JAIC 2001, Volume 40, Number 3, Article 5 (pp. 233 to 258)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2001, Volume 40, Number 3, Article 5 (pp. 233 to 258)



ABSTRACT—Two very different pieces of installation art—Vito Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom (1975) and James Coleman's INITIALS (1993–94)—are analyzed using the protocols pioneered at the TechArchaeology Symposium. The Acconci work has two video channels, one with audio soundtrack and a series of slides. It is a conceptual work that was reformatted in 1998. James Coleman's INITIALS has one visual element—slides—with a synchronized audio channel output from four speakers. The differences are between a 25-year-old reformatted conceptual work (Acconci's) and a recent “structuralist's” work (Coleman's) that must be kept in its original format for the foreseeable future. This article is a result of TechArchaeology: A Symposium on Installation Art Preservation.

TITRE—Le colloque “TechArchéologie”: les oeuvres de James Coleman et de Vito Acconci. RéSUMé —Cet article offre une analyse de deux installations très différentes, soit celle créée en 1975 par Vito Acconci Pornography in the Classroom (la pornographie en classe) et celle créée entre 1993 et 1994 par James Coleman INITIALS (initiales), en suivant les protocoles mis de l'avant au colloque “TechArchéologie. ” L'oeuvre d'Acconci consiste en deux plages vidéo, dont l'une est munie d'un enregistrement audio, ainsi que d'une série de diapositives. Cette oeuvre conceptuelle a fait l'objet d'un reformatage en 1998. L'oeuvre de Coleman, elle, consiste en un élément visuel—des diapositives—et des voies audio synchronisées sur quatre hauts-parleurs. La différence entre les deux oeuvres est intéressante; d'une part, l'oeuvre d'Acconci est conceptuelle, elle a été créée il y a un quart de siècle et elle subsiste sous un format différent de celui d'origine; d'autre part, l'oeuvre de Coleman est “structuraliste” et son reformatage est hors de question, du moins pour plusieurs années à venir. Cet article est un résultat de “TechArchéologie: un colloque sur la préservation des installations. ”

TITULO—TecArqueología: obras de James Coleman y Vito Acconci. RESÚMEN—Dos piezas de arte de instalación muy diferente, Pornography in the Classroom (Pornografía en el aula), de Vito Acconci (1975) e INITIALS (I N I C I A L E S ), de James Coleman (1993-94) son analizadas con los protocolos usados por primera vez en el Simposio sobre Preservación de Instalaciones de Arte “TecArchaeology. ” La obra de Acconci tiene dos canales de vídeo, uno con pista de sonido, y series de diapositivas. Es una obra conceptual que fue objeto de una conversión de medio en el año 1998. I N I C I A L E S de James Coleman, tiene un elemento visual-diapositivas-con un canal de audio sincronizado con salida hacia cuatro altoparlantes. Las diferencias se basan en que una es una obra conceptual que fue objeto de una conversión de medio hace veinticinco años (la obra de Acconci) y la otra es una obra reciente “estructuralista”(la obra de Coleman), y ambas deben ser mantenidas en sus formatos originales para el futuro previsible. Este artículo es el resultado del Simposio sobre Preservación de Instalaciones de Arte “TecArchaeology. ”


One of the four discussion groups at TechArchaeology: A Symposium on Installation Art Preservation (Sterrett 2000; Real 2001) focused on Vito Acconci's (b. 1940) Pornography in the Classroom (1975) and James Coleman's (b. 1941) INITIALS (1993–94) (figs. 1, 2). Both were exhibited at Seeing Time: Selections from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), October 15, 1999, to January 9, 2000.

Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom is a highly visual, visceral, and in some ways esoteric work that can suspend reality for the viewer. It is a conceptual work that, at a minimum, was reformatted, and possibly even remastered or remade, in 1998. Arguments can be made for any of the possible modes of change. Presentation of the work's visual and audio concepts in a clean, relatively easy-to-mount format was a major issue in reformatting. Because it was bought as a reformatted work, preservation of the piece in its original format was not seen to be critical by the artist, his gallery, or its owner.

Coleman's INITIALS was a cool, sublime, evocative experience that created a prolonged transcendental state in the viewer. Coleman considers the details of the presentation to be critical. The artist and family are very specific about how the work is to be mounted, exhibited, and held through time. Coleman maintains an archive in a vault away from the studio.

INITIALS requires, and was afforded, a much larger space than Pornography in the Classroom, where viewers' everyday reality could be suspended, especially when they were within the artist-defined aural “hot spots. ” INITIALS viewers could come and go without unduly affecting others because the space was large and reasonably dark. The installation of the work was sensually less aggressive than Acconci's.

James Coleman was at the TechArchaeology symposium to explain, decipher, and sometimes intentionally obscure some of the aspects of his work. He also defined his position on preservation and provided insight into the possible evolution of those views.



