MONA JIMENEZ, & PAUL MESSIER
With electronic media preservation, one can feel stalled interminably by practical and technical obstructions, and then suddenly propelled forward by a stimulating exchange of ideas and information. TechArchaeology: A Symposium on Installation Art Preservation, held in January 2000, was such an exchange—a truly pivotal event in the development of conservation practices for technology-based installation art. TechArchaeology went beyond theoretical discussions of electronic installation works to grapple with complex works in a case study format. We are very pleased that this issue of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation will allow us to share our investigations with a wider audience. The articles printed here are a significant contribution to the body of literature about a unique and truly 20th-century form of artistic practice. Combined with edited video documentation of TechArchaeology and technical resources, this issue will form the core of a curriculum for this exciting new area of conservation practice.
TechArchaeology was conceived by Mona Jimenez and Paul Messier and came to life as a project of the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), in its continuing role as a convener of disparate disciplines and individuals concerned with the longevity of electronic art. BAVC's symposium Playback '96: Video Roundtable, hosted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), engaged conservators, curators, artists, engineers, and arts administrators in dialogue through working groups on video preservation. Supported by the Getty Grant Program and the Andy Warhol Foundation, the symposium's research was published as Playback: A Preservation Primer for Video (Bay Area Video Coalition, 1998). Mark Roosa's essay, “Maintaining Technology-Based Installation Art,” noted the unique needs of these works. He stressed the need for standardized documentation of the works and of artists' intentions, for recommended treatment practices, and for the development of a curriculum for conservation schools.
Stimulated by the issues raised in Playback, Paul Messier helped form the Electronic Media Specialty Group (EMG) of the AIC in 1996 to continue a dialogue among conservators. As conversations continued among BAVC, EMG, and the newly formed consortium Independent Media Arts Preservation, the idea for TechArchaeology coalesced into an investigative, working group model similar to Playback. Fortuitously, in 1999 SFMOMA was launching the extraordinary exhibition, Seeing Time: Selections from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art. SFMOMA, the Kramlichs, and Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services (the collection's manager) all enthusiastically embraced the project. Christopher Eamon, then the media arts specialist at Art Advisory Services, joined the effort as a key member of the planning group. With funds from the Getty Grant Program, TechArchaeology, held at SFMOMA on January 5–6, 2000, became the first preservation event to kick off the new millennium.
TechArchaeology was based on the assumption that all of those involved in the creation, interpretation, and care of these objects—at a minimum, conservators, curators, artists, and technical experts— need to address preservation issues together. Each working group tackled two art pieces intensively, armed with written and visual documentation, such as descriptions of component parts, technical specifications, schematics, and artist renderings or descriptions. Discussion within the working groups was centered on a series of prepared questions that primarily focused on the challenges presented by maintaining the artist's intent over time, in the face of specific deterioration and media obsolescence issues. These questions forced the working groups to grapple with future display and interpretation issues for each work, to identify possible weaknesses, and to formulate potential strategies for long-term preservation. The results of these conversations were shared, discussed, and debated with the larger group in an in-depth, lively examination of philosophical and technical issues. Articles published here by Mitchell Hearns Bishop, Paul Messier, Timothy Vitale, and Pip Laurenson are based on these working group discussions. William A. Real suggests general guidelines for practice in the preservation and documentation of technology-based installation art.
Artists Steve McQueen, Dara Birnbaum, Gary Hill, and James Coleman were present and spoke eloquently about their artistic intentions and how the integrity of their work can be maintained. Works by Vito Acconci, Reinhard Mucha, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and Keith Tyson were also examined. Tim Vitale, Mitchell Hearns Bishop, Pip Laurenson, William Real, Paul Messier, Michelle Barger, and Jill Sterrett brought the conservator's perspective to the process. Steve Dye and Matt Beiderman of SFMOMA came to the symposium with fresh experience with the exhibition's installation and maintenance, and Luke Hones and Colin Griffiths also brought broad technical knowledge of electronic artworks. Barbara London, Steve Seid, Kathy High, Bob Riley, Kathleen Forde, and Ruth Keffer contributed insights about the works in their roles as curators. Christopher Eamon's contributions crossed the boundaries of the curatorial, the technical, and collections management. Pamela Kramlich provided insights into the work from the collector's point of view. Mona Jimenez, Sally Fifer, Eleanor Harwood, and Serene Fang helped make important connections to media arts production and preservation efforts. Registrar Olga Charyshyn contributed greatly to the discussion of documentation.
The articles published in this issue of JAIC articulate emergent ideas relating to the preservation of electronic art and apply these ideas to specific issues presented by the individual works. The authors and organizers recognize that the work presented here is a beginning and is not definitive or comprehensive. There is much still to be done, and other voices need to be heard.
We owe a great deal to the Bay Area Video Coalition, in particular to Sally Fifer's persistent and inspired leadership and to Serene Fang's organizational skills. We would also like to extend special thanks to the artists for bringing us these intriguing works and to Pamela and Richard Kramlich for their adventurous spirit in collecting, aided by the expert advice of Thea Westreich. We thank Christopher Eamon for his tireless work on the project, from its very inception to its completion, including service as a reader and adviser for the articles printed here. SFMOMA staff graciously extended their assistance and efficiently jumped into the project on a very short timeline, for which we are grateful. David Ross and Barbara Levine of SFMOMA were especially helpful in paving the way for our efforts. We also extend our heartfelt thanks to the Getty Grant Program for its vision and very timely support.