Inside Installations

[Beginpage: Info] Preservation and Presentation of Installation Art

During a three year project (2004 - 2007) museums and other institutions in Europe have joined hands in a large-scale collaborative project to investigate the care and administration of installations work of art. The project resulted in 33 case studies of installations that were meticulously researched, displayed and documented- in most cases in consultation with the artist. In addition research has been carried out into various directions that together with the case studies provide an insight into the needs and guidance for safeguarding installations for future generations. All project results have been made available via the project's website:

Managed by: Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN)

Co-organised by:
Tate, London
Restaurierungszentrum der Landeshauptstadt, Düsseldorf
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), Madrid
Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art (SBMK), The Netherlands

Supported by the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union

Carried out by members of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art

For the last few decades museums have been collecting installation art works produced with non-traditional materials and media, such as video, film, computers, light and sound. The conservation of these works raises numerous questions. The rapid out dating of media technologies, interactivity, and the site-specific character of installations present a challenge to commonly accepted views on long-term conservation, documentation and presentation. Relatively little research has been conducted in this field, and the problems demand a very specific approach in comparison with traditional forms of art. Authenticity and outdating, artistic intention, and interpretation are all important factors which play a role in decision-making on conservation measures. Setting up an installation satisfactorily requires in-depth insight into the artist's working method, collaboration with technical specialists and intentions, and the significance of the materials and techniques. Without instructions, without accurate registration and with outdated equipment, re-installation can prove to be a huge puzzle.

Together with ICN the Netherlands Media Art Institute researched two out of 33 installations. Revolution (a monument for the television revolution) 1990 by Jeffrey Shaw & Tjebbe van Tijen and Alberts Ark 1990 by Bill Spinhoven. Both created for the traveling exhibition 'Imago fin de siëcle in Dutch contemporary art’ (1990) as co-production between the Netherlands Office for Fine Arts (RBK now ICN) and MonteVideo (now Netherlands Media Art Institute). The installations were aquired in 1990 by ICN. After the 'Imago tour' technical devices (such as laserdisk players, monitors and speakers) became part of the audiovisual collection of MonteVideo. The images were stored at Montevideo the objects at ICN.


[Beginpage: Cases]
The Netherlands Institute for Media Art together with the Instituut Collectie Nederland (ICN) managed two of the the 33 case studies: Revolution (a monument for the television revolution) from 1990 by Jeffrey Shaw & Tjebbe van Tijnen & Albert's Ark from 1990 by Bill Spinhoven.

Both installations are specially made for the travelling exhibition 'Imago, fin de siècle in Dutch contemporary art' (1990) which resulted from a co-production of the then RBK (now ICN) and MonteVideo (now Netherlands Institute of Media Art).

Jeffrey Shaw & Tjebbe van Tijen: Revolution (a monument for the television revolution), 1990.

Case studie report: Simone Vermaat en Annick Kleisen 2007 (pdf)

1. videoregistration

2. emulation proposal
3. installation instructions
4. interview with Tjebbe van Tijen

See the project site

Albert’s Ark: A Glance into the Fourth Dimension

Case studie report: Gaby Wijers en Erik van Tuijn, 2007 (pdf)

1. video registration

2. concept emulation
3. installation instruction
4. presentation Bill Spinhoven 09/03/2007

See the project site


[Beginpage: Research]
Forms of registration

Next to the case studies Netherlands Media Art Institute participated in the documentation working group and researched installation documentation. In the past (project 404 object not found) the Netherlands Media Art Institute developed already a registration model for installations (link). This model was toepassing and a case study on the accessibility of installation archival material (website Imago) was carried out. In the scope of Inside Installation the Netherlands Media Art Institute researched the visual documentation of installations. Especially video- and 3d registrations of installations.

Video documentation of installations

Apart from having a long history in the production, presentation and documentation of installation art, the Netherlands Media Art Institute is over the last years carrying out a research program on the (video) documentation of media art. The first studies date back to 1978, with the video registration of own events, followed by installation registration for distribution purpose. One of the most recent studies was conducted in 2006 and will be published in 2007 under the title Installations 1975-2006 (a serie of 3 DVDs).

Installations 1975-2006 (a serie of 3 DVDs)

Within the research on video documentation by the Netherlands Media Art Institute two papers are written which together make up a guide for good practice for video documentation of installations : Video Documentation of Installations by Gaby Wijers & Guidelines for documentation of (video) installations on video by Sami Kallinen. The first paper is more theoretical and can be seen as the context for second paper, the more practical and technical guideline. Both have been adapted for the web and are available as an on-line course titled Video documentation of Installations.. The course includes numerous clips of example video recordings

The research approach of this study within the Inside Installations project was two-fold. It included literature research into current documentation practices (of project partners and beyond) as well as analysis of existing video documentation of installations. The videos analyzed came both from case studies within the Inside Installations project as well as some from Montevideo’s own collection of video documentation from 1976-2006. In focus of the research is the practice of realizing video documentation for installations. That is: how to utilize video to give insightful information about a specific installation, including components, context, and information on how to re-install the work.

