Making the Transitory Impermanent, Making the Fugitive Ephemeral, Making the Interim Provisional, 2018, scanner, desktop computer, calotype, electric chords, cuckoo clocks.
“After having happily praised the new digital civilization, we must consider one of it’s more perverse possible effects: the amnesia with which it threatens future generations. Paradoxically , the more we digitize our cultural memory, the more we risk losing it. The technological power that we trust to better conserve our books, images, films and musical and television productions is at serious risk of betraying us.” Hervé Fischer
In 1996 respected German librarian Klaus-Dieter Lehmann wrote the essay “Making the Transitory Permanent: The Intellectual Heritage in a Digitized World of Knowledge.” He made a lot of dire but realistic predictions about limited life span of the magnetic and digital storage of his time but also made the unfortunate conjecture “magneto-optical media capable of providing long-term storage for periods of over one hundred years will be available within five years.“ 22 years later the transitory remains quite impermanent.
The Calotype was one of the earliest photographic processes. Developed by William Henry Fox Talbot and introduced in 1841 it was the first paper negative with which endless reproduction could be made. But 150 years later Talbot, who’s life’s work was the fixing of the photographic image, is having his own struggle with impermanence. Some of his 25,000 calotypes are now faded or altogether blank. Archivists are facing a dilemma. They want to exhibit these historical photographs but to do so would destroy them so facsimile have to be made. Even the normal process of making reproductions exposes the pictures to damaging lights. They’re now using a pulsing low-lumen strobes and they’ve developed formula to figure out how long certain pictures can be exposed to light before they are damaged.
Even with the tenderest technologies the attempt to preserve the calotype doesn’t really “preserve” it. It creates a digital copy which is not the same thing. It’s the beginning of an entirely different set of preservation concerns. Its digital self is subject to the new kinds of decay, corruption, degradation and obsolescence. In this piece the scanner makes a deeply flawed and limiting copy of the calotype and the moment of this digitization the scanner light it damages it ever so slightly.
These Calotype (and really all photographs) are born of light but are also sensitive to light and ultimately damaged by too much exposure to it. Of course this is how one sees the physical object that is a calotype. Its altered and damaged by its common use (if being seen is the “use” of a photograph). In the context of my work the decaying calotype becomes part of a trilogy of information conveying media compromised by it’s simple use. It joins the digital counterpart, the highly compressed JPG image file which is porous and fragile (Groys said that “A digital image, to be seen, should not be merely exhibited but staged, performed.”) as well as the biological component of human memories which when we recall them become reencoded with the event of the new recollection.
Cuckoo clocks are often adorned with pastoral scenes. Besides the simulated bird inside that only appears to convey the passing of time there are often trees or branches or leaves with other birds or deer carved of the front of the clocks. The 2 clocks here are clearly broken. The hands are gone and the cuckoo door hangs open. They’re out of the time telling business but they still convey the desire we have for depicted nature scenes. The calotype too is a photogram of a object from nature; a twig. For a moment the paper was in close proximity to the natural world even though it was covered with light sensitive chemicals.