Preservation Media Art Collections in the Netherlands

[beginPage: Intro]
The Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk), the Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (SBMK) and Virtueel Platform (VP) are joining forces to preserve video art works from Dutch public media art collections over the coming two years. In combination with research into computer based artworks (Born Digital Art) and into the the accessibility of media art in public collections, this forms the project:

Preservation Media Art Collections in the Netherlands

Media art, of which video art is the best known manifestation, is well represented in Dutch art collections. However, the techniques used and the media themselves are perishable. Every seven to ten years the physical preservation of video works demands attention because of the necessity of transferring them to a vehicle that meets current technical standards. Furthermore, the number of computer based artworks, which are aptly termed ‘Born Digital art’, has grown enormously in the last couple of years and with that growth, the demand – and need – for devoting attention to conservation strategies for these artworks has increased too.

This project is unique in The Netherlands and here as well as in other countries is regarded as trendsetting for its nationwide approach to the digital sustainability of media art. The basis of this project is uncompressed digital preservation, in which the works are ultimately preserved on tape. These over 3500 conserved and digitised video art works from the period 1975-2005, from about 20 Dutch modern art collections, will be made accessible online where possible. The methods, protocols and guidelines developed in this project will be documented online for any interested parties, in The Netherlandsand abroad.

An impressive group of museums and art institutions is participating in the Preservation Media Art Collections in the Netherlands project: the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; De Appel arts centre, Amsterdam; Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Groninger Museum; Instituut Collectie Nederland, Rijswijk; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam (including the collections of the Lijnbaancentrum,Montevideo and Time Based Arts); Gemeentemuseum Helmond; Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; V2_, Rotterdam; Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch and SCHUNCK*, Heerlen.

The Netherlands Media Art Institute is the expertise centre in the field of preserving media art in The Netherlands, and is the key partner in planning and carrying out this project.


[beginPage: Background]

Project Plan Conservation Media Art Collection Netherlands

Media Art is well represented in art collections in the Netherlands, with video art as its best-known manifestation. Because both the media and the techniques used are vulnerable, the problems with regard to the administering and the conservation of this form of art have increasingly become matters of interest to those who look after such collections. The physical conservation of video works requires renewed attention every seven to ten years, when they may have to be transferred to a carrier that complies with the then prevalent technical requirements. New media art forms such as Born Digital Art and the increasing problems around accessibility and issues of intellectual property rights are requiring research, the development of good practice and the professionalization of the institutions administering the collections.

Together with Virtueel Platform, SBMK and NIMk have developed a project plan for the next phase in the future of media art in Dutch museum collections. The project aims at a combined approach by institutions with substantial public collections of media art with a view to preserving these collections. Such a combined approach leads to a uniform method of conservation of the video art collections, provides an increase in expertise and good practice, and encourages the exchange of expertise and information in relation to the conservation of media art.


[beginPage: Areas of Interest]

The project Behoud Mediakunst Collectie Nederland (2010-2012) [Preservation of media art collections Netherlands] makes use of what has been achieved in recent years (see link related projects) and takes it a number of steps further. They may be subdivided into three spearheads:
- Investigation into the approach to Born Digital Art
- Investigation into the accessibility and intellectual rights of media art
- Physical conservation Video Art Collection Nederland

1 Investigation into the approach to Installation Art – Born Digital Art

Since the late 1980s, computer-based installations of internationally renowned artists such as Jeffrey Shaw, Bill Spinhoven, Giny Vos and Driessens & Verstappen have been part of the collections of a number of museums in the Netherlands (including NIMk, Boymans van Beuningen, Stedelijk Museum and Van Abbemuseum). Although these installations were exhibited, they were never properly described nor were any clear plans developed for their preservation. The number of computer-based artworks, often referred to as ‘Born Digital Art’, has increased enormously in recent years and so has the need and the necessity to pay attention to conservation strategies for these works of art. Such installations can be partly described on the basis of existing models, but at the same time this form of art has a number of specific qualities (transitory, networked and/or ‘live auto-generated’ for instance) that require special, additional research. First of all an investigation is necessary into the quantity, the number of museums and installations, and the exact definition of the problem, i.e. quality. At the same time it must be ascertained in how far it is possible to link up with existing international networks or whether such a network between various parties should be set up.

(English Summary: pages 67-73)

2 Investigation into Intellectual Property Rights

From a central point, artists will be informed and asked to supply information. In consultation with the artist it is then decided whether or not to proceed to digitization of the work, and if so which copy of the artwork will be used as the source for the digitization. The intellectual property rights settlement for conservation and use of the artworks in the exhibitions will be arranged by the institutions separately, prior to the project. Intellectual property rights claims on registered works are not to be expected.

