The Irish Times reports today on an unusual new initiative to be launched at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monagahan. ‘ArtLog’– developed at the Digital Media Centre at Dublin Institute of Technology–has been designed to record information about artists who visit the retreat centre, forming a kind of ‘personal archive’ of their activity during their stay.
Every artist who checks in at the centre will be asked to supply basic biographical information for the central database. After that, participation in the digital archive will be optional – artists who elect to participate will also be able to choose whether to record their thoughts, ideas and methodology in a blog-style journal, an audio recording or a video diary.
Director Pat Donlon views the project as simply an updated version of the artist’s note or sketchbook– another means of capturing what is otherwise often ephemeral material:
“This is the age of the finished product,” she says. “We see paintings appear in galleries as if they just leapt on to the canvas fully formed; books appear, but the author’s draft versions of the manuscripts simply disappear. It’s becoming more and more difficult to capture the process of creativity. Nobody writes letters any more. They write e-mails, but nobody archives their e-mails. What will be left for scholars who come along in 20, 23, 40 years time, wanting to inquire into the thought processes of a particular writer or visual artist? Nothing.”
“You know how upset we get when somebody close to us loses their memory, gets Alzheimer’s? The pain and grief around that is enormous,” she says. “Well, we’re talking about our cultural memory here. If Irish art is a mosaic of little pieces, we have to keep all those pieces. And the tiny pieces are as important as the big ones because they hold the whole thing together.”
Sounds intriguing, but I’m less convinced by the argument that artists’ processes are less documented today than they have been in the past! If anything, we live in an age of paranoia about the loss of memory and information, paradoxically at a time when more of it is available than ever before. In any case it will interesting to see whether the new technology is taken up by the Centre’s resident artists and writers, and if anything useful will emerge.