Oasis - Open Archiving System with internet sharing

[beginpage: Introduction OASIS]


The project OASIS focusses on maintaining the cultural heritage of new media art. The goal of this project is to preserve media art by developing an archiving platform which links the media art databases of several institutes and collections. This system should function as an interface between diverse structured databases and storing systems of the participants and as a web portal for research and information objectives. The OASIS-platform will offer information and curatorial tools for various artistic and cultural content and operations. Specific questions on storing or preserving media art will be themed and document by the different participants on the platform.


This projectsite contains a report of the symposium held by the Netherlands Media Art Institute that offered the specialists in the field of preservation, conservation and documentation the opportunity to get a state of the art overview on the conservation and documentation of media art by presenting international projects. The conference was held on February 14th 2005 and took place in the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam.

The conference was organized in the framework of the project OASIS-Open Archiving System with Internet Sharing. The OASIS project, a component of the EU's Culture 2000 program, is a joint activity of the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG), Karlsruhe, Germany, International Centre for Art and New Technology (CIANT), Praha, Czech Republic, University of Science and Technology (AGH), Krakow, Poland, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany, Les Instants Video Numeriques et Poetiques, Marseille, France and the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Together these institutions will design a new environment for media arts content gathering, the preservation, presentation and distribution of media art, as well as for exchange of information.

Organization the Netherlands Media Art Institute
Production: Gaby Wijers
Report: Carlijn Masteling

Special thanks to: All the lecturers and participants


[beginpage: About OASIS] A summary report by Gaby Wijers 

Media art works represent some of the most compelling and significant artistic creations of our time. As an art medium, media art has transformed the perception of artistic practices since the late 1960s. Media artworks themselves are often described as live, processural, temporary, or site-specific, and their formats as unstable, or variable. Because of their short life and technical or otherwise variable natures, and because of the variability and rapid obsolescence of the media formats, they also present obstacles to accurate documentation, access and preservation. Without strategies for preservation many of these art works will be lost to future generations. This is why preservation is of fundamental importance to media art and a challenge to specialized technicians, curators and scientists in this field.

Over the last 10 years collection managers, curators, artists and conservators have become more and more interested in the issue of the preservation of media art. At the moment a serious number of national and international projects are conducting research that seeks to define strategies for, and best practice regarding the documentation and preservation of new media.

 The main questions to be answered are:

- What to preserve and how to preserve it;
- What are the essential aesthetic and technological elements that absolutely need to be preserved if the piece is to retain any integrity into the future?
- What is essential to the determination of origins and authenticity of the work?
- Do different types of media art need a different strategy?
- What is different in the approach in documenting and preserving media art works?

The Netherlands Media Art Institute, in association with OASIS, has invited speakers from European and American organizations and projects to disseminate their policies, approaches, research, and case studies on the documenting and preservation of media artworks.

The purpose of this day was:

- Disseminate selected approaches, research, and case-studies developed for documenting and preservation of media artworks.
- Initiate wider discussion and collaboration with regard to those issues.
- Publish an overview of approaches, practices, examples relating to the documentation and preservation of media artworks.

[Beginpage: Lectures] Lecture Report 14 February 2005

Preservation of Dutch Videos Art
Gaby Wijers, Netherlands Media Art Institute
The Netherlands Media Art Institute researches methods for recording and preserving media art and develops and implements new methods and techniques in that field. Under the auspices of the Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art (SBMK) preservation methods and techniques for video art were developed, implemented and evaluated. Over 1700 analogue videos were preserved, and a model acquisition contract and a registration model were developed. Documentation, consultation with the artist and the conversion of the analogue signal to Digital Betacam have turned out to be the essential criteria for the preservation of video art works for the future. The works are accessible in context on the network on MPEG2 quality and fragments are on the Internet in Reel Video. Sustainability of video art