Pornography in the Classroom was in a smaller room than INITIALS, with an uncarpeted floor that made the sound much more active. It was also a more complicated experience to comprehend, and it could be argued that it was markedly less subtle.

Fig. 1. Installation view of Vito Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom, 1975, mixed media. Courtesy of SFMOMA

Fig. 2. Drawing of installation view of James Coleman's INITIALS, 1993–94, mixed media. Drawing by Tim Vitale. Courtesy of SFMOMA

The two works were a study in contrasts, on several levels: size, period of creation, degree of documentation, nature (conceptual vs. formalist), artist involvement in the work's preservation, need to preserve in original state, and need for the artist's presence during installation.

Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom was originally conceived in 1975 as a conceptual work. The Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art in San Francisco acquired the work from the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 1998. The work has three visual elements.1 The two video channels (monitor and projection) were remastered to DVD for the Kramlich Collection's Seeing Time exhibition by SFMOMA, with the artist's permission. The monitor channel has a synchronized audio element.2 The third visual element is a continuously cycled group of 80 color slides. It has been suggested that the work was remastered or remade recently into its current Betacam SP video format (see the discussion below).

The Coleman piece, INITIALS, was more recently conceived, in 1993–94. The Kramlich Collection acquired the work from the Marian Goodman Gallery in 1995. While Coleman does not wish to be categorized, he is seen by most curators as a formalist or structuralist. The piece consists of one visual element with a synchronized audio channel. The SFMOMA installation used new exhibition copies of the work's 95 slides. The audio channel was recorded in a studio with a high degree of competence and burned to a CD-R. The Coleman Archive holds all masters (originals), and Coleman rigorously stipulates how the work should be mounted and displayed. He wants to supervise the final stages of each installation, even if an assistant must be there in his place.


There is only one edition of Vito Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom.3 The Kramlich Collection's accession documents from the Barbara Gladstone Gallery state that the artist holds the slide and video masters. The 25-year-old work was acquired in its artist-approved reformatted and (possibly) remastered or remade form. The installation instructions are not comprehensive. Acconci did not participate in the installation. He was not present for the TechArchaeology Symposium.

The projection video channel was Super-8mm film in 1975, however, the video image shows no signs of frame jitter due to worn sprockets, no scratches in the original film, splices, lost frames from breaks, color fading from age, or nonuniform processing. If the original film had been remastered, one or more of these markers would be present. There is no mention of the original Super-8 film “masters” in the Barbara Gladstone Gallery documentation. Acconci (2001) remembered that the monitor channel was originally video; we assume it was 1/2 in. open reel video.

The Seeing Time catalog entry (Riley et al. 1999) states:“Media: eighty 35mm slide transparencies, two BetaSP video tapes authored to DVD (digital versatile disc) (original Super-8 film remastered to BetaSP video). ” BetaSP is assumed to be Betacam SP (standard play).

Pornography in the Classroom was either reformatted from its original 1975 form to a new exhibition form in 1998, or it was reshot onto video in 1998 from 1975 materials, such as 1975 pornography magazines. The monitor channel was originally video, but it is not clear if it was remastered or remade in 1998. The 1998 materials were further reformatted in 2000, from Betacam SP to DVD, for the Seeing Time exhibition.

In the absence of complete documentation and full discussions with the artist, it is assumed that Super-8 film, 1/2 in. open reel video, and slides were the original formats (see below).

In the SFMOMA Seeing Time installation, the slide element was projected across the room from a slide projector on top of the monitor (figs. 3, 4, 5, 6). The monitor and projected video channels (see figs. 1 and 7) were in opposite corners diagonally, 25–30 ft. apart, perpendicular to the room entrance. A drawing of the image and component placement (appendix A) was available and used for SFMOMA's installation of Seeing Time. The entrance point was not specified in this drawing.


James Coleman's INITIALS has one visual element, consisting of color slides, and one audio element (channel), a studio-recorded stereo sound-track fed to four (or optionally five) speakers, creating a three-dimensional sound stage. The soundtrack is on a numbered CD-R. The 95-slide visual element is projected in a predefined and synchronized manner.

Fig. 3. Vito Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. View of the slide (projector) and monitor elements with slide projector sitting on the monitor (one of the two video channels). Courtesy of SFMOMA

Fig. 4. Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. Projected channel's female image with monitor channel's male image (slide projector sitting on the video monitor). Courtesy of SFMOMA

Fig. 5. Word slide showing white chalk on black background, which appears transparent on a dark wall in Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. Courtesy of SFMOMA

The room is kept dark with a light and sound safe (one right-angle corner entrance). The stereo sound is focused into a location or “hot spot” that is to be found by the viewers. Colin Griffiths, Coleman's installation assistant, supervised the preliminary sound imaging for the SFMOMA installation, with Coleman giving the final tweaks and approval. Every other aspect of installation, down to the projector bulb, is specified by Coleman. Having the artist and his assistant present allowed the installation to be sympathetic to his vision, but the extensive written and visual documentation (appendix C) was indispensable to the installation.

