(Electronic Media) A Race Against Time: Preserving iOS App-based Artworks. Authors: Flaminia Fortunato, Joey Heinen, Morgan Kessler


The emergence of app-based artworks in our collections prompted institutions the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to collaborate together in order to determine the best methods of collecting these works. (https://sched.co/Iujb)

LACMA acquired Composition for Marimba by artist Mungo Thompson (52 cards with associated tones are played back at random) and MoMA acquired wyd rn by artists Brent David Freaney and Martine Syms (an augmented reality app that was part of a multimedia installation):

We also ran through some basics of apps:

For the Composition for Marimba, we acquired the iphone with app installed plus an xcode project for backup.  2 years after acquisition, we decided to boot up the phone and found that it no longer would launch.  We suspected the operating system had updated without our consent, but later found out this was due to the artist developer license expiring.  This created a sort of "self-destruct" sequence because the license had only been paid for a year.  When we were exploring different tools to figure out when the OS was last updated, we ran into roadblock after roadblock and determined this wasn't feasible.  

Since we had the Xcode project files, we tried to see if we could load the artwork onto a new, backup phone we purchased just for this testing.  This was more difficult than we expected due to the rapid pace at which software upgrades.  This included having to leapfrog different versions of Xcode in order to get swift up to date.  

Simply by chance the Xcode version on my computer was the version that could update the old Swift syntax to the current version.  But this was a big red flag for us that we need to be saving Xcode, Swift, and Mac operating systems, as well as making sure any libraries have been downloaded.  So with this good fortune, we were able to get the app to work on the current iPhone OS.

Next, we had to dive into the source code to see if we could interpret the exact behaviors of the original program. After examining the code, we had enough information that we were ready for an interview with the artist to answer our questions.  It is really important to wait until you have enough familiarity of the code before you initiate the interview.

Through this work, we found it was important to come up with a plan to REBUILD the work with the artist’s approval, rather than focus on just preserving the phone as long as possible.  Also, in less than 2 years A LOT of significant changes had been made by Apple to their technologies and inactivity on our part only made this more difficult.

Through our work, we found 4 crucial elements to preserving a mobile app:

Also important: 

The hardware is just as important as the code.  Is the work reliant on a particular brand and version of a phone or computer?  Can this be upgraded 50 years from now?  If not, does the institution have the ability to stockpile equipment?  Internal batteries need to be addressed as well in addition to a maintenance plan of checking the equipment annually.

For wyd rn, MoMA is still in the acquisition phase.  Flaminia: "In this phase we initiate an ongoing dialogue with the artist or artist’s representative; this dialogue plays a major role in our ability to fulfill the moral responsibility that comes with owning an artwork that is ephemeral in nature.  The aim of this phase is to gain a better understanding What is the work //  how was it made? // what is the museum acquiring and what elements will the museum receive// which elements instead is the museum responsible for procuring and what related costs can we anticipate."


The preliminary phase of condition assessment encompasses content verification.  After having gathered all information in the artist studio interview, we were expected to receive source code and 12 AR events.  Only 8 Augmented Reality events are programmed in the source code that MoMA received (against the 12 events which are currently programmed in wyd rn App).  So Flaminia was hoping to find a simulator that would be helpful in order to check that the assets received were correct.  Instead, she found that she had to look at the code and match up any assets provided.
Slide41.jpgIt was a pleasure working with my colleagues Joey and Flaminia and I hope you enjoyed our presentation!  Here's the final list of considerations: