So Much To Learn From Old Pizza (Did Andy like anchovies?)

I recently attended a conference in Dundee called “Burnishing the Lamp of Memory: Documentation and Preservation in the Digital Age“. The presentations mostly focused on digitization as a means to preserve precious objects or memories. In that camp, the most aesthetically interesting and well-performed presentation was probably by Vladimir Karen, speaking about the Manuscriptorium project that aims to meticulously produce extremely high-resolution scans of precious documents and rare books in the Czech National Library. Notable for jolting people out of their seats a little were presentations by Ben Coode-Adams, presenting his own interventions into museum spaces stressing the importance of the “30 foot Smurf moment” (the moment when something remarkable happens, like the appearance of a 30 foot tall Smurf), and Sarah Cook‘s excellent overview of new media art that confronted concerns over preservation of items that were never analogue in the first place.

The presentations of how analogue collections were being preserved digitally got me thinking of 20-year-old pizza and hotel keys. You see, in many cases, particularly when converting the analogue into digital format to preserve it for all time, you are a custodian of an enormous collection of things, and your judgement call as to how to group them or what is even worth preserving may be restricted to the efforts of curators who came long before you; your job now is simply to make sure none of it slips out of memory because the original object will soon be hopelessly degraded.

There was also a sort of honesty to most of the work presented, a sort of, “here it is, in its original glory” sort of attitude. For example, Norman Reid from the University of St. Andrews was asked if damaged negatives in their photo collection are touched up before being made available in the digital archive, and his reply was quite long but basically amounted to “no”. He also said they were trying to archive all the photos in their collection, there weren’t judgements being made about which photos were worthy or not.

In other words, there is no sorting going on. There is no curation. Choices have already been made, collections are already formed, and now we are saving them in case someone wants to have access to them. Perhaps no one wants to take on the daunting mantle of casting judgement on what might be an enormous and varied collection of objects or photos.

This finally brings me to my point about pizza and hotel keys. The Andy Warhol Archive in Pittsburgh plays host to basically everything that Warhol ever owned. Our late Uncle Andy had a habit of tossing things in boxes by his desk, and then when they were full, sealing them up, dating them, and putting them aside. Some very odd things have been found in these boxes. Entire pizzas. Slices of birthday cake. A mummified foot. Et cetera. At the Glenn Gould Archive in Ottawa, similar odd collections of personal effects linger on. The pianist’s trademark gloves and caps, of course, but also, a collection of all the hotel keys he ever pinched from the hotels he stayed at during his concert career.

Of the items in Warhol’s boxes, Tom Sokolowski, Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, says: “Everything in his life, in an artist’s life … was meritorious of recollection”. I wonder if it is. I speculate that I would gain no insight into Warhol from being able to handle an old pizza that Warhol purchased, never consumed, and then put in a box. I doubt that seeing Gould’s hotel key collection would tell me much about his character, though maybe I’d notice which hotel chain he preferred.

Perhaps this is heresy, but digitization could offer us a way out of the hefty task of storing and preserving items that may have little or no bearing on an artist’s thoughts or work, but are saved in case they hold a clue, or might be part of some larger narrative in the artist’s life. Selections could be made, things that are meaningful could be lovingly kept forever, and old pizzas could be digitally photographed from every angle and scanned in a 3D scanner, and then sent to the dumpster, or auctioned off to the highest bidder, to support the ongoing work of the archivists. I may be hopelessly unsentimental, but the benefits of digitization seem to offer more than the promise of keeping a copy of something forever – it also offers a safe way to make decisions about what to turf. Because once we know what Andy liked on his pizza and have safely recorded it in a database, the original pizza can offer us no more data about Andy. And is it not the data about the object itself that matters? Because we are talking about a pizza, here, people. This is not an artwork that may be examined for hours and new things revealed by seeing it up close and in person. Someone else made this pizza, and it appears it didn’t even meet Mr Warhol’s approval, as it went into the storage box whole. Perhaps Andy just missed the wastebasket on this one.

I am drastically simplifying this argument (I’m sure there are levels of guardianship I cannot appreciate, never having been in that role: pressure from the estates of deceased artists, governmental committees having final says on what is of cultural value, et cetera… chime in here my archivist friends – Vincent?) but I hope that the advanced levels of preservation afforded by digitization allow us to have a conversation about what should be kept in original form and what may be digitally copied (and shared) and then sold, given away, or thrown away. As Manuscriptorium demonstrates, many more of us can enjoy access to these documents and objects if they are well-digitized. Furthermore, the presence of the physical pizza in Pittsburgh does very little good for those Warhol worshippers at a distance wishing to see Andy’s pizza, but a digital recording could stand in for the original pizza, and if it is cross-referenced with databases worldwide, enables the public to know what all their favourite artists liked on their pizzas – and might offer a sort of easily-available insight into trivia and key facts alike.

