The Conservation of Media Art by Gaby Wijers

Media art works represent some of the most compelling and significant artistic creations of our time. As an art medium, media art has transformed the perception of artistic practices since the late 1960s. Media artworks themselves are often described as live, processural, temporary, or site-specific, and their formats as unstable, or variable. Because of their short life and technical or otherwise variable natures, and because of the variability and rapid obsolescence of the media formats, they also present obstacles to accurate documentation, access and preservation. Without strategies for preservation many of these art works will be lost to future generations. This is why preservation is of fundamental importance to media art and a challenge to specialized technicians, curators and scientists in this field.

Over the last 10 years collection managers, curators, artists and conservators have become more and more interested in the issue of the preservation of media art. At the moment a serious number of national and international projects are conducting research that seeks to define strategies for, and best practice regarding the documentation and preservation of new media.

The main questions to be answered are:

* What to preserve and how to preserve it;

* What are the essential aesthetic and technological elements that absolutely need to be preserved if the piece is to retain any integrity into the future?

* What is essential to the determination of origins and authenticity of the work?

* Do different types of media art need a different strategy?

* What is different in the approach in documenting and preserving media art works?

The Netherlands Media Art Institute, in association with OASIS, has invited speakers from European and American organizations and projects to disseminate their policies, approaches, research, and case studies on the documenting and preservation of media artworks.

The purpose of this day is to

* Disseminate selected approaches, research, and case-studies developed for documenting and preservation of media artworks.
* Initiate wider discussion and collaboration with regard to those issues.
* Publish an overview of approaches, practices, examples relating to the documentation and preservation of media artworks.

February 14, 2005, the Netherlands Media Art Institute will offer the specialists in this field the opportunity to get a state of the art overview on the conservation and documentation of media art by presenting prominent international projects:

The Netherlands Media Art Institute researches methods for recording and preserving media art and develops and implements new methods and techniques in that field. Under the auspices of the Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art (SBMK) preservation methods and techniques for video art were developed, implemented and evaluated. Over 1700 analogue videos were preserved, and a model acquisition contract and a registration model were developed. Documentation, consultation with the artist and the conversion of the analogue signal to Digital Betacam have turned out to be the essential criteria for the preservation of video art works for the future. The works are accessible in context on the network on MPEG2 quality and fragments are on the Internet in Reel Video.

The ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe converges new low-cost, fast intranetworking technology and very large storage components to enable completely new solutions to conservation of and widespread access to cultural media. In a project commencing mid-2002, ZKM has investigated the medium and long-term implications of these technologies in the context of both archiving and conservation, and of access by researchers and the public. This work has centered upon the construction and management of very large disk storage systems by non-specialist personnel in the museum environment, and builds upon ZKM's experience with large-scale automated CD archives. While the advantages of disk-based storage for media archive are well reported, this project addresses the reliability of such systems for repository of high quality masters, enabling the complete disposal of conventional tape media for the first time.

The Variable Media Network founded by the Guggenheim and Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology explores both new and proven concepts of preservation by concentrating on the behaviors, rather than solely the material, of contemporary art made for ephemeral mediums. The variable media paradigm asks artists themselves, in conjunction with conservators and technicians, to imagine ways to outwit the obsolescence that often besets technological and other ephemeral art forms. This approach proposes that the best way to preserve artworks in ephemeral formats, from stick spirals to video installations to Web sites, is to encourage artists to describe them in a medium-independent way, so as to help translate them into new forms once their current medium becomes obsolete.

June 1, 2004, marked the start of a new three-year research project on the preservation and presentation of installation art, supported by the European Commission's Culture 2000 program. The project is coordinated by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and co-organized by five other European institutions: TATE, England; Restaurierungzentrum Düsseldorf, Germany; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Belgium and the Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art, The Netherlands. Each co-organizer collaborates with national partners (mainly museums), bringing the total number of organizations participating to around 30. This project is one of the initiatives of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art which has existed since 2002 as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and information.

In 2003, V2_Organisation conducted research on the documentation aspects of the preservation of electronic art activities, or Capturing Unstable Media, an approach between archiving and preservation. Capturing Unstable Media presents a complimentary approach to the widespread material- and object-focused, rather static approach to preservation of contemporary art. Documenting the context of electronic art activities is important, as well as a perspective of process over product. Such aRt&D processes can have very diverse outcomes, ranging from tools and installations to presentations and symposia. Each of these needs to be valued in the context in which they are produced, and, if necessary, needs to be captured. Based on the findings from two case studies, a series of recommendations were formulated in the areas of documentation strategies for electronic art activities, formal modeling and metadata, and archival interoperability. Furthermore, a number of technical realizations were implemented.

The conference is organized in the framework of the project OASIS - Open Archiving System with Internet Sharing. The OASIS project, a component of the EU's Culture 2000 program, is a joint activity of the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG), Karlsruhe, Germany, International Centre for Art and New Technology (CIANT), Praha, Czech Republic, University of Science and Technology (AGH), Krakow, Poland, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany, Les Instants Video Numeriques et Poetiques, Marseille, France and the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Together these institutions will design a new environment for media arts content gathering, the preservation, presentation and distribution of media art, as well as for exchange of information.

The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology is leading a new five years research alliance project that will focus on important issues regarding the preservation and documentation of media art. Museums, which are charged with preserving these works and in doing so providing the public future access to them, often find themselves without adequate resources and must make do with methods and means that are poorly adapted to the new artistic practices. The problems vary, but one constant remains: most of the technologies featured in the works are becoming progressively obsolete, thus threatening the survival of the works themselves. To address these problems, this research Alliance plans to pool numerous fields of expertise, including art preservation, art documentation, art history, technology history, information sciences, archival management, engineering and computer processing. The research will focus on three principal areas, and each will produce tools, guides and methodologies essential to preserving this new cultural heritage.