Capturing Unstable Media Project - a process-based model for the documentation of electronic art
Sandra Fauconnier, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media
In 2003, V2_Organisation conducted research on the documentation aspects of the preservation of electronic art activities, or Capturing Unstable Media, an approach between archiving and preservation. Capturing Unstable Media presents a complimentary approach to the widespread material- and object-focused, rather static approach to preservation of contemporary art. Documenting the context of electronic art activities is important, as well as a perspective of process over product. Such aRt&D processes can have very diverse outcomes, ranging from tools and installations to presentations and symposia. Each of these needs to be valued in the context in which they are produced, and, if necessary, needs to be captured. Based on the findings from two case studies, a series of recommendations were formulated in the areas of documentation strategies for electronic art activities, formal modeling and metadata, and archival interoperability. Furthermore, a number of technical realizations were implemented.
Capturing Unstable Media

An international network as approach to preservation
Tatja Scholte, International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art
June 1, 2004, marked the start of a new three-year research project on the preservation and presentation of installation art, supported by the European Commission's Culture 2000 program. The project is coordinated by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and co-organized by five other European institutions: TATE, England; Restaurierungzentrum Düsseldorf, Germany; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Belgium and the Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art, The Netherlands. Each co-organizer collaborates with national partners (mainly museums), bringing the total number of organizations participating to around 30. This project is one of the initiatives of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art which has existed since 2002 as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and information. http://www.incca.org/

The Variable Media Network
Caitlin Jones, Guggenheim Museum
The Variable Media Network founded by the Guggenheim and Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology explores both new and proven concepts of preservation by concentrating on the behaviors, rather than solely the material, of contemporary art made for ephemeral mediums. The variable media paradigm asks artists themselves, in conjunction with conservators and technicians, to imagine ways to outwit the obsolescence that often besets technological and other ephemeral art forms. This approach proposes that the best way to preserve artworks in ephemeral formats, from stick spirals to video installations to Web sites, is to encourage artists to describe them in a medium-independent way, so as to help translate them into new forms once their current medium becomes obsolete. http://variablemedia.net

Presentation of research and projects
Peter Cornwell, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnology
Since 2000, the convergence of new low-cost fast intranetworking technology and very large storage components has enabled completely new solutions to conservation of, and widespread accessibility to, cultural media. In a project commencing during mid 2002, Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe has investigated the mid- and long-term implications of these technologies in the context both of archival and conservation and also of access by researchers and the public. This work has centered upon the construction and management of very large disk storage systems by non-specialist personnel in the museum environment, and builds upon ZKMs experience with large-scale automated CD archives. While the advantages of disk-based storage for media archive is well reported, this project addresses the reliability of such systems for repository of high quality masters, enabling the complete disposal of conventional tape media for the first time. The ZKM Storage Area Network (SAN) project will eventually house the audio and moving imagery collection of the ZKM | Media Library as well as mirroring several other collections.

Juergen Enge, Staatliche Hochschule fur Gestaltung
The conference is organized in the framework of the project OASIS - Open Archiving System with Internet Sharing . The OASIS project, a component of the EU's Culture 2000 program, is a joint activity of the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG), Karlsruhe, Germany, International Centre for Art and New Technology (CIANT), Praha, Czech Republic, University of Science and Technology (AGH), Krakow, Poland, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany, Les Instants Video Numeriques et Poetiques, Marseille, France and the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Together these institutions will design a new environment for media arts content gathering, the preservation, presentation and distribution of media art, as well as for exchange of information.

Perservation and Documentation of Media Art Heritage : Research and Test Cases
Alain Depocas, Langlois Foundation
The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology is leading a new five years research alliance project that will focus on important issues regarding the preservation and documentation of media art. Museums, which are charged with preserving these works and in doing so providing the public future access to them, often find themselves without adequate resources and must make do with methods and means that are poorly adapted to the new artistic practices. The problems vary, but one constant remains: most of the technologies featured in the works are becoming progressively obsolete, thus threatening the survival of the works themselves. To address these problems, this research Alliance plans to pool numerous fields of expertise, including art preservation, art documentation, art history, technology history, information sciences, archival management, engineering and computer processing. The research will focus on three principal areas, and each will produce tools, guides and methodologies essential to preserving this new cultural heritage.


