During the past decade, contemporary art has seen substantive revisions in artists’ and curators’ engagements with site, particularly in regard to questions of historical memory. Compression seeks to describe and account for such shifts using the model of compression algorithms—typically encountered in jpegs and tiffs—in which the information (or “memory”) underlying an image is lost even while the picture seems entirely intact. The algorithms’ enterprise is poetic: they choose what visual information to discard (based on what is least likely to be noticed to have gone missing) and reformat whatever details they retain to provide a nuanced version of reality. Taking compression as a diagnostic tool for reflecting on contemporary art, Griffin considers its implications for our understanding of performance, the museum, and, finally, the language of criticism.

Tim Griffin is a New York-based writer. From 2003 to 2010 he was editor of Artforum, where he is currently an editor-at-large; previously he was art editor and a regular columnist forTime Out New York. His texts on art and culture have appeared in publications ranging from October to Vogue; his poetry was featured in the 2004 Subpress volume Free Radicals: American Poets Before Their First Books.