PRESERVATION OF ART: The role of tradition in arts by Margriet Schavemaker

“Is documentation of our cultural heritage important? If so, why and how?”

As an art historian, a philosopher and media specialist I constantly find myself in what I call a schizophrenic split.

When I was studying art in university, I once had to go all the way to new York in order to study my subjects. How different things are now. These days you merely have to google anything art related to find an enormous online archive. Back then when I had to give a presentation on an art piece, I used to have slides made from pictures taken of a book I owned. Today, even while I’m speaking, you can look everything up for yourselves, using only your smartphone.

“We are in danger of losing everything a whole generation has produced.”

Even though there is an enormous system available to save everything you do online, like your e-mails for example, I rarely do save anything. Most of what we do gets lost again, because no one takes the trouble of saving. I sometimes worry that none of what we do is saved properly. I worry we are in danger of losing everything a whole generation has produced, because nothing is saved.

When the Stedelijk Museum was being renovated, it was closed. Visiting and viewing the large collections was not possible for a long period of time. To give the audience something to replace visiting those exhibitions, we started organizing evenings to discuss art, but also to view performances and to visit shows. We wanted to create a platform, art became discursive, agile and alive. A part of society. The only problem was: nothing was saved. The only tangible remnants of these events are photographs from the audience point of view and the press releases that preceded those events.

There used to be this amazing website called The Gallery of Lost Art. It was amazing, it showed all kinds of pieces, documentation, a history of lost art. That gallery is now lost itself. If you go to the website you see a homepage with text that says: “The gallery of lost art has been erased.” There is, however, a documentation website of The Gallery of Lost Art. It shows an archive of the website, with documentation of the documentation. Reviews, responses.

“Do we not have an obligation to preserve?”

The schizophrenic split I find myself in has to do with this: on one hand I absolutely love art and love the fact that so many things have been preserved. On the other hand, I don’t add that much to the archives, because constantly documenting everything I do, would mean to stop having the freedom and the time to do anything at all. So do I live, perform, produce and not worry about the documentation? Or do we all have an obligation to preserve what we produce for generations to come? If you decide to just work, produce, and not worry about stuff being preserved, there is the danger of thing getting lost. But is that bad?

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