Documentation Media Art Installation

An installation may consist of numerous elements and be composed of various materials other than electronic media. It is therefore crucial to document all the components of the work, including its behaviour, as soon as it becomes part of a collection. Describe the work's media components as well as the equipment that enables its presentation. It is also important to document the physical space and environment where the work is installed. In this sense, a conservator should treat a media installation as a special kind of sculpture. Each part is an equal element of the whole.

Documentation of media art installations can be difficult, however, due to the fact that the ‘ideal' presentation is difficult to define, especially for media installations. For media works of art, the original, ‘authentic', state often varies in the course of different presentations. It is important to consider which aesthetic and technical elements are essential, and should be preserved in order to ensure that the integrity and significance of the work remain intact during future presentations?

The Journal of the American Institute for Conservation notes that:

'...because of the performance aspect of many installations, conservators working with this medium will need to look beyond the material and consider that the 'heart' of a work might lie primarily in its less tangible qualities. Preserving for the future something that is above all an experience might require conservators to take a more fluid view of what may or may not be changed about a work, challenging conventional notions of accuracy and authenticity. William A. Real (2001). ‘Toward guidelines for practice in the preservation and documentation of technology-based installation art' . Journal of the American Institute for conservation, Vol. 40, no. 3, p. 226.


For a detailed example case study see:

 Case Study: Documentatie en Conservering van de Installatie door Miguel-Angel Cardenas, 25 Caramboles
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Components of a media art installation may include:
* Video
* Equipment
* Sync (if more than one channel)
* Display
* Space

As mentioned above, when documenting an installation work of art the installation's physical characteristics, its relations within the architectural space, as well as its performative aspects, experience and interactivity (the audience as an participant/actor/performer ) all play an equally important role in it's presentation.
Video registration documentation of an installation can provide crucial information required to recreate an installation. It can demonstrate:

* Overall impression of the work
* Visual aspects of components
* Relation of components
* Relation to space/architecture
* Sound
* Movement
* Choreography
* Time specific aspects
* Interactivity
* Presence (and experience) of the audience

Currently several approaches are being used to deal with these different levels of media art installation documentation. In theory, the best approach involves find a method to describe the work, its history and its (re)presentation(s), and use a framework to trace, collect, describe and classify documents and information. One could search for those frameworks that are in use in different disciplines like linguistics, psychology and informatics visual (re) presentation . Metadata schemes are common practice in art documentation, but currently no schema exists which is sufficient to adequately describe all components, varieties and disciplines of an installation work.
Documentation strategies and metadata schemas for installations are currently being explored in various ways within the Inside Installation Project.

Inventory and Cataloguing
As with video art, the first stage of any installation preservation project is the assessment of the needs of the item(s) in question. For an installation with multiple, interdependent components a basic inventory is a critical step in this process. It is important to document not only the media elements but also the playback and display equipment. The display equipment of an installation is often as integral to the work as the media. It would be ideal to catalogue an installation fully in the early stages of preservation, but this is not always feasible or practical.

In the process of doing an inventory, be sure to watch out for particularly damaged or visibly deteriorated elements and note the overall composition of the installation.

To create a basic inventory for an installation, document the following:

* Unique identification number
* Accession number for work
* Title
* Artist(s)/Creator(s)/Developer(s)/Designer(s) (main contributors and technical staff)
* Date of final work
* Media format(s)
* Age range of media
* Equipment list detailing the manufacturer, serial number, and vendor of each part
* List detailing other materials involved, if applicable
* Physical condition of media, equipment, and other material
* Brief description of the relationship of the individual pieces to the whole work

As the preservation process moves forward, it is critical to catalogue thoroughly the material being preserved. Though it isn't necessary to create full catalogue records to begin the process, it is critical that cataloguing be included as a step in the process at the earliest possible point.

Cataloguing can be surprisingly complicated. Numerous standards have been set by librarians and archivists to keep catalogue records consistent between various institutions and databases. Before building a database of catalogue records, it is helpful to consult an archivist or cataloguing guide to be sure that you are gathering the right information - and organising it properly.

A "work" record describing the installation should be created, with individual item records for the each media component and piece of equipment linked to it. Separate item-level records for each component are necessary because tape media and born-digital media have different technical metadata (e.g., cataloguing data) and creation information, and may have different preservation needs.

Electronic Arts Intermix
Independent Media Arts Preservation
Variable Media Network
Netherlands Media Art Institute