Integrate the information, cross-reference with others, share it with the public, and save your storage space for the truly valuable physical artifacts. It sounds like a brave new world in archiving, but it may fly in the face of what archivists are expected to do, which might be interpreted as treating everything as precious and keeping it safe from damage (ie. away from the general public).

So there are two arguments being made here. One, open up the bloody boxes and give the public access. Archives are like gated communities. Often, one must be Dr. Fancypants at Highbrow U. to obtain permission to actually commune with the objects. Digitization allows the general public to access these archives, with no damage to the collection. (Years ago, naively, I thought I could just drop into the Gould archives because I like Glenn Gould. I was asked which book on Gould I was writing. Umm, none? Of course I wasn’t allowed within a mile of the collection.) Second, digitization may solve a storage problem, if one exists, if there is a reluctance to cull a collection of objects that have no obvious import on research into the artist’s work or subject of study.

13 replies on “So Much To Learn From Old Pizza (Did Andy like anchovies?)”

I don’t think knowing something still exists, having access to it and remembering it are all of a peice.

People forget all the time, we don’t need to get our technology to do it for us.

but speaking from experience a mummified pizza is sometimes better than a fresh pizza.

so I can see andys logic in boxing up the pizza whole and dating it.

he was just letting it age.

hey mk.

this kinda thing drives me *crazy*. Why does no one ever talk about the value of degradation, of losing and forgetting things! how are we ever going to re-invent stuff if it’s right there infront of us all the time?

argh/sigh.

Archiving everything we can get our mits on takes up time and space. And justifying Consuming peoples’time and space is always painful – but the other problem you bring up is buzzing. What are we supposed to do with an insufferable amount of archived objects? For anyone to begin to appreciate those masses, we’d need to sort them out as you point out.

So, is a sorting instinct, in addition to a taste for creative juxtaposition that stirs our minds and souls a virtue of a curator?

that’s just it. forgetting is the most important kind of sorting. we forget stuff because it isn’t worth remembering. and then if we need something different than what we have kept in our archives and our memories, we re-invent it according to what we can dig up about the mostly forgotten thing. But we don’t actually *have* a perfect copy of it. That’s not the point. We’re not actually trying to reach into the past and pull something back out – we’re just using it as a basis for creating something new.

not doing a good job of getting my point across, am I.

okay – think of Wicca. Current Wicca/Witchcaft as well as Druidism pretends to be some kind of ancient tradition that was surpressed for a long time and now – to the delight of 22 year old female college students everywhere – has been "rediscovered".

That’s not true. There is no connection between current Wicca and any non-christian practices in meidieval europe.

But people were able to take a poorly remembered idea (witchcraft) and fashion it into something new and relevant that was helpful for people in our culture/time. If we had better archives we wouldn’t have been able to do that creation. We would have been tyrannically forced (I like the word tyranny these days) to slavishly follow the exact same version and therefore wouldn’t have been able to re-fashion/re-create.

okay – thanks for the ranting space MK. much appreciated.

Hey all,
Great debate going on. Mir, I dunno about mummified pizza but I do like cold pizza in the morning the next day. I think I did some mummified pizza experiments during my student days in Toronto and Montreal and found the results of the experiment to be rather gross.

Mike I totally hear you on the value of forgetting and the idea that liberation from previous ideas/objects allows us to create something new, in the distorted image of the past we carry around with us. I think there is a lot of deep meditation going on about things that potentially (a) don’t matter, or worse, (b) are bad data. For example, if everyone is examining Warhol’s pizza for all kinds of clues about his diet, his character, his favourite pizza parlour, and trying to get all CSI on it and infer a bunch of things, the whole operation could be totally screwed up by the simple fact that maybe Andy didn’t even buy the pizza! Maybe an assistant dropped it by, trying to be thoughtful, and it was neither Andy’s fave pizza nor pizza parlour, maybe he wasn’t even hungry, and so it went into the box whole.

But we will never know, and so hanging onto it simply because Warhol threw it in a box is questionable. We can infer very little about it. The data the pizza gives us is nearly worthless, unless a pizza story can be discovered through testimony from one of his contemporaries.

Furthermore, perhaps Warhol is bad example here, since clearly something was going on with this obsessive collecting. The box system was pretty well-defined. But what happens when you are curating your life, in a way? When you’re someone like Warhol, who figures, "hey, I’m a famous artist, someone is going to be interested in all this shit I’m keeping someday", does the burden on you to weed out potentially spurious data that a future archivist will collect weigh on you? Do you even think about it? Perhaps you should, or we will be doomed to pass a mummified pizza around wearing white gloves.