Fig. 6. White chalk word slide, Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. Courtesy of SFMOMA



3.1.1 Context

In the Seeing Time catalog, Robert Riley's essay, “The Social Inscription of the Body(Riley et al. 1999, 15–19) talks about the context of the piece:

During the 1960s and early 1970s American art was transformed by a climate of radical experimentation, influenced by new psychological and social theories, sexual liberation, and political rebellion. Vito Acconci was a pivotal figure in a group of artists whose work in performance, body art, video, sound, and installation during this period redefined the parameters of art.

Pornography in the Classroom belongs to a group of installations Acconci made in the mid-1970s, after he stopped working with performance. Its title refers both to the grounding of Acconci's work in writing, literature, and language and to his subversive use of sexual content to destabilize the viewer and disrupt the repressive social order, for which the classroom functions as a metaphor. Acconci's mutation of the classroom into the gallery—which, for him, operated as a “general structure,”“training room,” or “frame-work for meaning”—suggests the construction of an alternative social structure. [Remainder of text is in appendix A.]

Fig. 7. Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. View shows the “FEAR” slide on the right and a portion of the male and female video show in figure 4. Courtesy of SFMOMA

3.1.2 Artwork Description

The Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services (Kramlich Collection 2000) documentation of Pornography in the Classroom for the Kramlich Collection describes it as follows:

A film projection fills the corner of the room; in the middle of the film projection, a video monitor sits on the floor; on top of the monitor, a slide projector shoots images onto an opposite wall. The film consists of close-ups of women's bodies, naked: the bodies are still images, the camera travels up a body, and one body is replaced by another. The video monitor is, for the most part, blank, gray; every thirty seconds or so, a penis rises up from the bottom of the screen; a male voice speaks: “Help me, I'm drowning. … Land ho!” The slide-projector shoots slogans, machinegun-like, onto the opposite wall:“The Body Politic. … Sociology as a Skin Trade. … Public Issues and Private Troubles. ”

3.1.3 Impressions of Artwork

Upon entering, the viewer can see the components of the piece but not clearly. One must move into the room to comprehend the poles of the work. In a calculated random manner, the enlarged horizontal female images have a proportionately smaller (probably artificial) penis appear to rise and retreat from their midst. Some of the female images are vaginas. In some sequences, the vagina fills in the corner, with the walls (extending out from the corner) exhibiting the legs on either side of the focal point. The male component is accompanied by a somewhat mocking soundtrack (see above). The male imagery is inside the monitor and is within the space defined by the projected image.

On the wall opposite the male and female video channels, the slide element is projected somewhat larger, or the same size, as the video. The words and phrases are written in different sizes, from image to image, with white chalk on a transparent background or in black chalk on a red background. The words are often hyphenated to achieve the 1:1.2 to 1:1.4 aspect ratios. The words are purposely out of sync with the two video channels.

To some viewers, the deliberate (slow) action of the slide projector is in conflict with the documentation's suggestion that the slogans are shot “machinegun-like” onto the wall. Some of the black-on-red words—Fear, Desire, Envy, Anger, Frustration—are active, direct, and hot, as can be seen in figures 7 and 8. They seem to invoke the spirit of the male image “thrusting,” in a superimposition manner, on the female images. However, the thrusting is quite slow.

The white chalk slogans, as seen in figures 1, 5, and 6—The Eclipse of Reason, At the Edge of History, Human Territories, Identification and Projection, Interaction Ritual, The Language of the Self, Knowledge and Human Interests—are largely cool, introspective, and complex thoughts appearing to meld with the slow horizontal and vertical movements of the female and male components.

3.1.4 Technical Description

Pornography in the Classroom has three visual elements and one audio element. The audio channel accompanies the monitor channel. The two moving-image channels for the Seeing Time exhibition were MPEG-2 video on DVD (use copies). The slide element is a continuous automatic display of 80 (35 mm) color slides in one 80-slide tray on one slide projector. Acconci holds the master copies of the slides, and the Kramlich Collection bought exhibition copies. SFMOMA made several sets of use copies for the Seeing Time exhibition.

Fig. 8. Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom. Slide channel showing a word slide made from an original using black chalk on a red background and the three-tube RGB CRT video projector for the projected video channel. Courtesy of SFMOMA

In 1998, the Barbara Gladstone Gallery installation used looped VHS versions (working copies) of the Betacam SP master copies. The Gladstone Gallery monitor video was 21 minutes, 58 seconds long. On the VHS tape, the segment was repeated 2.5 times, for a total of approximately 55 minutes of monitor channel video. The projection channel was 35 minutes, 28 seconds when created; in VHS it was looped 1 2/3 times for 59 minutes of projection channel video. The 1998 VHS version would have lower image quality than either the Betacam SP (master) or DVD use copy seen at the Seeing Time Exhibition.

