The preservation of playback and display equipment for audiovisual art.
A research project by PACKED in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Media Art (Amsterdam), M HKA and S.M.A.K. Periode: 2009-2011.
The goal of this project was to improve and ensure the digitization and long term preservation of audiovisual artworks that are threatened by the obsolescence of essential playback and display equipment.
For the realization of this project PACKED received an international project grant within the framework of the cultural heritage decree of the Ministry of the Flemish Community. The grant agreement stated:“The minister believes that the quality of the concept with respect to content and the concrete execution of it, is high. It concerns a real and urgent issue of great importance to the cultural heritage field in Flanders. The project has therefore an example function. The international collaboration with Dutch institutions can augment the sharing of expertise and exchange of knowledge.”
With this project PACKED and the Netherlands Media Art Institute – Montevideo / Time Based Arts, Amsterdam (NIMk) began an intensive collaboration over a two-year period. Experience has shown that, given the complexity of the matter and the limited budgets, knowledge about such very specific aspects of preservation can’t be developed (and therefore will also not be able to find its way into the Flanders arts and cultural heritage world) without a solid international collaboration. In a first stage (01/07/2009 - 30/06/2010) the project focused on a series of video-based works, and in a second stage (01/07/2010 – 30/06/2011) on a series of computer-based works.
Other partners in the project were the M HKA and S.M.A.K. in Flanders, and the Kröller-Müller Museum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN).
Background of the project:
The archiving of audiovisual artworks requires a (pro-)active preservation policy. Both analogue and digital formats and carriers are subject to technological aging, and this requires frequent migrations to new technology. The sustainability of audiovisual artworks is not only threatened by the chemical composition of their carriers (videotape, film, …) but also by the rapid technological evolution, resulting in an ever shorter lifecycle of the playback formats on the one hand (Super-8, VHS, file formats), and of the playback and display equipment on the other hand (cathode ray tubes, ¾” U-matic players, computers, playback software).
In the process of long term preservation of audiovisual artworks, different strategies can be distinguished: storage, migration, emulation and re-interpretation.
- Storage means the preserving of the audiovisual artwork in its original form. This is the most trusted conservation strategy for museums. The major disadvantage of this preservation strategy is that it is in fact not sufficient for media art. As soon as the carrier, the playback format or the equipment for playback or display becomes obsolete, the artwork itself dies.
- Migration means the upgrading of the audiovisual information and the playback and display equipment. The major disadvantage of this strategy is that the original appearance of the original artwork may change when the carrier changes. In the analogue world such conversions were almost always synonymous with loss of quality (so-called ‘generational loss’). If the necessary precautions are taken, this cumulating generational loss can be prevented through digitisation.
- Emulation means the attempt to imitate the original appearance of the work as well as possible, with the aid of new or other playback and/or display equipment. The disadvantage of emulation could be that it is expensive and does not automatically match the artist's original intention.
- The most radical preservation strategy is the re-interpretation of the work each time it is presented. This is a dangerous technique if it is not used under the supervision of the artist him or herself, but in some cases it is the only way, for example, to exhibit installations that differ according to the setting in which they are exhibited.
Since sustainability of audiovisual artworks is also threatened by the ever shorter lifecycle of the playback formats and the equipment for playback and display, one does not only have to preserve the works themselves but also the playback and display equipment that is becoming obsolete. The main reasons for this are:
- In order to migrate and digitize the audiovisual works, one has to play them with the original playback equipment;
- Migration, emulation and re-interpretation are not possible in all cases. When the original playback or display equipment forms an intrinsic part of the work, the authenticity of the work could be damaged if it is replaced. In these cases the preservation of the original playback and/or display equipment is necessary in order for the work to be shown in public for as long as possible. Without this equipment, such works would be ‘dead’. The stronger the relationship between the equipment and the work, the more vulnerable the work is. (It is important to keep in mind that even under perfect preservation conditions, the playback and display equipment will one day deteriorate and become obsolete.);
- The migration, digitization, emulation and the re-interpretation of audiovisual artworks are all delicate operations because they can affect the ‘look and feel’ of the work. A comparison of the new ‘look and feel’ with the original is in most cases only possible if the original playback and display equipment is (still) available.