At the same time NIMk and SBMK are carrying out a practical investigation into the possibility of showing video art in the Netherlands. This video art comes largely under the management of professional institutions for art and media art. The conditions of preservation of this collection are getting better and better, it is adequately accessible and described. How can the public display of the works be improved? Where are the limits of their use with regards to the interest of museums and other institutions? What are the makers’ wishes? How can the accessibility in principle of all this material be safeguarded? Which ethical and or legal matters should be settled in that respect? A separate investigation into this is set up which will lead to practical recommendations for improvement of the situation. The investigation focuses on the public aspect and the accessibility aspect of video art against the background of intellectual property rights. The result of the investigation is a project plan for the development of international models and protocols in combination with a feasibility study of different gradations of exposure and accessibility. Coupled with this is an inventory of the number of works in Dutch video collections in question, and the attitude of collection owners and artists with regards to exposure and accessibility.


3 Physical conservation Video Art Collection Netherlands

Prior to their physical digitization, collections will have been inventoried as to their importance with regard to content. The highest priority goes to artworks from 1975-2005, in which video was used as:
- the primary medium of an expression of visual art
- part of a visual art sculpture or installation
- the registration medium of an artistic performance or as
- the registration medium used by an artist.*

Hiatuses in the registration will be filled up and unintended duplications in the collection will be removed. The Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst is the expertise centre for the conservation of media art and will digitize the works according to the highest possible quality standards. When analysing the material and process used, the DEN criteria and the guidelines of the Geheugen van Nederland [Memory of the Netherlands] will be observed. The present carrier of the video signal is transient and subject to decay and for the best conservation the carrier should be replaced within 10 years at the most. Not one carrier is truly durable; the solution for definitive preservation should be looked for in the realm of preservation in encoded form, so that it will at all times be possible to transfer the information from one physical environment to another without loss of quality. What matters is no so much the preservation of the specific technology, as the guaranteed preservation of the original character of the artwork, the intention of the artist, the message and its effect.

Digitization will take place from a previously conserved sub-master of the earliest possible generation. In case of duplications, only one copy will be digitized. Before digitization the tapes will be tested and if necessary cleaned. They are then read by a video recorder or video player and the data transmitted to a computer. A video capture card converts the video data to a file format; the digital data will be temporarily stored on the workstation that contains the capture card (the digitizing computer). From this workstation the data are stored in definitive form in two copies in LTO. In order to guarantee the correct settings during a presentation, test signals are added to all artworks. The uncompressed files for conservation and archiving will not available for consultation by end users. For consultation purposes, compressed files are produced. MPEG2 is the format for exhibitions and other presentations, and MPEG 4 for online use. The conserved works will be archived under the best possible circumstances. Metadata, stills, and whenever possible fragments and whole artworks of the video art collection Netherlands will be made accessible through the infrastructure developed at NIMk and the sites of the participants. Thus the user has access to the video art collection in the Netherlands.

*The participating institutions also possess a collection of audio-visual works that are not regarded as works of art. Such works also require conservation and administering but are not included in the present project plan.


[beginPage: Aims/Results]

Aims of the Project


Results of the Project


[beginPage: Target Group]
Target group of the project

There is a worldwide target group of people interested in media art that includes researchers, festival goers, artists, curators, and university and academy students of art, journalists, universities, art lovers, museum frequenters, and professionals in media art. What size is this target group? The media library of the Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst welcomes around 1000 visitors a year and distributes 700 works annually over 130 institutions in the Netherlands and abroad. Every year, Dutch museums distribute worldwide around one hundred video works on loan. A rough estimate would lead to a reach of around 75,000 visitors. On top of that, the website of the Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst totals 70,000 visitors a year. The target groups will be actively approached according to a PR plan yet to be drawn up, consisting of direct mailings, e- mailings and other publications.

[beginPage: Organisation]
The Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst (NIMk) is initiating the project and will carry it out in collaboration with the Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst (SBMK). The research and the drawing up of project plans takes place in combination with Virtual Platform (VP). Representatives of the institutions participating in the project will meet to monitor the project. There will be collaboration and consultation with national and international museums of modern Art, the Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid, Kennisland, Beelden voor de Toekomst, the Filmmuseum and DEN. The cooperation between institutions and collections in this field is exemplary in the world of video art.


[beginPage: Participants]
The participants are:

Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven;
De Appel, Amsterdam;
Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam;
Groninger Museum, Groningen;
Instituut Collectie Nederland, Rijswijk;
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo;
Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst, Amsterdam (including LijnbaanCentrum Rotterdam, Montevideo and Time Based Arts Amsterdam);
Rijksakademie, Amsterdam; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam;
Centraal Museum, Utrecht;
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem;
Gemeentemuseum Helmond;
V2, Rotterdam; Noord Brabants Museum, Den Bosch;
SCHUNK*(previously Stadsgalerij), Heerlen.

[beginPage: Duration]

The duration of the project is two years, commencing September 2010.

