Video Art / Media Art Preservation: Studies and Suggestions
THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK
Preserving video art preserving the immaterial variable media: Variable Media Initiative and conference by Guggenheim Museum, New York
The two last days in March 2001 the Guggenheim Museum in New York organised a conference not only about video art works but also about preserving any type of immaterial variable media art works.
The conference was organised by Guggenheim Film and Media Arts Senior Curator John G. Hanhardt and Assistant Curator Jon Ippolito as part of the Guggenheim Variable Media Initiative. The conference raised questions like: Should video art be preserved on tape or DVD? Can museums collect Web sites? What does preserving an ephemeral installation have in common with re-enacting a theatrical performance?
The Variable Media Initiative proposes that artists pass on guidelines as to how their artworks might be translated into alternative mediums once their current formats become obsolete. In keeping with the cross-disciplinary nature of this paradigm, a series of focused discussions at the conference compared 8 case studies of artworks created in entirely different mediums that nonetheless could be said to present similar preservation challenges.
The 8 case studies covered photo/collage (Jan Dibbets: A White Wall, 1991), film/performance (Ken Jacobs: Bitemporal Vision, 1994), interactive installation (Felix Gonzales-Torres: Untitled (Public Opinion), 1991), web site (Mark Napier: Net Flag, 2001), audio installation (Bruce Nauman: False Silence, 1975), installation (Meg Webster: Stick Spiral, 1986) and video installation (Nam June Paik: TV Garden, 1974) all works from the Guggenheim collection.
discussed the issues associated with collecting, preserving, and re-presenting these types
of art works. All could agree that the lifespan of works created in variable media is
significant shorter than for example an oil painting. In an attempt to capture and
preserve artists intent the museum has developed a questionnaire. In this the museum
asks the artists about present-tense parameters for displaying a piece, and their vision
for the future of the work. In the present, the questions address installation,
performance, interactivity, reproduction, duplication, encoding, and networking. I will
come back to these questions later.
In the present, the questions address installation, performance, interactivity, reproduction, duplication, encoding, and networking. I will come back to these questions later.
Future concerns include storage, emulation, migration and reinterpretation.
The storage strategy for most museums is to store the artwork physically. The major disadvantage of storing obsolescent materials is that the artwork will expire once these ephemeral materials cease to function.
To emulate an artwork is to devise a way of imitating the original look by completely different means (imitating an analogue video work on digital video or DVD and so on). This could however be inconsistent with the artists intent.
To migrate an artwork involves upgrading equipment and source material. The analogue videotape and player could be upgraded to digital tape/player. The major disadvantage of migration is that the original appearances of the artwork will probably change on its new medium compare the discussion raised by Montevideo referred to in VIDEO ART\e-monitor 3.
The most radical preservation strategy is to reinterpret the work each time it is re-created. This would mean to ask what contemporary medium would have the metaphoric value of the original medium. This would not always be possible and it is a dangerous technique when not warranted by the artist.
In the Variable Media Initiative Guggenheim also operates with the two terms reproduction and duplication.
A medium is reproduced if any copy of the original master of the artwork results in a loss of quality. Such media include for example analogue video.