Goals of the project:
In Flanders and the Netherlands some research on the long term preservation and digitization of audiovisual art had already been conducted, but in this the preservation of the original playback and/or display equipment was given hardly any attention. Very little research on the emulation and the re-interpretation of media art had been conducted in Flanders and the Netherlands. Some had been done abroad, but only on a limited scale. The field of audiovisual arts was still missing a usable and internationally accepted set of guidelines.
With this Flemish-Dutch project PACKED and NIMk together aimed to:
This project was crucial because the future of a series of artworks in museum collections in Flanders and the Netherlands is being threatened by the obsolescence of playback and display equipment. The project largely focused on specific video and computer based works that are still being preserved in the M HKA and S.M.A.K., and of which some are part of the Flemish Government's Collection. The preservation issues regarding these works are exemplary. The solutions formulated could also possibly be applied to other works afterwards.
The video based works were:
° Oratorium voor geprepareerde video player en acht monitoren (Frank Theys, 1989, collection M HKA)
° TV-Quiz Dekor, 1993 (Guillaume Bijl, 1993, M HKA collection, property of the Flemish Government BK 6880)
° Untitled (Carl and Julie) (David Claerbout, 2000, M HKA collection, property of the Flemish Government BK 7218)
° Insert Coin (Hans Op de Beeck, 1999, M HKA collection, property of the Flemish Government BK 7215)
° Bach Two Part Invention (Jonathan Horowitz, 1998, S.M.A.K. collection, property of the Flemish Government BK
° Mon - Sun (Jonathan Horowitz, 1996, S.M.A.K. collection, property of the Flemish Government BK 7057/G72)
° Battered Tears (Dennis Oppenheim, 1994, S.M.A.K. collection)
° Das Endes des Jahrhunderts (Klaus vom Bruch, 1985, S.M.A.K. collection)
° Black and White (Nan Hoover, 2001, NIMk collection)
° Straggling (Christiaan Bastiaans, 1995, Kröller-Müller Museum collection)
° Project I-'90 (Peter Struycken, 1989-90, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam collection)
° Panta Rhei (Ricardo Füglistahler, 1988, ICN collection – under reserve)
° Mill x Molen (Bert Schutter, 1982, ICN collection – under reserve)
The computer based works were:
° I Hate (Imogen Stidworthy, 2007, M HKA collection)
° HeadNurse (Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, 1989-1999, S.M.A.K. collection, property of the Flemish Government BK 7434/G96)
° Mondophrenetic™ (Herman Asselberghs, Els Opsomer and Rony Vissers, 2000)
° I/Eye (Bill Spinhoven, 1984, NIMk collection)
° 'lichtkrant' (Jenny Holzer, Kröller-Müller Museum)
It concerned works by Belgian and foreign artists who all have a considerable reputation internationally.
Research will also be made, alongside this project, and in collaboration with the artists, whether the already available documentation on a number of other works by Frank Theys (De Kus 2), Guillaume Bijl (James Ensor in Oostende, 2000), David Claerbout (i>Ruurlo, Bocurloscheweg, 1910 and The Stack), Hans Op de Beeck (My Brothers Garden, Gardening and Location I) and Anne-mie Van Kerckhoven (Terezin), which form part of the Flemish Government's collection, M HKA and/or S.M.A.K., is still up-to-date and is sufficient to guarantee the long term preservation of these works.
We were aiming for the following results:
This project did not limit itself to research, but also aimed to make the results of the research available to museums, the Flemish Government, artists, galleries and other art collectors, education and collectors of obsolete equipment by means of web publications and presentations in conferences.
