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Saturday, May 31 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Electronic Media Session) Life After Tape: Collecting Digital Video Art

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The shift of artist video towards file-based formats and the approaching obsolescence of digital videotape challenge collecting art institutions in regard to the preservation, storage and display of contemporary video artworks. In the previous era of digital videotape, the museum’s choice of master formats, migration cycles and storage parameters was guided by established archival standards and best practices. Importantly, tape formats also defined the image geometry of the recorded video and ensured its compliance to broadcast standards and its compatibility to standardized playback and display equipment.
In art production today, many artists make use of the rapid advancement of consumer technology and no longer rely on (semi-)professional, vendor-supported production and post production. As a result, artist video files arrive at the museum in an abundance of different codecs, containers, frame rates and pixel resolutions. Artists’ use of proprietary formats, especially of proprietary codecs, raises the concern of limited file sustainability. In addition, the quality of mastering of artist video can reflect differing levels of technical expertise, and in some cases artist-provided files might be operational only on a computer, but are incompatible with standardized video playback and display equipment in the galleries. The latter can necessitate reformatting the artist-provided, native master files—a measure that touches on the notion of authorship and authenticity and can create an ethic dilemma for the conservator. In this context it has to be discussed how far the museum interferes with the artistic process when making sustainable format recommendations or stipulations regarding acquisition deliverables.
Regardless of the question which file-formats to acquire, museums must develop protocols and implement workflows for quality and condition checking video files. Not only may the artist’s video lack established standardization, but different playback and display environments have a severe impact on the visual rendering of digital video. Thus, when defining a reference for the quality and condition of video artworks, conservation has to consider determining factors such as the computer’s graphic card, the player software and the display technology. In addition to evaluating the video content, conservation must adopt digital preservation standards and establish procedures for metadata creation, checksumming and redundant server storage.

This paper is based on a joint research initiative between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the University of the Arts Bern (Switzerland). It identifies the challenging factors of collecting video art in digital file form and discusses possible approaches and tools the museum can employ to ensure the quality and integrity of the digital video material that enters its collection.


Agathe Jarczyk

Atelier für Videokonservierung GmbH, Atelier für Videokonservierung GmbH
Agathe Jarczyk is a Conservator of Modern Materials and Media. Since 2008, Jarczyk is the owner of the “Studio for Video Conservation“ in Berne, Switzerland. Her studio focuses on conservation treatment and caretaking of video artworks for numerous Swiss and international museums and collections. | Since 2011, she is lecturer at the department for conservation and restoration at the University of the Arts, Berne. Between 2010 to 2012... Read More →

Joanna Phillips

Conservator, Time-based Media, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Joanna Phillips is the Conservator of Time-based Media at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she founded the first media art conservation lab in a US museum. In her 8 years at the Guggenheim, Phillips has developed and implemented new strategies for the preservation, reinstallation, and documentation of time-based media works. Phillips publishes and lectures on this topic internationally, and her latest research initiative... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 2:00pm - 2:30pm
Seacliff C-D