It is said that the shape of our culture is very much defined by the art of that particular era; that the art and culture are the alter egos of one another. An artwork hence embodies a past, a history in itself. Loss of any art is thus a loss of history, a loss of the spirit of time.
Though there was always a realization of importance of documentation, there are particular reasons, especially in the art realm, for a work to be completely erased from human memory, once it is lost or destroyed. As saying goes - once something is out of sight, it is out of mind.
Despite all the efforts to preserve art, since time immemorial, numerous works of art have been destroyed either during a military coup, or when the ruling regime is in general disagreement with the philosophy of that work itself. In the past century, however, with the advent of technology, there has been a major drive to preserve and learn more about the past than ever before. Robert Adams in his book The Lost Museum says —“We know the past better than the past knew itself.” Through the invention of camera, video films, photocopiers and fax, art was granted an immortal youth. It seemed that art and history had finally found a guardian.
Early 1980s witnessed another uproar, a great effort to preserve art, history and vanishing cultures, this time using advanced and highly sophisticated modern technologies. In 1982, a number of museums around the world joined hands to form The Council for Documentation of Lost Art & Cultural Heritage (CDLACH), with the primary aim to document and preserve record of artworks, particularly those that had been lost or destroyed. Much of the existing documentation was converted into electronic database, forming the largest electronic archive of lost art and culture to date.
While the project is ongoing, the documentation of existing records was soon forgotten, with a belief that it would be available for all times to come. However, only about two and a half decades after the archive was first created, much of the database was found to be inaccessible. While some of electronic files didn’t even open, many had changed beyond recognition. “They looked like parts of the old Atari video games, or images that you can see when one tries to open an old CD or a floppy disk” says the head engineer who was rushed to the site after the error was first reported.
This exhibition is a part of the collection of artworks that were found corrupted and stands as an aftermath of the ‘final loss’, for even the documentation of lost art has been lost forever. In response to this crisis and in an attempt to freeze the digital relics without any delay, the CDLACH is now in the process of reproducing their digital archive on paper. Works in this exhibition are part of this ongoing project and showcase various art and cultural artifacts that were lost or destroyed during various wars or conflict situations throughout history.
The council has also initiated a Program for Conservation of Art in Electronic Media (PCAEM) with an aim to retrieve and preserve any possible information from the archive.