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Archive, Evolution, Entropy
by Sylvie Parent and Angus Leech

18.1 - November

Issue 18: GHOST is the last issue that the journal HorizonZero will publish. For some time now, we have known that we would have to envision the end of this publication, and we have gradually been preparing ourselves to bring this adventure to a close. But even when it is foreseen, an end always arrives too soon. It gives rise to a sort of feverishness, to a somewhat troubled introspection. Did we accomplish everything we had hoped to? Of course not. Many other projects could have seen the light of day in this journal. We talked and dreamt about them, but perhaps they will be brought to fruition elsewhere, in other forms, with other collaborators. For now, we must say goodbye.

At the moment, it is difficult to gain enough perspective to judge our work. Only the future will tell what we have been for others. I'm simply happy that we were able to accomplish as much as we did. I'm pleased about the wide variety of topics we were able to discuss, and that we were able to create ties with many remarkable people through this magazine. I'd also like to take this opportunity to extend my warm thanks to every member of the HorizonZero team, past and present. An undertaking like this can't be accomplished without a group of dynamic and passionate individuals. My special thanks also to all the writers and artists who have contributed to HorizonZero since the beginning. They stimulated us enormously with their ideas, their knowledge, and their creativity. We owe them a lot!

What will become of HorizonZero? In her column Quintessence, Sara Diamond, the publication's guiding spirit, looks at the road travelled over the past three years, and offers an enlightening perspective on the publication's future life. The project's eighteen issues will remain available on the Web for many more years to come, and will also be archived as a dvd, which will be released to the public during the Summer of 2005 in conjunction with the Banff New Media Institute's Tenth Anniversary celebrations. The publication will continue to exist in these formats, and will become a resource whose many and varied fruits, we hope, will not be forgotten.

Our "definitive" situation has led us to consider the question of archiving and the survival of digital works of art. That is why, in this last issue, we have asked well known new media authors, practitioners, and thinkers who have witnessed the growth of technology to share their ideas with us. First off, Hervé Fischer leads us through a critical backward glance at our cultural heritage and invites us to reflect upon the lasting-ness of digital work in his essay Digital Amnesiacs. We also publish a transcript of a talk given by Bruce Sterling at the De Balie Centre in Amsterdam in February 2004, on the occasion of an archaeological "mini-festival" of imaginary media. Built on Digital Sand sees Sterling, a popular science-fiction author and founder of the well known Dead Media Project, relating his most recent thoughts on the agitated history of media. With the help of a host of fascinating examples, he even proposes that some defunct technologies may well deserve to be resuscitated!

Several other much-awaited articles and interactive projects relating to these same questions will be added next month as part of this issue's second instalment. Please be sure to check back in with us then!

To close, I'd like to thank you, our readers, for having been at our side throughout this marvellous journey.

Sylvie Parent is French Editor of HorizonZero.

18.2 - December (and Farewell)

There is no archival, long-term medium for storing ones and zeroes. None. It does not exist. We have yet to invent one...This should be a great public scandal...We are exporting our own unsustainable problems onto future generations for the sake of a present day economic advantage. But the clock of history doesn't stop ticking merely because we are running twice as fast. (Bruce Sterling, Built on Digital Sand)

Climb the steps of the Shrine of Obsolete Technology. Drink one last deep breath of cold mountain air, and throw open the doors of the ancient Temple Archive. Inside, you will find a utopia. Issue 18: GHOST is a whimsical premonition of a far distant future in which we have awoken to the dangers of binary decay, and devised a cultural strategy for conserving electronic memory. The Shrine is, among its other sacred and profane functions, not only a recognition of our need to understand media's cycles of evolution and entropy, but also a lasting artifice for storing zeroes and ones - the demand for which Bruce Sterling and Hervé Fischer have so eloquently defined.

And if we've inserted ourselves via time capsule into this possible future of venerable civilizations and vanquished media empires, well, we hope you'll forgive us that one tongue-in-cheek conceit. After all, this is our last hurrah, our single chance to look back on our own digital lifespan and make sense of the journey. HorizonZero is about to shed its coil, become a ghost site. Perhaps a bit of solipsism is presently our due.

As regular viewers will know, each of our past seventeen issues has been labeled with a verb implying action. And the original inspiration for GHOST was similarly verbal, voiced at a long ago planning meeting by former Interactive Designer Jeff Dawson, who spoke to us of the phenomenon of "ghosting" or cloning one computer's operating system across a network of linked machines. This in turn led us to consider other forms of digital replication: games emulators, refurbishing old media for new platforms, and in particular the kind of phase changes that occur when gallery and museum archivists, struggling to cope with issues of digital decay, begin to transmigrate new media artworks into different forms of embodiment for the sake of historical conservation. The cloning metaphor also brought to mind the current work being done in fields like artificial life and personal data capture, in which various agencies are seeking methods to record and replicate whole lifetimes of human memory - a sort of ghosting to beget ghosts.

Apart from replication, the word "ghost" has taken on many other resonances, both obvious and subtle. For instance, given the frequency of palaeontological and archaeological metaphors at play when people talk about media archiving and history these days, I personally couldn't help but dwell upon the spookier side of evolutionary ecology - a field of study thickly haunted by ghosts. Or, more properly, "ghosts of evolution". As naturalist Connie Barlow writes in her book The Ghosts of Evolution (New York: Basic Books, 2000), certain species of plant - such as the humble but delicious avocado - have been discovered to be anachronisms, adapted to thrive in the symbiotic presence of another species that has since vanished from the earth. The avocado, with its rich flesh and gigantic seeds, is haunted by the ghosts of the giant sloth, gomphothere, and toxodon: Pleistocene mega fauna capable of swallowing the fruit whole and dispersing the pits. In the absence of such creatures, the future of the wild avocado is uncertain - it has lost its context, and must either evolve, find new partners, or perish.

