Why is an installation more difficult to preserve than a videotape?
Longevity and authenticity are the two biggest issues facing the preservation of installation works. A technology-based installation has all the preservation challenges of moving-image media, plus many more. Often, an installation will utilise the presentation equipment itself as a sculptural component, which makes hardware obsolescence a twofold threat. Because an installation typically has many more elements than a single-channel work, there is also more room for misinterpretation. Comprehensive documentation of the artist's intent and technical specifications is therefore required.
What can I do to prepare for hardware obsolescence?
First, collect and store/stockpile additional hardware. If specific equipment is an inherent part of an installation piece (consultation with the artist is critical to determine this), it is important not only to use qualified service providers to maintain the equipment, but also to retain service manuals and other documentation. Spare parts (belts, for example) should also be acquired.
What parts of an installation can be substituted?
Although there is no simple answer to this question, there are some important guidelines regarding the moving-image components of an installation. The first consideration is how these changes might affect the integrity of the work. Would they alter the look and feel of the piece? Originally, an installation may have utilised U-matic cassettes for video playback, for example, which may not be viable for future iterations. If the video playback equipment is not visible, and a digital copy that maintains the piece's look and feel can be created, replacing the U-matic deck may not be an issue. Monitors-the most visible component of any video work-raise a more difficult challenge. Video monitors vary greatly in size and image quality, and any replacement of these components must be carefully considered. The shift from CRT monitors to LCD and plasma screen monitors provides an additional challenge. As conservator Pip Laurenson has noted, "Display equipment is certain to fail and become obsolete, therefore any strong link between specific display equipment and authenticity or value will mean that a degree of loss is inevitable."
Video documentation-such as interviews with the artist, curators, and technicians, as well as footage of the installation while running, and, if relevant, people interacting with the piece-can be particularly useful.
In light of the inevitable obsolescence of hardware, conservators may have to look beyond the tangible components to retain the "heart" of the piece. In some cases, substitutions may actually be necessary to recapture the authenticity of the original work. Where possible, consultation with an artist about their intentions is invaluable.
Electronic Arts Intermix
Independent Media Arts Preservation
Variable Media Network
Netherlands Media Art Institute