[beginpage: Questions report]IJsbrand Hummelen: I see some complementary initiatives, how do you see the complementary aspects of the other projects?

Gaby Wijers: More or less we are involved in each other's projects, in each other's research. I guess that's one of the connections, to define a different focus and to use each other's knowledge and experience as much as possible.
Sandra Fauconnier: I think the same answer here. I talked a little about it in my talk about fragment approach, a lot of research is already happening in the field of preservation, a lot of experience already exists in different structures. Our contribution would be that we introduce our specialized knowledge and very specific aspects that are quite relevant to our field of electronic art. I see our contribution in that context, so we do not specialize in artist interviews. We are more about the technological aspects, documentation.
Tatja Scholte: I think , since we are working in this network, that problems come from the case studies. In the last project we were always confronted with problems happening in the museum. And I think we could use all these developments and test them and see if it works. That's the value of having a network, that you can immediately see how it works in practice. We don't have one collection, it's very diverse, and I think that in our installation project there are some aspects we really want to develop further, like documentation of sound and space, that's very specific and very technical. I think mainly the focus is on how these deeper layers, the context of the work function for the future. So, I think in our case the artist participation for instance will be focused on, which adds to what you are doing, Sandra.

IJsbrand Hummelen: Because they are complementary, they are all different approaches, but I see a lot of pilot projects, research pilot projects. But what we need in the future and what museums for contemporary art need in the future is a kind of more general approach, to have guidelines how to proceed further. Do you have any suggestions for a strategy for such an approach?

Tatja Scholte: I think in these projects we are all trying to formulate guidelines and of our methods and approaches and databases. I don't know if standardizing those I think we are actually doing that in the projects. And over that, to the field, the thing is that I have to use them. We developed documentation models that are very interesting and very well formed, but it's very hard to use them in museum environments. Their collection and technological systems are not adapted to these kind of models. And the same question exists in the model we are now developing for installation art, documentation, you don't know if they are going to be used. I think it's the same with the Variable Media: are people really using them? We can develop standards, but I think that in our new project that is a real focus, to see if we can use existing models.

Jaromil: Regarding some video works, for instance designworks in France, using software mostly video like Flash for instance. What is your position on preserving such works that are basically owned by companies, since the license agreement that an artist signs when he produces a work in Flash says that to reproduce the work one has to ask the company for the player? Now the fact that the company is giving the player for free is a detail that is related to the time being, but it could change. So what is the relationship between a conservation project within such a situation: just to afford the player, to buy a player from the company, to stipulate a more detailed contract, that can insure a future reproduction of the work, or maybe start research work that can basically release a more open software?

Gaby Wijers: I guess it's quite similar, the developing technology and contained technologies that are not working anymore is kind of a similar problem. I really think that in the future we should go to a more open structure. I hope so, we are working on that, because we don't want to keep the system closed, we want to keep it a little bit open, so that we can develop it further in the future and we're not stuck to certain companies. But at this moment we are still dealing with that, so we try to maneuver, to find a way in between, actually, sometimes depending on the companies and sometimes depending more and developing more into an open process.
Sandra Fauconnier: You give a very specific example there and a very difficult one I think, because of the copyright-character of the work, for the software that is used, and I think that partly the problem with Flash for example, and with other priority software on the web is that it's a broader problem than just our field, it's a problem for the entire preservation of the entire WorldWideWeb. So, I think that solutions will also come from other fields than ours and we have to look at that. And from our perspective I think we must really focus on very good documentation and work. So we would not really try to preserve the work because it has many difficult aspects, we have to find as quick as possible a strategy for documenting that work.

