COLLECTING PRESERVING CONTEMPORARY ART
The popularity of new media art has grown considerably within the last decade, bringing with it new preservation and exhibition challenges. To help those collecting the medium, Art Radar brings you top tips selected from EAI’s Online Resource Guide for Exhibiting, Collecting & Preserving Media Art.
Media art “with its reproducible forms, changing technologies and mutable contexts” creates ongoing challenges that curators, conservators, registrars and media technical managers need to respond to. EAI is a non-profit organisation that aids in the preservation and delivery of video artworks, allowing wider access to media art. Noting this demand for “new practices and vocabularies for exhibitors and collectors”, the organisation has produced a website which “addresses [these] issues and brings together information on current practices and critical dialogue relating to [new media art].”
Categories of new media art
EAI divide new media works into three distinct categories:
Single-channel video works involve a single electronic source on a single display mode, screened, projected or shown as a single image.
Computer-based arts take the form of websites, DVD-Roms or artist-developed software run from common desktop computers.
Media installations combine digital moving media and computer-based initiatives within built structures. These are created from nearly any medium, material, or object. They are often “multi-channel”, consisting of two or more display devices.
Below we take you through the various sections of the guide outlined above, summarising what is said by EAI, pointing out some of the most important guidelines and linking you to each section so you can read more.
Exhibiting media art
The presentation of the artwork must respect the artist’s intent and must reflect any changes in external influences that occur during the period of exhibition.
Exhibition designs for single-channel video works include anything from free-standing monitors and iPods to large flat screens in galleries and museums.
The format of recorded media work is important to consider when exhibiting the work. DVD’s are a perfect format to use for exhibiting and continually playing video in the gallery space, as they are easy to use, relatively inexpensive and can easily loop. PC hard drives are an equally popular choice for exhibition, as they display a high quality format for audiences, successfully loop and are less susceptible to image disintegration.
Despite being able to produce high quality resolutions, neither DVCAM nor Betacam SP have looping capabilities. Similarly, it is difficult to loop video tapes and the low quality format of VHS limits its exhibiting quality.
The installation of computer-based art, as with all media-based art, requires detailed documentation. EAI recommend the artwork be accompanied by “schematic diagrams of the equipment, displays and connections, step-by-step instructions for start up and shut down, photo and video documentation.”
It is possible to alter the audience interaction level when exhibiting computer-based arts by exhibiting works with “everything from desktop or laptop computers and personal digital assistants to joysticks, touch screens, and sensors.”
Space and lighting is very important; all environmental factors, from paintings to carpets, are part of the installation and should accompany the artwork only in agreement with the artist. EIA states that “ambient light typically washes out projected images, and is usually of greatest concern at the entrance of the space.”
EAI continues, “When a curator chooses an artwork which includes video and site-specific elements, the video element is provided by the artist, while the exhibitor is responsible for the execution of the site-specific media related elements.”
Collecting media art
The collection of new media art has altered the guidelines for traditional art collecting as video art is reproducible. In addition, ensuring the longevity of an artwork is one of the most crucial concerns for collecting media-based installations.
The EAI online resource guide says:
Artists creating media art today often work within different models and contexts, selling limited-edition video works through a gallery, disseminating Internet-based works online, and offering uneditioned video works through a distributor.
Before collecting single-channel art, the collector must be familiar with media formats, rights, duplications and contracts.
In order to profit and collect video art, a gallery would focus on the sale of limited editions, where only a number of limited copies can be sold. The gallery would agree on this number in a contract with the artist. When a gallery sells a limited edition, it will also be sold with a “certificate of authenticity”. The size of the edition can affect the price of the work. Galleries can therefore control the rights of access, unlike distributors, who offer unlimited editions for free public access.
It is essential to have an archival copy as well as an exhibition copy of the video as the archival copy will have the highest video image and sound quality.
According to EAI, “Computer-based artworks are even more variable and ephemeral than single-channel video.”
They maintain that the seller should provide copies of all necessary files on a DVD or hard drive. The price of acquiring computer-based art varies based on acquisition fee, equipment, shipping and installation, technical support, cataloguing and storage.
How the equipment and elements create meaning is essential for the collector. Consider the function of the equipment: Has the artist used this equipment because of its function or because it was more cost effective?
Typically, media installations have more elements than a single-channel work, leading to a greater chance of a misinterpretation of display requirements.
When buying any media work, there must be clear communication between curator, artist and technician on how the work should be installed and on the overall presentation. It would help if the collector had a “set of guidelines and suggested equipment… to acquire” in order ensure that the work is displayed correctly.
Preserving media art
The Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) created the sections of the EAI website that deal with preservation. IMAP provides information resources to caretakers of media collections to ensure the preservation of cultural heritage.
Single channel video artworks and mostly recorded on video tape which are prone to short life expectancy, the materials they are made from encounter chemical deterioration.
Tapes and DVDs should be transferred on to “more stable formats on a regular basis”, creating an archival copy. EAI suggests “the archival format, if stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. With proper rights, archival formats can be used to create reference copies as needed in the future.”
The technology used to create computer-based art is constantly changing and as such, the medium presents huge preservation challenges. There is a lack of clearly defined standards and practices “because of the newness of this medium and in part because of the widely divergent works that fall under the heading ‘computer-based.'”
Key preservation strategies include migrations, emulation and encapsulation.
These necessitate a bigger challenge for preservation as they include a number of media components. The preservation budget for an installation work requires consideration of each component of the work on its own as well as the needs of the work as a whole.
Where multiple works are concerned, EAI notes that it is important to consider each work “on a case-by-case basis” because each art work has its own unique requirements for display, collection and preservation. In addition, the mode of presentation must be sincere to the artist’s intent.
Preserving each of the digital components of an installation is essential to ensuring they are able to be displayed in future exhibitions. If this is an area of particular interest to you, it is worth taking a look at the sections on research/documentation, equipment, programming, conservators and data storage.
- Artists turn to video art: Will collectors follow suit? The Art Newspaper examines – April 2011 – why video art is gainning popularity with UK collector Frank Cohen
- 2 Japanese video artists at Auckland Arts Festival 2011 – profile – March 2011 – five video installations by Ko Nakajima and four by Kentaro Taki
- Words in Art: India’s Raqs Media Collective see all words as equal– January 2011 – interview unveiling why video and digital art relate to aesthetics and ethics
- Video artists raise awareness about water conservation in China– January – 2011 – Chinese artist Song Dong, striking installation of one-hundred images on water
- Para/Site bring Indonesian moving image to Hong Kong – Record Waves exhibition – December 2010 – The emergence of video art in Indonesia