Now look who’s ranting…. 😉

making a call here; over-use of the word spurious to the point where I am hearing it as "so angry I put on spurs before I kicked your ass".

a-har that was a joke I am not actually spurious at all.

I am sort of disagreeing with my previous comment here, which wasn’t meant to be in defense of forgetting but in fact in defense of remembering.

i don’t think I have the right to dictate what gets remembered or what gets passed on. I would rather be sluice gate of information than a trickle.

I have started to refer to Jane as my virtual hard drive because she keeps remembering random stuff that I did way back when, and I have started doing the same thing for Lauren lately too.

We certainly don’t remember everything ourselves but that’s why we make communities and families, to expand our capacities for memory.

how does this relate to archiving and old pizza.. uh…

I don’t know but this hot chocolate sure is yummy

ps: maya I think sorting s one of the most fascinating human attributes. We shoud discuss or you should do a lit review of papers on sorting on MuchLess and I will crib it for my MA application.

hey Mir
yeah, I like the Wayback Machine and your points about remembering are well taken.

But really, what I liked about the internet was that I could "erase" my webpage by overwriting it with a new one, and now the Wayback Machine has screwed that whole thing up. I don’t want there to be copies of my early dabblings on the web to be out there – and yet, there they are! What a suckerpunch. Who wants to see my website as it was in 1999? I think you can request your items be removed from the Wayback Machine, but how do they verify it’s you and that was your website you are asking to be taken down…. is it as bad as proving you are you to Network Solutions when you want to update your domain (god forbid)!

I guess I am a control freak, because I think if I were Andy Warhol, I wouldn’t want people analyzing the dumb pizza I saved on a yuk for any kind of meaning. I wish someone who did their PhD on Andy Warhol would pipe in with a quote about how he did or didn’t create those boxes for us to paw through, and everything in them does or doesn’t have immense meanning.

Gould being such a recluse/ham is a bit more difficult, but I could safely imagine him feeling creeped out that people want to go to Ottawa to hold his mittens and hotel keys.

And now even little old me, I have to think about what the Wayback Machine will capture, where my comments on other people’s blogs will end up, etc. I wish I had more control and could erase more, or at least revise. Still haunting me in my Google, to this day, is a post I made to a listserv when I was 15 years old or so, that is also a funny connection to this post, since it was some comments about a particular recording by Glenn Gould.

All I can say is thank goodness I wasn’t out on the web waxing ecstatic about New Kids on the Block recordings, or something. Because then I would be screaming for the erase button.

"i don’t think I have the right to dictate what gets remembered or what gets passed on. I would rather be sluice gate of information than a trickle."

why don’t you? You are part of a culture that is trying to archive *everything*. It is as much your responsability to justify archiving as it is to justify "what get’s remembered".

That’s what aggravates me – people assuming that "remembering" is good. and forgetting is bad. Or that remembering is a state of existance and therefor positive and forgetting is an annulment – when it is nothing of the sort. It is it’s own affirmation. Of space for new stuff – new visions, new creations. You should have to justify your archiving much more strenously than your forgetting – because forgetting is the natural order.

(possibly that is a drunken rant. time will tell.)

mehh…

now I do think we are disagreeing.

I think the one thing that separate humans from animals is that we remember, remember?

forgetting is an anullment I think.

But in my culture we were taught that memory is an act that gives value.

so perhaps we come at it from different places.

I get angry when poeple around me forget stuff that I think is important
just like I get angry at myself for forgetting importanat stuff.

remember I had that freak attack about steven speilberg going and taping survivor stories and you thought I was sbeing a prick. I was being a prick.

we have the space and the technology to hold pretty much every metaphorical old pizza there is.

I think if its a question of assigning value, lets just remember it all and leave it for the librarians and archivists of the future, they will have a much better idea than we do right now.

(and I am not even drunk)

Bruno Latour writes at length about the power of objects to exert influence on networks of humans and things. He has one essay in which he discusses how old-fashioned hotel keys exert an influence on hotel guests. It’s a complex argument, but comes down to the fact that the keys’ weight and shape — in essence, their materiality — are a key part of the relationship to and between the hotel clerk and the guests (at the time, guests were supposed to return the keys to the desk when they went out; the keys were heavy and made of metal to encourage people to do this).

What is fascinating about objects in museums is their materiality. The presence of the keys — their shape,form, presence– for me evokes a greater sense of Gould’s manic genius. It helps me imagine what his physical and material environment looked like. And Warhol’s crusty pizza? Equally evocative in its decay.

I love digitization. It facilitates a certain transience: I move frequently and throw a lot of things out. But I doubt I would have the same deep feeling of absence about a lost web page as I do about the vintage prom dress I gave to Value Village in 1996.

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