For the SFMOMA installation, the Betacam SP master copies were reformatted into exhibition copies using analog-to-digital capture technology and then digitally authored to DVD disk. DVD uses MPEG-2 (Motion Picture Expert Group—compression level 2) lossy compression. Lossy means that compromises (loss of images or detail) were made to achieve higher compression. In practice, when MPEG-2 compression is done competently (as it was for this exhibition), a DVD of Betacam SP should have image quality equal to, or better than, VHS (400–525 interlaced lines) viewed on standard museum (good-quality Sony) monitors.

3.1.5 Projected Video Channel

The projected channel is a continuously panned montage of 66 nude-female stills taken from pornography magazines, with no soundtrack. No scratches, frame jitter, splices, or uneven chemical processing are evident in the video images.

The projected image at the SFMOMA installation started as a rectangle (leaving the projector), but when it was projected into the corner, it was distorted to a six-sided polygon. According to the installation drawing and text for the drawing (appendix A, fig. A–1), the projected video should be keystoned because it is being projected from above into the corner. In addition, it seems to be partially projected onto the floor. Acconci (Acconci 2001) confirmed that the drawing was made correctly. The SFMOMA projected image was altered to make it more recognizable. The male video channel was meant to be positioned in the locus of the female space.

Curators have suggested that the work's current female nude images were taken from pornography magazines and are not the original images used in 1975, although similar to them. This series of projected images has probably been reshot on Betacam SP video, using similar magazine photographs. It is unclear who might have done the remake of this channel, or if this form of recreation took place. We do know that the Betacam SP version is now the master copy.

3.1.6 Monitor Video Channel

If 1975-era video for the monitor channel did (does) exist, it was remastered to Betacam SP in 1998. It would have been open reel 1/2 in. video tape. The images may have been remade in 1998 on Betacam SP.

Acconci was using video in other works from this period (see below) and a video monitor would have been an easy presentation medium. The image on the monitor channel is overexposed, high-contrast, and of very poor quality. The image is a white penis on a dark background, but that is not clear to the viewer because it is strongly overexposed, with very high contrast limiting detail in the light areas. The high-contrast characteristic of the monitor channel video could be the result of copying. The overexposure could have been created intentionally by intentionally oversaturating the video. Some of the 1975-era video cameras had a form of automatic exposure control, but overexposure and image saturation were very possible to achieve.

3.1.7 Video Channel Reformatting/ Remastering/Re-creation Discussion

The probable reason for reformatting, remastering, or recreation of the projection and monitor channels is that the film/video was damaged with time or use. It would have had scratches and splices, with damaged sprocket holes from the cheap projectors used with Super-8 film. The physical state of the film alone would have required a remastering. The 23-year-old color film would also have had color dye shift (dark fading) and light fading from use that would have required film restoration work of some sort. Color dye shift is commonly seen in color film from this era (Wilhelm and Brower 1993). The film was probably in such bad condition that actual recreation was more economically realistic than remastering, and the work is conceptual rather than literal. Because the artist is in control of this work, its recreation is a reasonable decision. The ethics would be different if Acconci's “archives,” estate, or gallery —not Acconci himself—decided to remake the work.

Betacam SP, dating to 1986, is excellent analog video. It has excellent image resolution, contrast, and tonal range for video, but video is different from film. Video is generally higher contrast, with compressed tonal range and a lower gamut of colors. If the film was remastered to video, the Betacam SP quality would have been better than the film, so, excluding damage, the generational loss would have been immaterial. If the work was recreated directly onto Betacam SP, the video would have been of higher quality than the original film. However, considering that the image was distorted by projection into a corner, the differences would have been between obvious scan lines for the video and frame jitter, scratches, and uneven processing for the film, rather than the quality of the image source.

In 1975, film projections would probably have used looped cassette film projectors. They would have had frame jitter from sprocket hole degradation and sounds of film rustling, sprocket claw action, and the projector motor. This noise was not simulated in the 1998 or 1999–2000 installations. There is no evidence that lack of film projection sounds was an active choice, but if recorded projection noise had been present, some viewers would have found the experience confusing and irritating.

The fact that Pornography in the Classroom is a conceptual work suggests that its format or state has lower significance than other factors such as presentation, viewability, and ease of installation. This likeli-hood is especially cogent if the artist approved, and was part of, the process. Acconci (Acconci 2001) was asked if he omitted the sound intentionally, and he stated he hadn't considered the inclusion but was thinking about it now.

