The Ars Electronica Archive contains a diverse assemblage of artistic works and documentation of projects, exhibitions, and activities over a timeframe of more than 30 years in the wide-ranging international field of electronic and digital art. The broad substantive spectrum of the content is matched by its tremendous diversity of physical and digital formats, which constitutes a substantial challenge for the archivist. Whereas there are proven methods for conserving physical objects, long-term archiving of digital data still raises countless issues.
With the reopening of Ars Electronica in January 2009, the archive had for the first time a climate-controlled room at its disposal, where ca. 60.000 physical records, such as video- and audio recordings, photographs, works on paper and print material, are located in over 378 meters of shelf space. It offers not only a representative cross-section of the broad field of media & digital art; it is also a historical catalog of the data storage media and formats that in many cases significantly determine the appearance of the works itself.
Now, after various digitization projects since the 1990s and migrations of older data logs, also all the entries for the Prix Ars Electronica submitted online in every year are being transferred to the archive automated. Digital photographs are archived directly and, via an interface, made public on social media sites. The archive has thus been brought to life! It no longer just conserves glimpses of bygone days; it’s constantly being updated with new material. It’s a direct repository of all currently published photos including their metadata, and thereby makes them (re)searchable. The ongoing input of current visual material with no lag time makes it possible to conserve important information that might otherwise be lost.
Additional work has been done on of age material from the history of Ars Electronica in conjunction with Austrian and international research projects. Museum subsidies from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture have made it possible to physically conserve various collections of analog photographs, to inventory and digitize them, and add them to the research databank. “Digitising Contemporary Art”, a three-year project being carried out in cooperation with 25 European partner institutions and funded by the European Union, is producing high-quality digital reproductions as well as strategies for long-term archiving. The Ars Electronica Archive is making a substantial contribution to this project by creating approximately 2,600 digital objects (including metadata) documenting Prix Ars Electronica prizewinners and making this material available. This content, which includes much audiovisual material about the projects, can also be accessed via the www.archive.aec.at online portal. Some of this information is being conveyed by Austria’s Kulturpool to Europeana www.europeana.eu to thereby become a part of Europe’s largest online art collection.
In conjunction with this year’s Ars Electronica Festival THE BIG PICTURE, the Ars Electronica Archive an makes its contents publicly accessible online and in a tangible version. A multi-touch table provides guests with a look at the festival’s fascinating history. Additional terminals offer a convenient way to browse through all the online holdings.