We aimed to provide:
1. A series of practical guidelines for the preservation of audiovisual art works that are threatened by the obsolescence of the playback and display equipment, and for the preservation of the necessary equipment, as well as suggestions for best practices;
2. An inventory of available playback and display equipment for audiovisual artworks, and of the technical knowledge about this equipment. Museums mostly collect equipment in order to be self-sufficient. Therefore it is not the intention of the inventory to oblige museums to exchange their equipment, but to improve the exchange of knowledge about such equipment;
3. An inventory of available digitization services for obsolete playback formats, and the future perspectives of such services;
4. A series of practical guidelines for the emulation of audiovisual artworks, and of best practices.
The results will be made available to the different target groups as follows:
- The publication of a research report in the form of a manual that will be available free of charge on the PACKED and NIMk websites. The different target groups will be informed of the manual's availability through common communication channels (press, e-mailing, newsgroups, …);
- A seminar will be organised consisting of a number of presentations and workshops appealing to the different target groups;
- Articles will be written on the subject that can be distributed through specialised channels (specialised magazines, newsgroups, …);
- Results of the research will be used in presentations on the issue of the long term preservation of media art. These presentations will be provided free of charge to educational institutions in Flanders and the Netherlands;
- The distribution of a number of policy recommendations for the government concerning the long term preservation of media art.
The principal goal of such measures is that the preservation of such a range of video and computer based works as described above, of which a major part is part of public collections in Flanders, will be improved.
Thanks to the distribution of guidelines in museums, the Flemish Government, artists, galleries and other art collectors, educational institutions and collectors of obsolete equipment, a second goal will be that there be an increase in the attention paid to these specific issues in both the Flemish as well as the Dutch art worlds. Closer attention being held to such issues in Flanders and the Netherlands, along with the existence of practical guidelines and an inventory will lead to:
1. A considerable prolongation of the lifespan of certain audiovisual art works through which they may continue to be or become accessible (once again) to the public and continue to be a living part of the cultural heritage. This is not only important because of the quality of the works themselves, but also because the works are produced and/or bought by museums with public funding (a number of works even makes up part of the Flemish Government Collection);
2. An improved preservation of the authenticity of the conserved works because the intention(s) of the artists are more closely respected.
A third set of results being aimed at is that museums such as, for example, the S.M.A.K. will be able to build their own pool of equipment, thereby diminishing their dependence upon third parties with regards the preservation of equipment, and making it possible for them to exchange experiences and if necessary equipment with other museums that have also invested in a collection of equipment of their own.
In order to obtain such results, increasing the scale of operation by means of a Flemish-Dutch collaboration is essential. A cross-border collaboration on this issue is self-evident because of the specificity of the subject, the need for feedback by colleagues, the distribution of (obsolete) equipment, the limited financial resources in the field of media arts conservation, the small area of Flanders and the Netherlands and the short distance and shared language. The increase in scale and cross-border collaboration will also give the proposed practical guidelines a broader legitimation within the field of contemporary art conservation.
The methods as described below do not necessary follow each other in chronological order, but can also run in parallel.
By means of resource inquiry, surveys, case studies and round table conversations
- collect best practices on the preservation, migration and emulation of video and computer based art works that are threatened by the obsolescence of playback and display equipment, and for the preservation of the necessary equipment;
- create an inventory of the obsolete playback and display equipment that is still available and that is essential to continue to exhibit certain audiovisual artworks that are part of public collections, and that is held by the most important players with regards to the preservation of audiovisual art and by some science museums in Belgium and the Netherlands (and in some neighbouring countries);
- identify the persons in Belgium and the Netherlands (and in some neighbouring countries) who still possess the necessary technical knowledge and experience to maintain such obsolete playback and display equipment;
Based on the results of this enquiry, guidelines for the preservation, migration and emulation of playback and display equipment for video and computer based works will be drafted. These guidelines will be published and presented during a seminar.
Sharing knowledge and experience with the field:
PACKED and NIMk will publish a research report in two parts, one of each after each research phase. These research reports will take the shape of a manual that can be downloaded free of charge from the PACKED and NIMk websites. This manual will ensure that in the future one can be built upon the gathered knowledge and experience for the preservation of the studied (and other) works.
Beside the distribution of the manual, a seminar will be organised during which the results of the research will be presented. The distribution of knowledge and expertise decreases the chance that the knowledge and expertise will be lost.