3.1.8 Slide Element

The 35 mm slide element was projected into a room corner, which folded the common aspect ratio of a slide from its 1:1.5 geometry to 1:1.3. In 1975, the slide projector was sitting on either a monitor or a film projection cabinet and projected across the room. At SFMOMA, the slide projector was sitting on the monitor, and the image was projected onto the corner opposite the video elements.

The slides are duplicates of the originals, but we do not know if they are copies of faded or unfaded slides. Color slides will color shift from use (see below). Because these slides have so few colors and the colors are strong, the slides could withstand considerable dark and light fading without evident change. That is, the originals may have faded, but the change would not be evident to the average viewer who had not seen the 1975 original.

3.1.9 Other Acconci Works

In Zippay (1991), the Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) catalog, all of Acconci's works are on video tape. The works' dates range from 1971 to 1984. Zippay notes that Association Area (1971, B&W, 62 minutes) is an “early performance tape. ” In the catalog entry for The Red Tapes (1976, called the Acconci masterwork), although the title uses the word “tapes,” it is called “one of the major achievements of the video medium. ”There is no mention of remastering or reformatting in the EAI catalog. EAI sells works in four formats—VHS exhibition (made from 3/4 in. dubmaster), 3/4 in. exhibition (made from 3/4 in. dubmaster), 3/4 in. archival (made from 1 in. master), and 1 in. archival (made from 1 in. master) formats— and rents in VHS and 3/4 in., suggesting that video tape was a common format for Acconci in this era.

3.1.10 Preservation of Acconci's Work

This artwork was done in an era when preservation was not a critical component in the creation of artwork. The work is conceptual. The concepts described above are the “heart” of it, not its actual physical presentation. The images appear to be new, but undoubtedly represent a fair copy of the original.

The tapes purchased by the Kramlich Collection were Betacam SP and VHS, both duplicated from the Betacam SP masters. The artist (or gallery) did not stipulate the type or resolution of the video feed, video projector, and video monitor in installation specifications.

The change from film to video is a positive improvement, if one discounts the need to preserve the original format. The difference between the three-tube red-green-blue (RGB) cathode ray tube (CRT) type video projector and film projection is profound. Most three-tube RGB video projectors have discrete large horizontal lines of resolution as opposed to the pixel shapes (usually rectangular) seen with liquid crystal display (LCD) video projectors. This is very different from film, no matter its state of preservation. At its best, film will show its random grain (approximately 5 µm across) when blown up 400 times (8 mm wide image enlarged to 3,048 mm [10 ft.] wide projection) to about 2 mm across. At its worst, film will possess the following faults: (1) stutter due to damaged film sprockets from display in low-cost, 8 mm projectors; (2) scratches from use and handling; (3) splicing with bits of film missing due to breaks from use; (4) color dye loss (dark fading) showing a color shift toward magenta and away from yellow and cyan;and (5) light fading, which is the loss of magenta toward yellow and cyan (Wilhelm and Brower 1993).

The original slides are controlled, in possession of the artist. Acconci approved the creation of use copies of the Kramlich Collection's exhibition copies of the original slides for the Seeing Time exhibition. There is no artist or gallery stipulation about the period of display, or if the slides should be replaced when the dyes are faded, or if additional exhibition copies will be supplied by the artist or his gallery.

The Betacam SP original (master copy) was reformatted to DVD (use copy) for use in the SFMOMA exhibition. There is a dramatic difference between Betacam SP (an industry standard), which is a high-resolution analog video medium, and authored DVD when viewed on high-resolution monitors. But when they are displayed on standard National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) (525 x 340 lines resolution) monitors or projected through NTSC video projectors, the difference will not be profound.

VHS is the lowest-resolution video available. However, some VHS is even worse than others, depending on the VCR heads, interconnects (cables), and the generation of copy (first, second, or fifth copy of a copy).

DVD generally uses the MPEG-2 compression format; 120 minutes of video can be put on a 4.7 gigabyte (GB) DVD disk. High-end digital video (D-1) formats consume 5–10 GB of disc space per minute of video. The mini-DV format consumes about 1 GB of disc space for 4.5 minutes of video. A DVD disc filled with 120 minutes of video will be compressed on the order of 200 times. There was no official report on the degree on compression or the MPEG-2 engine used by SFMOMA's service bureau, but informal discussions revealed that about 10x compression was used. The MPEG-2 compression is lossy type, meaning that some of the image's information is judged to be noncritical so it can be thrown away. The degree of compression is operator selectable, within limits. SFMOMA's DVD use copies of the Betacam SP masters will make continuous display on standard monitors and video projectors a very reasonable proposition. DVD video is not intended to be a preservation tool; the Kramlich Collection's Betacam SP submaster of Acconci's master will be its preservation master.

