The el_media expert group of the Association of German Restorers (VDR) organised an seminar on the Strategies for the conservation of video, on December 7th-8th December 2006 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

A short report by Joanna Phillips

The two day symposium was organised by the el_media expert group of the Association of German Restorers (VDR) and held at the newly established ‘inter media art institute' (www.imaionline.de) in Düsseldorf.

Although the symposium offered a valuable insight into the current state of affairs for the preservation of video art, only around fifty participants found their way to Düsseldorf for the event. In compensation, the almost familial atmosphere provided an ideal environment for constructive discussion, which was encouraged by generous provisions for question time provided at the end of each presentation, and enthusiastically engaged in by the participants. The symposium was held in both German and English with simultaneous translation offered for English speaking attendees.

One focus of the presentations was the digitization of analogue audiovisual material. Field reports, strategies of decision making and the question of the extent of and ethical limits to restorative intervention were of central interest. Accordingly, Gaby Wijers (Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam ) reported on the digitization of the Dutch collections of video art, a pioneering project successfully conducted by the Institute. Controversy was provoked by the contribution of Agathe Jarczyk (videocompany, CH-Zofingen), who, amongst other issues, raised for discussion the question of how to handle copies of works issued retrospectively by artists in higher quality formats or varying versions. That even the restorer, in light of the improved technical possibilities, is lead to the temptation to present a work in a better technical condition than was possible for the original, was thematisised by Patricia Falcao (videocompany, CH-Zofingen) with her contribution “Faking the 70s”. The importance of transparency and comprehensibility in digital restoration was emphasised by Julia Wallmüller (FHTW, Berlin ). She demonstrated the usefulness of the optimised/customised DIAMANT- software for documentation purposes along the example of a restored film. Against this elaborate restorer's ethic, Christoph Blase (ZKM, Karlsruhe) set the digitization practice of his laboratory for antiquated video systems, insofar as he made clear how through optimised ‘digitization chains' large quantities of data can be efficiently transferred.

A further theme of the conference centered on historical playback equipment, on the one hand necessary for the reformatting of historical media art, and on the other hand essential for its authentic re-installation. Mona Jimenez (NYU, New York ) presented two database projects: one with which antiquated mass-produced video machines and data about them are made accessible (the IMAP Equipment Registary Project), and another with devices that are used or invented by artists and applied in media art works (Artist Instrumentation Database). The expenditure of effort that can be required to thoroughly document such devices was shown by a Paik case study presented by Tina Weidner (Tate Modern, London ).

Practical insight into historical devices, from the Vidicon Camera through to open reel video devices, was offered to the symposium participants by Johannes Gfeller (AktiveArchive, HKB Bern) in an impressive two hour long live workshop. With the aid of original equipment he showed how to produce closed circuit or delay installations with open reel recorders. Especially interesting was the comparison of various historical black and white and colour monitors as well as contemporary LCD flat screen displays, all showing the same video in parallel, but to vastly differing effect.

Further presentations offered deeper insight into the foundational research of the subject: while Christian Nötzli (mediamerger.ch, Zürich) enlightened us on the principles of digital archival, Christine Frohnert ( New York ) presented her studies on mechanical damage and the restorability of optical data media such as CDs, DVDs etc. Andreas Weisser (Restaumedia, D-Freiburg) dedicated his presentation to the mechanics of physical and chemical damage to analogue videoworks. Joanna Phillips (AktiveArchive, Zürich) continued this discussion with the aide of video sequences of image errors in analogue video that were related back to their various causes: tape error, device error or operator error.

Two artists' talks with the video artists Nan Hoover and Marcel Odenbach provided entertaining insight into the creative process and the various attitudes of artists with regard to restorative intervention in their work, thereby rounding out and completing a succesful symposium.

Joanna Phillips
Conservator ActiveArchive , Switzerland