The book’s cover provides an example of this strategy and shows a split photograph of Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman’s interactive video installation, The Erl King (1983-1985), and the re-creation of the installation in 2004 for an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum called “Seeing Double: Emulation in Theory and Practice”. In Part 4, Law, they take aim at intellectual property law and copyright right law. Lastly, in Part 5, <Conclusion, the authors offer twelve steps directed at curators, conservators, archivists, institutions, programmers, lawyers, creators, dealers, sponsors, academics, and historians for preventing the “end of history” (p. 221-233).

 Re-Collection includes notes, index, and numerous photographic reproductions of art intended to illustrate and advance the authors’ arguments, as well as conversation boxes where Rinehart and Ippolito have added a comment to a section written by the other. While Re‑Collection explores a number of interesting case studies and methods for preserving new media art, I found the book occasionally difficult to follow, as though I was entering a conversation mid-point rather than at the beginning when some of the basic assumptions and premises were being agreed upon. For example, the authors defend their use of the term “new media” rather than, for example, “digital media” in a chapter footnote and not in the main text of the book. The authors define new media as “expressive technologies of any period that outpace their culture’s ability to control them (p. 235),” but it is not clear why the distinction between “new media” and “digital media” is important. What happens when new media are no longer “new”? Do they become digital media? Social memory is a complex multi-disciplinary concept, but that complexity is largely not explored in the book, despite its inclusion in the book’s title. For introductory readers, the addition of a bibliography and the incorporation of some of the chapter notes into the text of the book would be helpful. Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory is part of the Leonardo Book series by The MIT Press and will appeal to curators, conservators, archivists, and digital artists. The book can be previewed in Google Books from the MIT Press website at

Goldwynn Lewis

Ottawa, Canada