PACKED and NIMk will write a couple of articles on this matter that can be distributed through specialised channels (specialised magazines, newsgroups, …). The availability of such articles decreases the chance that the knowledge and expertise will be lost.
Both organisations will use the research results in presentations on the issue of the long term preservation of media art. These presentations will be provided free of charge to educational institutions in Flanders and the Netherlands. The availability of such presentations decreases the chance that the knowledge and expertise will be lost.
PACKED and NIMk will formulate policy recommendations for the government on the long term preservation of media art.
PACKED as well as NIMk, being expertise centres, have an advisory role in the field of art and cultural heritage. This guarantees that the exchange of gained knowledge and experience will not be restricted to some once only activities. When answering questions on preservation and providing related services, it will always be possible to go back to the results of this research in the future.
This project aims at different target groups at the same time. One can make a distinction between the primary and the secondary target groups:
The primary target groups are:
1. M HKA, S.M.A.K, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Kröller Müller Museum (and under reserve the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and the Van Abbemuseum): a number of works that form the starting point for this project are part of their collections.
2. The Flemish Government: a number of works that form the starting point for this project are part of the Flemish Government collection. At present the government lacks knowledge about the diverse aspects of the long term preservation of media art. Such knowledge is necessary for it to take care of its own collection. Not all audiovisual works of the Flemish government are being preserved by M HKA and S.M.A.K., some are preserved in the central warehouse of the Flemish government itself. In addition, this knowledge is necessary for the development of an adequate policy on this issue in consultation with the field.
3. Other museums: In several museums knowledge has been gained over the years on the preservation of traditional art forms (such as painting and sculpture). Media art is a relatively new art form which has only recently been present in museum collections. The preservation tradition of media art is still in its infancy in these institutions (especially in Flanders).
The secondary target groups are:
1. Artists: Although most media artists have an extensive practical knowledge about the handling of their material and equipment, they often lack the necessary specific knowledge for the long term preservation of their work.
2. Galleries and private art collectors: media art is not only exhibited and collected by museums, it is also part of private art collections. The tradition of media art preservation is, just like in museums, still in its infancy in galleries and private collections.
3. Education: in academic courses on the preservation and management of contemporary art, there is hardly any attention paid to the long term preservation of media art. Also in art education itself, where the artists of the future are being formed, there is little attention paid to the subject.
4. Collectors of obsolete audiovisual equipment: the obsolete playback and display equipment is not only owned by those institutions and persons that collect artworks, but also by video labs, rental companies, private equipment collectors … They are often not aware of the importance of their equipment for the survival of media art works.
Within the framework of this project, several interviews were done and are published on this site under 'Interviews'. You can also read the interviews by clicking on the links below. More interviews will be added to this list in the next months.
- Interview with the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA) (1/2)
- Interview with the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA) (2/2)
- Interview with Jean Herben
- Interview with Pip Laurenson (1/2)
- Interview with Pip Laurenson (2/2)
- Interview with Christoph Blase (1/2)
- Interview with Christoph Blase (2/2)
- Interview with Marc Vandeputte
- Interview with Mona Jimenez (1/2)
- Interview with Mona Jimenez (2/2)
- Interview with Joanna Phillips
- Interview with René Paquet (1/2)
- Interview with René Paquet (2/2)
- Interview with Bruno Burtre (1/2)
- Interview with Bruno Burtre (2/2)
Articles that have been produced during this project, are published on this site under 'Articles'. You can also read the articles by clicking on the links below.
The Obsolete Equipment project was a collaboration between PACKED and NIMk, each acting in their own country as expertise centre for the archiving and preservation of media art. This collaboration made it possible to reach the above mentioned target groups in both countries. PACKED and NIMk collaborated intensively with M HKA, S.M.A.K., Kröller-Müller Museum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and the Van Abbemuseum.
The collaboration offered the possibility of sharing the knowledge and experience that PACKED and NIMk have gathered during the project with each other.
This project was made possible by the support of the Flemish Government.