Instagram Meets Telidon

The Telidon Art Collection at Inter/Access

Marin Balabanov

Chapter 7. Conclusion: Let's Hope the Future Is Here To Stay

"Maybe stories are just data with a soul."
- Brené Brown

One of the big questions about conserving Telidon digital art is around the authenticity of representation. How many changes can you make in digital artwork and still have them be an accurate representation of what they were conceived to be?

The easy answer is: If the artists agree to the way their art is conserved, then that is the right way to do it.

If the artists cannot be part of the conservation process, then it is very much in the hands of the developers to either find recordings of the pieces running on original hardware or to reach out to contemporaries of the artists or to art and technology historians to work together with them on the correct representation.

The art produced on Telidon[67] can be regarded as one of the first purely digital art forms because it could only be created on computers. And we only barely saved it. One could argue that it could not really be saved because it is now no longer interactive. The original systems it ran on are long gone. The effort to create an environment in emulation that runs the original software in its intended scenario is enormous and limits an audience's exposure to it.

We should not forget that artists create art with any kind of technology. This art is not only a window into the times it was created in, but it is also part of our legacy.

Even though originally, the Telidon art was "online" on the Telidon servers, it did not reach users and audience as it would today. At the time of its creation, it had far greater exposure when recorded onto a videotape or printed, shown and played at parties, in exhibitions, bars, and galleries. Most of the artwork files were never saved because it was not stored onto secure media or in the central database of the Department of Communications.

Caroline Langill, professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design, explained in the Vice Motherboard article on Telidon that the "exclusive nature of the materials and the language associated with them made it very difficult for the general art world to engage with at the time,... People who made this work were like computer scientists - programmers, hackers etc. Also, the work requires a lot of maintenance. It needs a connection to the grid, and galleries weren't necessarily equipped for that."

Nowadays, we all carry our connection to the grid. We have all learned the jargon to some extent. Now, we are capable of understanding the art of Telidon.

In an ever more digital world, where the data formats come and then fade from collective memory, leaving their data stranded, the most enduring formats were analog. They were art prints and videotapes.

This is a cautionary tale.

The Telidon art collection was saved by Inter/Access by publishing it on Instagram. Yet, this digital medium is even more at risk of being forgotten. It is a proprietary closed garden, operated at the whim of a for-profit organization. If the content should no longer deliver a profit, what is to say that Instagram won't be closed as a service, or in the least transformed so greatly that the old legacy data is no longer accessible?

Most of the Telidon art was not saved in its original format. It was a close call, but it was transformation that saved it. The art was barely saved through analog means, a magnetic videotape recording and prints of the originally interactive digital Telidon artwork. This means that it was not actually conserved in its original form, but rather by turning the interactive Telidon art into something non-interactive. We have thus put it in a stasis, a time loop that it cannot escape.

We can't do this with Instagram.For how long will the data on Instagram survive and even be readable and accessible?

Perhaps, we can only save what we are fond of by transforming it.


[67] Pearson, Jordan. The Original Net Artists. Motherboard. Tech by Vice. (retrieved on February 12, 2020)
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