In the age of digital production, we are capable of producing tremendous amounts of data each and every day. So much in fact, we are hard pressed to keep track of it all. This role of producer now applies to anyone who is generating media: from the largest publishing companies to the media designer to Joe Sixpack with a digital camera. We are producing at an alarming rate: our smart cards, hard drives, and ever-expanding cloud repositories are bursting with data files. Whereas the average person throughout their life might have shot a few hundred photographs of family and friends, we now shoot thousands on a single day. Whereas an artist might have produced perhaps a thousand paintings in a lifetime, the digital artist can generate more than that in an hour. This is the predicament we find ourselves in our increasingly mediated culture.
What to do? You can just keep tossing those images into long-forgotten folders, you can take the step of depositing them into a Flickr account, you can grab the more interesting ones and create portfolio galleries on your WordPress site. But you’ll never keep up! It’s hopeless, the more you archive, the more you create, and the more you feel lost and overwhelmed and drowning in your own self-made visual universe. This is precisely the predicament! Photographers used to neatly organize their slides in folders, tucked nicely into drawers, with handy labels for searching. This is all thrown out the window. Today, photographers have endlessly nested folders full of digital files and most likely have no knowledge of the content management systems that would keep it all straight. Who has time to tag everything? Who has time to create metadata for 50,000 images? Unless you are a digital archivist with knowledge of the intricacies of a database system, you’re sunk.
Add to this the sharing and distribution methods that occupy our time in the vast space of the social media. Even more images to be tracked and organized. We don’t even search through our Facebook or Tumbler archives, in fact it’s near impossible The mega content management systems that constitute our social media platforms are just bottomless pit repositories for our life’s treasures. And what happens to those treasures? When our bodies are long gone, our media objects will die a digital death, their pixels eventually wiped clean from server farms as the new and emerging population creates new accounts while the old ones die off and disappear. This is the crisis!
Whereas once upon a time our few hundred snapshots were placed in precious photo albums to be passed down from generation to generation, today’s hard drives, cloud-based repositories, and social media bins will just disappear when we are gone, and we are no longer around to maintain our accounts. That’s depressing!
So with this dreary forecast in mind, I have set about on a mission: to capture everything I create, to devote my life’s work to its archival organization, to turn the tedious process of maintaining voluminous data into a real-time performance art. This will be my very own gesamtdatenwerk (total data work), a work of art that embraces the totality of all things. As a media artist, what else can I do? The prospect of creating nicely polished digital objects, whether visual, musical, or multimedia, seems utterly pointless, since it is all going to eventually dissolve in the ether anyway. I prefer to make the ether itself my artistic statement, challenging this dire digital predicament we find ourselves in by leaving behind an epic archive of my overly abundant and prodigious process.
As I pronounced in my Manifesto for the Post Reality:
My story will become a meta-story, spreading context/meaning/description to the information I capture/tag/replay. Everything I make as an artist will be indexed for future retrieval.