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Lizzie Muller

Towards an oral history of new media art

David Rokeby, The Giver of Names (1991-)
David Rokeby, The Giver of Names (1991-), Very Nervous System (1983-)
Lizzie Muller at the 2007 DOCAM Annual Summit
Lizzie Muller at the 2007 DOCAM Annual Summit

New media art presents a challenge to existing documentary and archival practices. In this paper, I argue that documenting audience experience is both one of the greatest challenges and one of the most promising new directions in this field. With its emphasis on interaction, systems and generative processes, experience is frequently the content, location and driving force of new media art. Critical accounts of new media artworks emphasise the role of the participants, but descriptions of their experiences in their own words rarely appear in the documentary record. The field of oral history provides a valuable approach to addressing this gap. It offers arguments for the historical legitimacy and significance of first-hand accounts of actual experiences as well as a wealth of good practice in creating and managing such resources. The idea of an oral history of new media presented in this paper provides a framework for tackling the issues surrounding the documentation of audience experience. It also provides a concrete vision of the potential of this line of work.

The work reported in this paper was conducted primarily during a research residency at the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology in 2007. The ideas were developed through a practical attempt to document the audience experience of the artwork The Giver of Names, by David Rokeby, as it appeared at the exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2007. This case study was conducted in collaboration with Caitlin Jones (1), whose work is based on the tools and techniques of the Variable Media Network (2). Together we created a documentary collection for The Giver of Names that draws together the conceptual, technical and experiential aspects of the work. This collection is available online here, and the reader can reference the experiential material presented on this site as an accompaniment to this paper.

Lizzie Muller © 2008 FDL