I tend to think of HorizonZero, in its present phase, as a kind of evolutionary anachronism - adapting in response to a change in its context, and soon to be haunted by ghosts of digital evolution. We are archiving the site as an evergreen (perhaps an optimistic term under the circumstances) Web site and dvd. We will also create an actual, real, physical "time capsule" consisting of a computer bundled with all the essential hardware, software, and back-up files that would be needed in theory to republish, revive, or replicate (by which I mean "ghost") the publication at some later date - all wrapped up in a box. I can't help but imagine this box being interred somewhere within the bowels of The Banff Centre without thinking of the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Both episodes feature the quiet archiving of an innocuous crate showing little external indication of the spirits dwelling within. In the case of HorizonZero, these symbiotic spirits include the ideas and organizational infrastructures that gave it birth, the inspirations and creative energies of all the inestimable people who passed through our real and virtual doors, the technological contingencies of this period in media's evolution, as well as the Canadian socioeconomic climate - all in all, a spectral snapshot of present-day media ecology, that historical moment during which the project breathed life. A moment that will soon vanish and become something else.

Ghost Writing
Whereas the essays of our November release dwelt mainly upon the philosophical and cultural rationale for staving off digital memory loss, December's offerings carry us more viscerally into the fray of practical new media archiving and conservation strategies. In Variable and Unstable, Alain Depocas of the Daniel Langlois Foundation sketches an overview of two innovative new Canadian-International collaborative projects aimed at defining new methodologies for documenting and preserving ephemeral, technology-based artworks. And, in a wonderful complement to this piece, Caitlin Jones interrogates her own experience conserving artworks made with obsolete media technologies as part of the Variable Media Network, asking each of three exemplary case study art pieces the intimate question, Does Hardware Dictate Meaning?

We are also extremely pleased to announce the return of science and tech journalist Tom Keenan (who is about as close to a regular contributor as we've ever had, outside the staff). This time, Tom puts his heart and soul into capturing the sometimes narcissistic subject of human memory archiving. From the banalities of present-day blogging he extrapolates a strange future of Orwellian personal surveillance and simple self-absorption - all in the dubious name of attaining The End of Death.

Heaven and Earth
In the cosmology of ancient Greece, at the Temple at Delphos, among the crags and cliffs of Parnassus, was situated the omphalos, the cosmic egg of the world. This was the geographical centre of the universe, where the three parts of creation, Heaven, Earth, and Underworld, were connected to one another by the rotating vertical axis of Time. Think of The Shrine of Obsolete Technology, perhaps, as a similar nexus; one where the present cultural moment intersects the underworld of dead purposes, technological decay, and chthonic media memory, and also the sublime heights of media's skyward surge to evolve new modes and configurations. We might even think of The Acropolis, perched as it is high atop the deep archival foundations of the Shrine, as a metaphorical radiating point for possible media futures. There, on that windy vantage, a colossal iconic desktop oracle points its arrow skyward toward the ever-shifting future of media's evolution.

Or...perhaps it is simply tracking The Ghosts of Mystic Pass - those wayward echoing spirits of disappearing classics invoked by one-time HorizonZero Creative Director Martha Ladly in her playful tribute to new media's heady early days. During her years spent working in the burgeoning interactive media field of the 1990s, Martha helped to produce several true gems of the cd-rom genre, and kept a close eye on many others. In her Web essay, created with the help of designer Adam Leon, she beckons us to remember six "angels" of the early canon, from the dystopic Puppet Motel and the edenic EVE, to the pre-dot.bomb online decadence of Digital Club Festival. Impossible to find, out of print, based on obsolete operating systems, or otherwise defunct, each one of these masterpieces is gradually succumbing to the forgetfulness of digital heaven.

As for the second interactive artwork to sit atop The Acropolis, well, despite his real name, Arcangel Constantini's artistic pseudonym Bakteria.org is probably a much more accurate indication of where the spirit of his work dwells. Codice Off_Set presents us with a layered dream from media's underworld of destroyed knowledge systems, juxtaposing the murdered form of ancient Mayan codices with tenacious mechanical printing machinery, all mixed together in a visual compost pit of computer code.

From mythical heights and depths, to a filmic shadow figure traversing the vanquished horizons of our everyday earth: our very last installment of the Horizontal gallery features the very welcome return of our very first Creative Director, Daniel Canty, and his wistful photopoem Audela. Canty's words and images are a journey forward through a parallel topography, what the artist calls a "Place of If". This lost universe of abandoned workshops and relic machines, this sense of time shift, this vocal presence leading us forward in communion with the toolmakers of a long dead culture, all recall what Burroughs might have intended when he wrote of the human form, "Before they went into mass production there must have been some good models lost in the shuffle..." (see The Place of Dead Roads, 1995).

And as for Fuse-T and his curatorial residence at The Museum of Abandoned Things, well, no spooky song and dance there - just a friendly neighbourhood robot doing his best to stay out of the remainder bin. And if he seems to have found a workable niche as proprietor of the proverbial tourist trap, if his rambling enthusiasm for dilapidated details and useless trivia appears to keep him sprightly, then don't forget that deep down he's maybe also a little sad. Hard not to get sentimental about things when all is said and done, especially after so much time. On quiet days, you can find him out back of the shop, staring toward distant horizons, pondering the meaning of life. He even likes to read melancholic poetry - his favourite being that long ago, little known, completely forgotten Canadian poetess Spirulene Mendel, and her elegiac words:

is left to earth,
only the entelechy
of dead machines
tingles electric
with half-thoughts
of departed souls

Angus Leech feels very fortunate to have spent three stimulating years with HorizonZero as its English Editor. He has now left the building. Thank you very much.

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