Anton Eliens: Gaby, you introduced your database, and I for myself am interested in video art in the first place, and in the corporations between perhaps V2, but also you three. Modeling Meta Data was also a very interesting project about Marina Abramovic, Digital Dossier. I was interested if you were working on adapting concepts in this way for your Meta Data, since you are constantly working on your website and your present internet projects. Do you adapt models in this way, organizing Meta Data in structures into Data Clouds, especially for the medium video art, which could mean working more on the object level?

Gaby Wijers: No, at the moment we are fine tuning a new collection information system which is roughly based on Dublin Core, and within the OASIS project. I guess I hope we are going to work more on Meta Data systems and how we can connect to different databases and to find to proper MetaData structure for that. What is certain is we are not going to invent them ourselves, we are going to look at all the other projects that are already existing. There are quite a lot of them at the moment. So compare them first and then go further.
Sandra Fauconnier: I think we do the same thing, it is very much what happens worldwide, in the field and what type of descriptions people are giving.

Woody Vasulka: What is the budget of this Canadian project?

Alain Depocas: That is something I can't disclose, it's not a large budget, but it's quite ok. The funding from the government will be around 200,000 Canadian dollars per year for five years, which makes one million dollars. And then, it's the type of project where all the participants have to bring at least as much money or any kind of input. So that means that at least close to 3 million dollars after five years. Most of that money will go to pay students to research and to work with us. So it means a lot of manpower somehow, and there will be money to organize events like today. Once a year we'll have a yearly summit, first one will be in Montreal in October, we will soon start with the organization of that. And of course we have a website. That's where the money will go.

????: Remember a few years ago, ZKM was working on a project to disseminate media works with a cable in such a way that it would not necessitate people wanting to study the archive going to the institution itself, for example, works would be sent electronically to galleries or museums anywhere in the world more or less. This was about five years ago, I think, but I didn't hear anything more about this project and this is something that interests me. Can you tell me what happened to it?

Peter Cornwell: I've only been involved for a couple of years and this is not a project that I heard about in great detail. However, there is a specific strategy and some progress in that area at the moment, which is twofold. First thing, the automatic production of compressed material and streaming technology that wasn't available five years ago has become an option now. But the real issue is the copyright. The main hope is that most artists will wave rights for highly compressed reproductions available on the internet. At the moment the catalogue can be browsed, but it's not possible to actually see most of the media works because of issues of copyright. The second thing, we have a on number of occasions actually loaded high quality onto a machine and shipped it. So 200 kilo's of equipment was sent to Tokyo, and was installed in a space and ran for a couple of months. That actually carried uncompressed conservation quality of thirty or forty titles. So it's also possible to put an entire curator shelf onto a machine and simply give it to Fed-Ex.

Bart Rutten: Something which is actually at the moment, we have a similar traveling show through Russia, forty titles.

IJsbrand Hummelen:  For Peter, do you use any selection procedures. The message of your talk is literally everything or nothing, make everything digital or nothing, but you have to make choices, the BBC has to make choices for validation. What are you going to do first, do you have an emergency program for that? Did you think of that? 

Peter Cornwell: Yes, our job is made a little easier by having a number of specific collections which have been acquired which have been presented to solve the problem. As I mentioned we have quite a large number of open real works from Woody's collection which are gradually processed. We recently categorized the collection, there are two or three smaller holdings. What we do not have is a strategy really, to address your question in detail, is the redigitization of the existing holding that we have compressed, which originally belonged to the juke-box. It is so large that we can not afford storage in the next three or four years, to conversation quality. Some ways it is self-defining, we do not have masters of all the works. And so for some things digitizing at high quality is really going to buy us a better version for documentation. Except we want to exhibit it. A fundamental problem is that we are talking about a huge amount of storage and even if what we have doubles every year, that's not really very much, we are talking very big systems. The other problem is that it is costing nearly twice as much, because you need two copies.

