The following are the key observations about the digital poster that have informed the collecting methods explored by this handbook.
Image files (j-pegs etc) don’t signify the object. Rather, we can think of them as technical artefacts, that would remain even if we switch the computer off, but which require additional actions (opening a file, performing a search, running a software application) to become objects that can be understood. So, saving the file is not enough to collect the work. The functionality of browser and software environments — buttons, palettes, scroll bars — and our interactions with them could all be considered as part of the materiality of the work.
Digital posters may be fugitive. Accessing digital material depends on the interoperability of hardware and software – both subject to ever accelerating cycles of obsolescence. The ability to preserve digital posters indefinitely is therefore uncertain. We are faced with collecting objects that may disappear or change as they migrate to new software and are viewed on new devices.
Digital images flatten the traces of their making. The material textures of the printed poster contain traces of the gestures and processes that produced it. Curators are skilled at working backwards from the final object to understand the materials and techniques involved. When a digital image is compressed/rendered and exported from the software in which it was created, its surface becomes impenetrable to this kind of traditional curatorial enquiry.
Digital posters remain open to intervention and replication. Unlike a physical poster printed from a fixed matrix, the digital poster can be re-manipulated, updated and appropriated. Its content remains open-ended. Furthermore, while traditional posters exist as multiples defined by print runs, the data that defines a digital poster can be endlessly copied or ‘cloned’. In an online environment a digital poster can spread across multiple platforms, propelled by the algorithms used by advertisers and the sharing mechanisms of social media. Its qualities are dynamic and viral.
Digital posters are non-separable from the context in which they operate. Historically museums have collected posters (and objects in general) by physically detaching them from their operative and functional contexts. Context has been understood as something external to the object itself — a quality that is re-introduced through explanation and interpretation (usually in the form of text) in order to bring the object back to life. This disassociation of the object from its context has always been a problematic aspect of the museum collection. With the digital poster we argue that the problem becomes more acute. We observe a more inherent interweaving between the object and context — particularly within the networked environment of the internet. As dynamic and interactive objects, the form and functionality of digital posters is interdependent with the technical conditions and structures of the online platforms they inhabit.