Although video documentation of installations, performances and other temporary artistic events are commonly used in contemporary art, research and good practice on this subject are rare. In video documentation, time and space are differently organized than the viewer experiences in a real installation. The ability to jump from a close-up to a long distance shot, for example is among numerous other ways to manipulate the documentation. A video will be adapted to the installation (content) on the one hand, and to the language of film at the other hand. Perhaps certain aspects are not very significant for the installation but interesting to look at. Also, it might be difficult to capture in video documentation certain distinctive features of the installation. For example, how to present an overall impression, visual aspects of its components, the relationship between components, the relationship to space/architecture, sound, movement, choreography/trajectory, time-specific aspects, interactivity, presence and experience of the audience. How to present different parts/activities simultaneously? What are the most suitable camera points, how to edit and when? These are too many questions to answer at once and they very much depend on the purpose of making a video documentation in the first place. The first question to ask then is: What is the purpose of video documentation and what would be useful scenarios? When defining the purpose it is useful to think about the intended effects of the recording. For example, recordings for publications and education for a broader audience explicitly try to show the main characteristics of the installation in an attractive fashion. Videos for promotion of the work are used to present the installation to curators and other professionals with the aim to include the work in an exhibition or festival. For such kind of presentation, images that raise curiosity and are meaningful are needed, next to proper editing. For documentation and research purposes, the whole atmosphere and experience needs to be captured so that the viewer experience is included. For the purpose of re-installation, it is essential to capture the exact order of actions as well as the positioning of the parts in relation to an overview of the installation.

Video documentation can be an important addition to the existing documentation techniques of textual documentation, pictorial i.e. visual documentation, because sound (synchronous to the action as important feature for experience), time specific aspects and perhaps even a residual atmosphere can be shown in a video. Research into video documentation is still almost virgin territory with no clear definitions and is in need for further research to investigate how video documentation could provide insight into the special relations of the installation with the architecture and audience, its movements and interactivity. Also the need for and the level of additional textual information next to the video documentation needs further exploration. It’s a work in progress!

Each installation is different. Therefore, it seems inappropriate to suggest that a definitive set of recommendations for video documentation of installations could be provided. These guidelines thus must be seen as a collection of instructions and issues to consider for those who plan to make a video recording of an installation.

----- Links -----

Video Documentation of Installations door Gaby Wijers
Guidelines for documentation of (video) installations on video door Sami Kallinen.
e-learning package: Video Documentation of Installations (Mei 2007)
Karen te Brake-Baldock (project manager); Sami Kallinen (co-author); Gaby Wijers (co-author).
Published by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Hertiage / ICN.

3D documentation of Installations

Apart from having a long history in the production, presentation and documentation of installation art, the Netherlands Media Art Institute is carrying out a technical research programme with 3D modelling as one of its spearheads. The first modelling studies date back to 1996, with the realisation of The Second, Time Based Art from the Netherlands: 17 sculptures/installations exhibited and modelled on CD. One of the most recent studies was conducted in 2002 when, in co-operation with Digital ArtLab, Martin Sjardijn and the University of Amsterdam, a virtual version of the Institute was made and experiments with the modelling of exhibited installations were carried out. In the context of the Installation Art Project B3 Documentation, the Netherlands Media Art Institute researched, between 2004 and 2007, 3D modelling of installations.
When documenting an installation work of art, different aspects play a role, like the installation’s physical characteristics, its relation to and position within the architectural space, as well as its performative aspects, experience and interactivity (the audience as a participant/actor/performer).

One of the main questions thus is how to document installations and, more precisely, what to document. How to understand, capture, define and transmit the ‘heart’ of the art work? Do we concentrate, as in traditional art, on detailed descriptions of objects, artefacts, the physical material or do we describe the experience, the mediation of the sensory perception?

One of the most significant limitations in the representation of installations is the two-dimensional nature of the documentation material, e.g. photos, videos, descriptions: the physical experience of space is just not there. An installation often has a specific relationship with its spatial environment. Due to its three-dimensional volume it takes possession of the surrounding space and transforms it. The relationship between the work of art, the space and the viewer’s own body strongly determines the perception of the work. The internal spatial relations and the position of an installation in space are difficult to represent two-dimensionally but are at the same time of essential importance when it comes to description and re-installation. Thanks to the possibilities of information technology, a great amount of data has been preserved in two-dimensional form, but in fact concern a three-dimensional reality and can be restored to a form of visual representation that provides an insight into the spatial dimension:

3D-techniques enable installations to be reconstructed and made accessible on the screen in such a way that researchers can obtain a much more intense experience than by studying the two-dimensional sources.
Animations can be used to enable a more complete viewing of the works of art (e.g. rotation on screen, panoramic photos, taking objects apart).

Therefore, both 3D models and animations could be welcome additions to the existing documentation techniques.

Within the documentation section of the Inside Installation project the Netherlands Media Art Institute has conducted research into the 3D documentation of installations. In this context, Gaby Wijers presented a paper on 3D research in the prevalent documentation practice;
in order to provide an overview of the currently used techniques and the experiences that the participants of the Inside Installations project had with 3D modelling so far.

  ----- Links -----
Within the Netherlands Media Art Institute software was tested and selected for 3D registration and production. 3D registratie en productie.
In collaboration with the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam (VU) and the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU), a model was made of the installation Revolution by Jeffrey Shaw and Tjebbe van Tijen.
Starting from this case, the HKU developed a concept for a tool to represent installations using 3D modelling: the Virtual Installation Research Project.
Furthermore, the installations of Marina Abramovic from the collection of the Institute were modelled in 3D, and information from the artist interview with Marina Abramovic was made accessible via a 3D interface designed by the VU.

Summary conclusion:
To create 3D drawings and functional 3D environments is costly, considering money as well as time. It is rather obvious that in the future 3D modeling will develop from a high-tech application to a generally accepted tool for artists and exhibition builders in the process of making installations. As a means for practical installation instructions, the precise reconstruction of installations in 3D is however quite labour-intensive; in the day-to-day documentation practice it could hardly be applied on a broader scale.