Woody Vasulka: For others there is an issue of what should be digitized, what should be selected; for archives there is no choice, it has to be done. Things that can be very fascinating to the future are being eliminated. We should agree, because we are all digitizing the same stuff. Fortunately, most of the material is just the second generation, one transfer away. So we have some kind of idea of how things were done, time scales and so forth. But once you go and search fourth generation, which most of the museums have, then you find out that it's a futile effort to make quality of it.

Caitlin Jones: I can respond to the first part of that by saying, as a trained archivist, that archives make selections all the time. Every bit of information that exists in our archives has been highly selected by archivists. Archives keep just a small percentage of the materials that come in. One thing that will automatically get deleted or get thrown away are duplicate copies. If the same document comes in five times, we will keep only one copy, and the rest will go. And also things like records, they will take samples. Let's say there's a government agency that has 10,000 files on various people, they cant keep all of that stuff, so they'll keep a hundred, a random sample of material. So I think first we should understand that this selection process has always been a key to preservation. We can only keep a portion, and how we go about setting up models for what we choose is a very interesting question and one that goes far beyond this discussion. I do think a registry of who has the best copy is a good idea. You probably have the best quality of your work as you have the artist's master, but I think it's a an excellent idea to see, to try to establish the relationship between those masters, then we should be able to see, to share enough. Like ZKM takes care of the Vasulka masters, Montevideo takes care of some others, to share the honey. I think that is an excellent idea.

Pavlov Smetana: Before we start to look for the original masters, we must be sure of what we are looking for. I think it is not completely fixed what is in all this field of media art. You have many differences if you are looking in the databases that you have in France or the United States or Europe, you have many different archives. Who should be in the archives, we don't know.

Woody Vasulka: Also, I'm very uncomfortable with museums preserving art, because they first have to take care of their own investments, alas we go into pragmatic page of not having enough money for everything else. Video art and electronic art is a generational enterprise. Take Marina Abramovic, it's becoming an absolute absurd situation, she is an extremely interesting and attractive performer, I agree with that, but in the media sense it's a very marginal footnote, so we have to be specific, because there has to be someone else who takes care of certain variables. And also the language, who will take care of the language, because the language description is needed faster then the pragmatic information of the tape. Because eventually, we see now, we can't understand avant-garde films that were made in the 1920s, there is no syntax logic, you look at them and you have to laugh sometimes, because of the montage equipment, caliber, ideology. So interpretation is as important as the copying of digital information. So it's the curatorial stream that we have to preserve as well, and that's part of what OASIS is doing, to make curatorial concepts or curatorial sources which can carry on also through ideology and syntactic possibiities and information and strategies and all kinds of other information. That is halve as essential as the image itself.

Bart Rutten: So where do documentation and preservation meet?

Woody Vasulka: I mean it's basically parallel but it needs a personal strategy, it needs a curator who really knows the problem. But of course it is a work of love, but I would say that it has to be treated with the same urgency.
Caitlin Jones: I think that - and it's the same for traditional archives as well - different places have different mandates, so of course the Guggenheim Museum has a mandate to preserve it's own collection. I mean that's obvious. We invest in our artwork and I don't think anyone would deny that, so we do case studies and we share them. I think this OASIS project is really embarking our territory. It's learning from all these other projects that have happened and then doing something totally different. So I think everybody is finding the area that they're best able to talk about, like universities talk about documentation. Everybody has a certain specialty. That's essential to the whole thing. I guess what we're doing here, today, everyone has their own project and they're not overlapping completely.

Bart Rutten: By parallel preservation, which happened quite often the last ten years, one of the things was saved what could have been lost. But it was coordinated internationally that people were really sure that this particular master was the best one, and then finally you find a distribution copy that is in the end more beautiful than the original master, because it hasn't been carried around that much. As a starting point, this local preservation practice was successful, now of course it's time to stop with the pilots, that was one of the starting points of this conference to see where we can hook up, and where we can exchange, especially look at the things we already did, and see if we can find better solutions and better exchange.