Video Art / Media Art Preservation: Studies and Suggestions
THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK
Our concern right now is that there should be done something not tomorrow but NOW to preservation and conservation of the Danish cultural heritage you have in video art.
You can find lots of reports from conferences, endless papers on surveys etc. on preservation/conservation of anything, also magnetic tapes/video both from America and the European Union.
EU established in 1994 ECPA / The European Commission on Preservation and Access to promote activities aimed at keeping collections in European archives and libraries accessible over time. This also goes for tapes, and ECPA states that In order to keep our documentary heritage available for future generations of users, large-scale programmes must be developed for its preservation, so The ECPA aims to raise public awareness of this issue and to impress the urgency of the situation on policy makers, funding agents, and users (http://www.knav.nl/ecpa/about.html)
Lots of fine words and intentions - and lots of publications from endless of conferences etc with lots of fine technical and technocratic surveys and decisions but as far as I can see with no practical implications - yet. Even one of the latest surveys from ECPA: ECPA-report 14 (*) has to admit that there is a backlog of tape preservation research, a lack of really experience and a gap of knowledge when it comes to video tapes.
The development in the video field from analogue magnetic tapes to digitization again raises the question about preserving the original material. The ECPA-report 14 just mentioned seems to conclude that concerning magnetic tape, digitization is the only means of preservation, which means that the physical form of the first generation of video art works may soon be completely lost by the continuing process of tape deterioration.
Another report (**) points to the complex situation concerning the digital technology: Do we yet have the appropriate transfer technology and do we have appropriate digital solutions? They find that digitisation should not be hastily taken on board, and most important, furthermore that it must be understood that every transfer is more or less preliminary. Consequently they conclude that the original analogue carries must be further preserved for future, better transfers, unless they disintegrate.
As a result of the complex situation, the strategy for safeguarding video materials should be that all efforts should be undertaken to prolong the life of the existing carriers to the maximum possible extent. Emphasis, therefore should be given to systematic research into prediction of life expectancy of magnetic tapes and into measures to retard their decay. This is, however, according to the ECPA-report, counteracted because the current trend to reformat analogue information into digital form slows efforts to preserve the original materials and because most of the financial resources for tape conversation seems to be put into digital preservation.
Even if you of course have to ask: Is there intrinsic value (contra the affectionable value) in maintaining the original format?, I think, that for an artist invested in the unique characteristics of analogue video imaging, the transfer of his art work to a compressed digital format may cause unacceptable changes in the original images. From a preservation perspective by this artist you want to preserve all information with as few changes as possible (***).
(*) Just onerecebt example: ECPA-report 14: Preservation Science Survey, 2000 - a joint venture between CLIR and EU prepared by Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag, The Netherlandsm, and published by ECPA in co-operation with CLIR (The american Council on Library and Information Resources). ISBN 90-6984-316-1, EU 23,00. you ca´n find it at http://www.knaw.nl/ecpa/publications.html
(**) Report from The First International UNESCO Memory of the World Conference, Oslo, Norway, 1996, Part II: Preservation and Access in the Digital World, Paper 11, Dietrich Schüller: Safegarding audio and video recordings in the long term (Paragraphs about "Magnetic Tapes " and "Compact discs"), http://www.unescco.org/webworld/memory/prelims.htm
(***) I know that these lines have been expressed in a report, but I am sorry to have lost my notes about the origin of the report.