The Electronic Arts Library is a collection of artist videos, sound recordings, informal texts and media players curated and made available for loan by new media artist Paul Theriault. The Library explores the cycles of innovation and obsolescence that have shaped the home entertainment, gaming and personal computing industries from the 1970s to the present. This history includes the birth of the video game, personal computer, world wide web, smartphone and the shift to digital recording. These cycles represent the way we use technology for work and play and invest in consumer objects that promise to increase our quality of life by making things more convenient, efficient and pleasurable.
The Library commemorates the largeness of our demand and the quickness of the tech industry to respond with new designs. While many users discard a device, once it breaks, its parts become outmoded, or its style goes out of fashion, The Library recognizes the longer life of a fazed-out machine. The collection performs, acts aesthetically, and prompts artists to experiment. To amass the collection, Theriault paired 22 artists with 22 media players, selecting artists who he had met over the years, who could fulfill each devise’s potential. Some of these artists are lifelong friends, others are friends of friends, and a third group are people that Theriualt knows from word of mouth, books, and the internet. In one sense, The Library is a study of how artists look at other artists’ works.
For its Artspace debut, The Library is organized by genre (romance, sci-fi, documentary, etc.) and operates via an analog card catalog system. Viewers can sign up for a free library card and check out a work and its assigned media player for up to seven days. To facilitate the safe and easy transport of the work, Theriault has constructed a set of carrying cases designed to accommodate the weight, bulk and fragility of each object. Each work comes with a user-friendly set of operating instructions and tips for trouble-shooting. Assuming the role of “Collection Custodian,” Theriault will offer to assist the artists in the rendering of their works. He will also oversee the safe keeping of the library itself, contacting members who check a work out beyond its due date.
The Library negotiates several aspects of how art institutions traditionally commit to curating, conserving and displaying new media art. Here, the operating system comes first, and the artist comes second, selected to serve the system. Typically, a new media artist arrives at a gallery space with an artwork and the gallery works to accommodate their technological needs by offering them the use of their media players in storage, or purchasing new equipment. The Library’s promise to conserve and protect the artwork against damage is also compromised. Much like a library book, the work may be handled, checked out, scratched, destroyed or lost forever. The mystery of the artwork and object is also subject to exploitation by a viewer, who may take the work home, investigate it, handle it, take it apart and use the media player to make their own art.
Raising new questions about integrity, compatibility, compromise, nostalgia, design, security, portability and authorship, The Library first and foremost seeks to be a site of hands-on education. The Library matches the mission of the nearby Yale University Art Library to be a site that offers the opportunity of object-based learning, but provides an expanded experience where the user can explore the technical underpinnings of how an image is produced or played. As viewers come back to The Library to check out multiple devices, their personal interest might begin to mimic the nature of addiction that feeds the tech industry’s ability to manufacture new machines with built-in expiration dates. There is no end in sight, because this cycle is not only enjoyable, but captivating even in its obsolescence.
Featured artists include: Jane Alden, Bek Andersen, Kryssi Battalene, Justin Berry, Ben Coonley, Johannes DeYoung, Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Grossman, Larissa Hall, Allyn Hughes, Effi Ibok, Jeff Kasper, Kristin Lucas, Ken Morgan, Polly Shindler, Andrew Slater, Amanda Tiller, Siebren Versteeg, Ben Vida and Allison Wade.