The investigation Born Digital Art lasts nine months and starts in August 2010, publication and the seminar will be realized before the summer of 2011.

The investigation Accessibility and rights lasts 9 months and will start in January 2011, publication and the seminar are planned for the autumn of 2011.

Physical conservation Video Art Collection Netherlands lasts two years, starts in June 2010 and will be completed in July 2012.

[beginPage: Dissemination]

The transfer of knowledge will take place at different moments: at the end of the project as a whole, and to round off the two investigations that form part of the project: the investigation into born digital art the investigation into accessibility. NIMk and SBMK are organising three seminars and will publish the results on their websites and in a report.

[beginPage: Related projects]

Conservation of Video Art (1998-2003)*
Since the mid-70s, video art works of nationally and internationally renowned artists such as Nan Hoover, Yael Bartana, Daniel Brun and David Garcia have been part of the collections in museums for contemporary art in the Netherlands. Although these video art works are frequently displayed in exhibitions they are, outside the exhibitions, not easily accessible and only partly conserved. The Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst (NIMk), together with the Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst (SBMK) and the Dutch video art collections, has taken the initiative to address this problem. This data network of people and institutions, with its own developed strategy and methodology for the conservation of video art in the Netherlands, working towards a sustainable accessibility, is worldwide considered authoritative.

In 2001-2003 the autonomous video art works of a large number of modern art museums in the Netherlands have been transferred to Digital Betacam, which was at that time the state-of-the-art technology and the best choice for conservation. Adequate, sustainable conservation of video artworks requires per definition the conversion to another carrier every seven to ten years as a result of technological developments. This always concerns a migration to the then prevailing generation of hard and software to keep the collections accessible. After every conversion the collections occupy less physical space while at the same time accomplishing an increase in scale; on the one hand because the number of works and participants increases, on the other hand because the emphasis shifts from conservation in the direction of accessibility so that the works are available to an ever increasing audience.

*Wijers, Gaby, Evert Rodrigo and Ramon Coelho. De houdbaarheid van videokunst. Conservering van de Nederlandse videokunstcollectie. Amsterdam: Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst, 2003.

Play Out (2009)
The increase in accessibility brought along with it new questions both of a technological and a content nature. The investigation in the framework of Play Out (2009) provided new insight into the possibilities, methods, workflow, technology and the cost that uncompressed archiving of video artworks entails. It was investigated how information on, for instance, Digital Betacam tapes could be moved to computer files without loss of quality; which computer storage device would be suitable, and to what demands a system for management and use should comply. During the Play Out project an infrastructure for the accessibility of video art was developed, too.

In the meantime we are ready for the next stage: not only should already digitized works be transferred to new media, but the management, preservation and methods of making complex media art/installations and born digital art accessible to the public are now demanding our attention. To this end, NIMk and SBMK wish to start another joint project. The challenge of this project is a multi-faceted one: how to make the material sustainably accessible, how to generate the necessary means, how to develop public and private services and activities, how to make the material accessible and how to integrate user participation and new technologies.

 Play Out
Play Out is a project in which diverse media art collections are made available through the NIMk. read more »

Inside Installations (2004-2007)
From 2004 to 2007 the project Inside Installations took place: a large-scale European cooperative project in which the management and preservation of installation art were investigated. Museums and other institutions in Europe combined their forces, which resulted in 33 case studies of installations which were, usually in collaboration with the artists, extensively studied, presented and documented. This large-scale research was approached from various angles and resulted in unequivocal guidelines for the conservation of installation art. At the same time new questions turned up, particularly in connection with the conservation of computer-based art. Those questions concerned technology and content as well as theory. The most obvious problems dealt with the storage and maintenance of the hardware and software, but other questions were also relevant. What is the life-span of computer-based installations? On what basis can sound and image be described? In how far does the intrinsic value of the artwork remain intact, and does re-installation not mainly produce retro kitsch? Will the manuals written now be still recognisable in the future? Up to what point are alterations are acceptable? And should possible historical changes be recorded, do they serve as the dating of an object, or is the technological change part of the work? What is the role and the responsibility of the conservator, of the artist, of the organisation? Such issues turned out to be too complex to study further with in the project Inside Installations. In the subsequent European project PRACTICS the emphasis lies on other areas of interest so that NIMk, SBMK and Virtueel Platform have developed a project of their own.
 Inside Installations
During a three year project (2004 - 2007) museums and other institutions in Europe have joined hands in a large-scale collaborative project to investigate the care and administration of installations work of art. read more »

Obsolete equipment (2009-2010)
In 2009 the project Obsolete Equipment by PACKED and NIMk started; it is expected to last two years and collaborates with several Belgian and Dutch museums. This project investigates and draws up protocols for the management and preservation of obsolete hardware such as monitors, beamers, and film equipment.
 Obsolete Equipment
The preservation of playback and display equipment for audiovisual art. read more »