3.1.11 Summary

Pornography in the Classroom has been remastered and reformatted, and possibly recreated. The work is conceptual, so recreating a faded and damaged work is a reasonable option. Given the state and quality of the new formats, the work will survive much longer in Betacam SP than in Super-8 film. The state of the slide channel is not clear, but it now appears comparable with the video when seen on exhibition at SFMOMA's installation of Seeing Time. The Acconci Studio is maintaining 1998 masters, but it is not clear how it is caring for the original materials.


3.2.1 Context

As with most Coleman works, this piece uses slides for its visual element and a CD-R for the (synchronized) audio channel. While it is difficult to confirm, Riley et al. (1999) posit that Coleman's use of the slides-and-tape format has no aesthetic history before his work. They say the format was intended for use by business and education, not art. Certainly there have been some exquisitely intricate multiple-projector (business) slide shows that have the look of continuous motion in some passages and have images dissolving into one another. Riley et al. (1999) trace Coleman's use of the format back to the 1970s while Coleman was working in Milan.

Coleman has raised this simple system to a precise presentation that envelops the viewer. Much of the work's precision is hidden. In fact, entering into the work adjacent to the slide projectors disorients the viewer somewhat, eschewing precision. Coleman does not use all the special effects possible with the system; rather he uses precise scripting and repeatability to ensure quality of presentation when he or his assistant cannot be available to manage the project day to day.

3.2.2 Artwork Description

The catalog entry in Seeing Time describes Coleman's approach as formalist. Cooke (1995) notes that Coleman's central issues are the representation of what is seen and the effect of seeing it. He does not wish to inform us of what we should be seeing. In our conversations at TechArchaeology with Coleman, he was quite reluctant to talk about the “heart” of his work. He prefers that each viewer bring his or her own experiences to the work rather than providing his own notions of how his work should be viewed.

The central concern of James Coleman's work is, as Dot Tuer [1996] has observed, to cast the act of seeing into question. For Coleman, the visual image operates not as part of a narrative logic, but as a means to destabilize the viewer's visual cognition. In this sense, his work can be termed structuralist. Since the early 1970s while based in Milan, he has used the low-key, low-technology medium of slide-tape to construct his inquiry, exploiting its didactic qualities. Unlike film or video, slide-tape, devised for commercial office presentations and educational lectures, has no previous aesthetic history. Coleman uses the physical and perceptual gap between the still slide image and its accompanying sound track, and between one slide and the next, to underline his refusal of a unified narrative or a holistic meaning.

This disjuncture is echoed in the title of INITIALS whose divisions between letters echo the space between the slides within the sequence. INITIALS is part of a trilogy that also includes Background (l992–93) and Lapsus Exposure (1993). As Lynne Cooke has observed, all three pieces involve a group of figures, apparently preparing for a photo shoot, in taxonomic environments: a paleontology laboratory, a recording studio, and, in INITIALS, a room next to an operating theater in an abandoned tuberculosis hospital outside Dublin, where Coleman lives. Within this local setting, which situates Coleman's inquiry within the context of Irish history and culture, a bare room, piled up with empty hospital beds, begins a fragmented sequence of slowly dissolving, still slide images in which male and female actors dressed in formal eighteenth-century costume and informal twentieth-century clothing adopt a series of theatrical poses.

A disjointed group of narrative texts are read out carefully, sometimes haltingly, by a young girl. The fragments—extracted from Mills and Boon cheap romance novels, television soap operas such as St. Elsewhere, and Irish literature—suggest a realism that disrupts the heavily staged theatricality of the static images. The contrast between the normal speed of the spoken word and the noncinematic speed of the slowly changing images suspends the piece somewhere between film, photography, and theater. The texts include references to Irish history; at one point, the young girl speaks of famine, textile workers, and the depopulation of County Clare as an image of one of the women of the group holding a bolt of fabric appears, spread across a hospital table. The stark hospital room becomes a symbol of absence and loss and, on a more general level, implies a dissection and analysis of the human and, on a more abstract level, the social body.

The repetition of phrases within the sound track echoes Coleman's frequent use in INITIALS of what Rosalind Krauss (1997) has identified as “the double face-out … [mined] from the photonovel, and a major grammatical component of his new ‘medium.’” In photo-novels, dramatic moments are often presented by showing two protagonists together in a single close-up shot, refusing the identification with a single character set up by conventional film narrative. Just as the viewer's gaze is suspended in the gap between the two images of this doubling, the darkened space of Coleman's installations suggests another double meaning, as Tuer explains—that of the fixed, individuated space of the camera obscura, and the collective space of cinema, which creates another split for the viewer, between two spatial models. In positioning the viewer in the gap between two different kinds of visual representation, Coleman, as Tuer describes, “unravels the threads that seamlessly bind perception and consciousness. His work becomes a reflection upon blindness and insight: destabilizing visual cognition to link what and how we see to what we can and cannot know.

