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     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 Art’s 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.

 The conference 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 artist’s 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.

 Future concerns include storage, emulation, migration and reinterpretation.

 In the Variable Media Initiative Guggenheim also operates with the two terms “reproduction” and “duplication”.