Best Practice Media Art Installation Preservation

[beginPage: Preservation of Installation Art]

Preservation refers to the overall process by which the content of an item is saved and its long-term viability is ensured. With respect to installation art, the preservation assessment of all distinct components that make up an installation artwork should be done concurrently in order to maintain, as best as possible, the authenticity of the original piece. Thorough documentation of the original will inform your preservation methodology and process.

Electronic Arts Intermix
Independent Media Arts Preservation
Variable Media Network
Netherlands Media Art Institute


[beginPage: Archival Formats]

The preservation process involves migration, or duplicating videotape to a new, archival format in order to keep the content accessible in the long term.

Archival Videotape Formats

There are a variety of analog and digital videotape formats that have been manufactured to serve specific user needs. In preserving videotapes, there has been no official designation of a standard archival tape stock. However, videotapes that are recommended as good archival formats are those that are ubiquitous and widely supported in the broadcast and production industries, on professional tape stocks that are thick and strong. Consumer videotape formats are manufactured for the layperson for general purpose videotaping. These videotape stocks are usually not robust and can be small in size, with thinner tape grades than professional stocks. It is not acceptable to use a consumer tape format in generating a preservation master.

The most commonly used formats for videotape preservation are:

Digital Betacam (or DigiBeta) - In the archival community, this low compression digital format is widely considered the best choice for a preservation master. As a digital format, this sturdy and reliable stock has a number of benefits: it can provide the best quality video image available, and there is no generational loss of content when using it to re-master because it allows for exact digital clones of the original. However, this tape stock and its playback equipment are expensive and predominantly available only in professional production environments.

Betacam SP - an uncompressed analog format that is very durable, reliable, and-through migration-able to maintain the maximum level of information compared to most tape stocks. However, because it is an analog stock there can be generational loss on subsequent tapes made from this master.

Archival Born-Digital Media Formats

At this point, there is no general consensus within the archival community regarding a digital file format that is appropriate for the long-term preservation of video images. One major advantage to storing files in a digital format is the ability to replicate the files with-theoretically-no generational loss. There are also cost and space advantages related to digital file storage, as it continues to decline in price and will most likely do so for the foreseeable future.

However, there are a number of variables that come into play when digitising video; among them are issues of compression, codecs, and file compatibility. These issues have yet to be resolved among archivists-though there have been exciting developments in this area recently.


[beginPage: Assessing the Risks]

To initiate and maintain a preservation program, first identify the installation work that needs immediate attention and develop a plan based on the resources you can commit to the project. Prioritising which installation to preserve first should take into account provenance, physical condition, and the level of threat of obsolescence of the work's media format(s), equipment, and other materials. It is helpful to ask the following questions: Is any component of the equipment no longer easily available? Is the media format no longer supported? If so, is it acceptable to replace the part or format? Ultimately, the preservation decision is a matter of balancing the needs of the total system. Other things to keep in mind:

* Before migrating a tape or file, determine if another organisation has an original or high-quality version of the work that would be a better source-or if the work has already been preserved by another agency, thus avoiding duplication of resources.
* Migrate the first-generation original or generation closest to the original-or for digital files, the original or version closest to the original-in order to create the highest quality preservation master (unless a subsequent generation or version is significantly less deteriorated, which is sometimes the case).
* Note that there can be multiple masters and multiple definitions of the term "master," so it may be necessary to consult with the artist and play back multiple tapes or files to compare image quality.
* Take care in playing back older, deteriorated tapes, as it can cause permanent damage.


[beginPage: Identifying Aesthetic, Historical and Conceptual Significance of Equipment]

A responsible approach to documentation, presentation and preservation also requires gaining an insight into the artist's intention and the significance of the technology used for a particular media art installation. Technology used in media artworks plays part of a larger (social) context and impacts the meaning and perception of the work. Within this area of preservation there is still a huge lack of information. We seldom know if the technology used is part of the intention behind creation of a work, and therefore should be preserved as well. For complete preservation this information is required in order to know how to handle an artwork in the long term..

The significance of display equipment to a time-based media installation depends on how it is used. There are two categories:

* Equipment that has purely functional value
* Equipment that is significant for reasons over and above its functional role.

A ‘yes' to both of the following questions indicates that the equipment has purely functional value to the installation:

* Is the equipment hidden from the viewer?
* Can the function of the equipment be accurately mapped so that substitution with equipment of the same function brings about no discernible change?

If the answer is ‘no' to either of the above questions then the considerations given below are applicable.

These questions are designed to identify relevant considerations in determining aesthetic, conceptual or historical significance of equipment and to be understood within a contemporary art context. Conceptual integrity refers to the relationship of the work to the process or technology employed and the spirit in which the work was made. Aesthetic integrity relates to the look and feel of visible components and the outputs of the system (i.e. qualities of the sound and image). Historical integrity refers to links made by the visible components and discernible outputs of the system to the time the work was made.

Questions used to identify significance in equipment whose value is not purely functional:
Artist Involvement

* Was the artist actively involved in the specification of the display equipment for the work?
* Is the artist specific about the equipment used?

Visibility and Impact

* Is the equipment visible and has it been modified by the artist?
* Does the equipment form a highly visible part of a tableaux created by the artist in the presentation of the work?

Relationship to Context and History

* Is the look of the equipment or its outputs distinctive and highly visible and does it place the work as belonging to a particular time or relate to the context in which the work was made?
* Does the context of the work make explicit reference to a particular technology or piece of equipment that is mirrored in the equipment used for display?
* Is the significance of the technology linked to contemporary use of that technology? (For example ,reference to the dominance of television in the home.)
* Does the equipment relate to the spirit in which the work was made? For example was it a familiar piece of technology meant to be ubiquitous rather than rare?

Qualities produced
Is the equipment currently unavailable or set to become so in less than 1 year

* > 1 year but < 5 years
* > 5 years but < 10 years
* > 1 years but < 20 years
* > 20 years but < 50 years etc.


[beginPage: Emulation Questions]

* What you think the benefits and drawbacks are of reconstruction and emulation as a preservation/exhibition strategy?
* How do you gauge the success of such endeavors, and what criteria do you (should we) use to evaluate the results?
* What is lost in terms of the viewer experience and historical context?
* How do you (should we) compensate for these losses (types of documentation, interviews)?
* What are (should be) the roles played by the various stakeholders in the process, i.e. artists, conservation professionals and technical assistants and collaborators?
* What knowledge and expertise is required and where is it found?