3.2.3 Impressions of INITIALS

It is true that the 95 slides are cinematic in tone and style, but they do not have movement. The actors are projecting attitudes or feelings of a specific type. Coleman's insistence on not describing his work when the TechArchaeology group interviewed him suggests he is after a fresh interaction with his viewers. He seeks to evoke feelings and gain reactions. He does not appear to seek to be intellectually understood, and, according to a conversation at the symposium, Coleman wants to interact on an emotional level with his viewers. He desires to capture attention, focus thought, and evoke an unmediated reaction from the viewer.

Upon entering the piece, one encounters darkness and the unmistakable sounds of slide projectors and a muffled sound track (projector sounds dominate). It is interesting to note that some viewers among the TechArchaeology group were turned off by walking into “old technology” using images posed with actors. The snap judgment was that it was commercial, not art.

The sounds of the slide changes became the focus of attention (for some) in the darkened space, but the images and sound pull most viewers into the room. The image is approximately 40 ft. away and reasonably small, covering about 50% of a smooth, featureless 25 x 15 ft. wall. Standing near the light lock, waiting for eyes to adjust, was a common reaction on entering the work. Viewers pick their way through the audience and projector stand. The motivation is to advance into the space for a better view of the image(s) and more direct sound. Room illumination is bounce-back from projected images, light from the operating projectors, and a small light on the stand.

Depending on the number of fellow viewers, one slowly moves into the space. The sweet spot for the sound and images is about 5 ft. ahead of the projectors and about 7 ft. to the left or right, extending forward some 15–20 ft.

The cool, deliberate presentation captures the attention. Fellow viewers and the projectors cause distractions, but the piece still holds one's attention.

3.2.4 Physical Deconstruction of the Work

When the TechArchaeology study group began examining the work with James Coleman, the components of the INITIALS systems were incrementally shut down and the room lights turned on so that we could hear and see each other while interviewing Coleman. Each component of the artwork was peeled away one at a time. The effect was to bring the viewer, bit by bit, back from the state that had been induced by the work. Everyone in the group experienced this effect. Physically deconstructing the work in this manner, which was completely unplanned, revealed the subtle influences of each piece of the cool presentation, slowly moving images, well-recorded spoken soundtrack, and semidarkness.

In contrast to his actors and their attitudes, Coleman is lively and engaged. He is intelligent but not insistent. He has views that will be followed, but he does not dominate.

3.2.5 Technical Description

INITIALS has one visual element and one audio element (channel). The exhibition copy of the soundtrack is on a numbered CD-R. The visual element consists of an exhibition copy of a 95-slide set mounted in WESS mounts with glass faces. Coleman provided two exhibition copy sets of the slides for the SFMOMA exhibition (74 days). Experience has shown that two sets of slides are needed for this length of exhibition time. Steve Dye (2000), head of the Technical Installation staff at SFMOMA (and one of the installers for the German venue of Seeing Time), felt that the change to the second set halfway through the San Francisco venue cured the problem of dust accumulation. In Fading Calculation (sec., it is postulated that the slides would be near their fading limit about halfway through (36 days) the exhibition period. The slides were projected from three stacked projectors in a predefined, synchronized manner. Dye also noted that A. J. Coleman (the artist's son) made a similar change halfway through the exhibition at the German venue. The slide-cuing process uses a Procall program on an AVL Dove X-2 projector sequencer through Kodak Ekta-graphic projectors with Schneider lenses, mounted on a three-tier clear acrylic stand at a specific location in the room.

When questioned intensively, Coleman said he “guessed” that 30% change was the standard for his “required” replacement of the slides. The validity of this criterion is examined below in Color Fading in Slides (sec. The numbered WESS slide mounts can be replaced by new mounts (included in the package) but not with other slide mount types or those without glass covers. The flat field created by the glass covers is essential for the Schneider flat field lenses.

The slides must be kept out of the exhibition space until after construction and for more than six hours after final vacuum cleaning. Coleman's son, A. J. Coleman (2001), stressed that cleaning the room is critical. Unfortunately, the constant movement of air through the projector introduces a static environment, resulting in the collection of ambient room dust on the slides and mounts.

A light and sound safe—one right-angle corner entrance—keeps the room dark. The stereo sound is focused into hot spots to be “found” by the viewers. The documentation describes how the four audio channels are devolved from the two stereo channels, but tweaking is left to Coleman or his assistant. Coleman supervised sound imaging for Seeing Time at SFMOMA. Coleman and his assistants believe it takes about four to five days to get the final configuration working properly. Coleman has designated assistants who can substitute for him, but he prefers to do the final configuration and inspection.

Every aspect of display is specified, down to the projector bulb. Different bulbs have different rates of filament heat-up to full illumination. The shorter-life bulbs (EXR, 30-hour) go to maximum full illumination at a slight faster rate, yielding a crisper rate of display. The 70-hour bulb (FHS) had a noticeable lull in the filament heat-up, and thus in display rate. Coleman found the FHS bulbs to be unacceptable.

3.2.6 Documentation and Installation Drawings

The documentation and drawings define most aspects of the presentation (appendix C, figs. C–1 through C–4). However, some things are left for Coleman or his assistant to finalize after installation and before presentation. The actual size of the projected slide image is not defined in the installation drawing but left for on-site judgment. Also left out of the installation guidelines and drawing are the actual room light levels, light reflected back from the screen, color calibration using a test slide, and sound levels in the zone chosen as the hot spot by the artist or his surrogate during installation.

The room size for the Seeing Time exhibition at SFMOMA was “longer and just a bit wider than desirable,” according to A. J. Coleman. A room 30 ft. long is too small and one 65 ft. long is too large. The SFMOMA space was approximately 25 x 45 ft., the largest single room in Seeing Time. Thus, the speakers and acoustic panels needed careful placement and tweaking to get the desired 0.7–1.3-second reverberation time. Most rooms require the use of acoustic panels to slow or deaden the sound. The light and sound lock (a 90° corner with sound-absorbing materials) was one of the designs on the installation drawing, but the neck may not have been long enough (by the author's judgment).

All these circumstances confirm that, beyond Coleman's thorough specifications and precise drawings, small differences, compromises, practical needs of a temporary installation, or well-intentioned substitutions can alter the presentation so that it needs to be refined by someone who knows how the piece should look and feel.

3.2.7 Opposing View on Spillover Sound

The Seeing Time exhibition was large and was set in a space that was possibly a little too small but still quite extensive. More sound traps could have been used, but then the exhibition would have had a confined feeling rather than the flow that existed.

Other works in the exhibition that did not specify light and sound locks or restricted sound intrusion from other works were arranged so that one could hear or see one artist's (or a series of artists') works from the vantage of another's. At TechArchaeology, it was learned that some of the artists found this situation disconcerting, but acceptable. Dara Birnbaum revealed that she approved of the overlap of other artworks' visuals and sounds with hers. It extended the experience of “passage” that she creates with her works. Gary Hill, on the other hand, was annoyed with the cross-talk, noting that there was an unexpected sound overlap. In INITIALS there was some external noise leakage, but it was a minor effect compared to other works in the exhibition.

3.2.8 Preservation of Coleman's Works

James Coleman wants his works to be stable through time. He has planned for their longevity by creating an off-site archive and making provisions for his heirs to follow plans developed over his lifetime. The Visual Element: Slides

The slides used in Seeing Time are exhibition copies of originals (master copies) held by Coleman, or his assignees, in a recognized storage vault. When some of the slides in an exhibition set have faded, all the slides must be replaced. An exhibition running over a month, and under three months, needs a second set of exhibition slides. The slides are in numbered WESS flat-field mounts with optional integrated cover glass. An experienced technician must do slide mount substitution from extra mounts included with the work for emergency mount problems only. Required Slide Replacement.

Once a single slide in the set shows unacceptable fading, the full set must be replaced, usually with a second exhibition set held in reserve.

One problem with the slide preservation protocol is the turnaround time for the new exhibition copies. A specific slide reproduction company has been designated, but it is allowed six months to provide replacement slides. The fee for reproduction slides is at cost. Storage of duplicate sets in a subzero, stand-up, frost-free freezer would go a long way toward shortening the turnaround time. At 0°F, fading of slides slows to about –3,000x (less) than at room temperature. One to five years of storage at these conditions would produce insignificant color changes. Color Fading in Slides.

The exact degree of fading and method of determining fading was not prescribed at the time of the symposium, but Coleman “guessed” that 30% change could be the threshold. The degree of change is similar to that used by Wilhelm in Wilhelm and Brower (1993) for “commercial and amateur uses” but higher than for “critical or museum” applications. In Wilhelm and Brower (1993), Wilhelm uses 20–35% change (for commercial use) in density of projected slides (see below) as the threshold for unacceptable change. No method of measurement was mentioned or implied by Coleman, but densitometry was assumed (see appendix E). The discussion around his statement suggested he was after a tolerant limit. Not all his slides are exhibited for the same duration; some are shown for a few seconds, while others are cross-dissolved over 15–30 seconds in each cycle with a static duration up to 30 seconds. The slides will fade at different rates.

Coleman will probably make changes in his “temporary” protocol because he recognized the problems and was eager to gather information so he could evolve his slide renewal protocols. Prior to January 2000, it was left to the owner to determine when it was time to replace damaged slides, although Coleman would recommend two sets for a 60–90-day exhibition period. Coleman insists that if a set of slides shows fading, he will not sanction the work.

When asked, Coleman said he did not want a color target projected in each carousel that could be monitored or checked with a colorimeter, densitometer, or spectrophotometer. The target would clearly disrupt the flow of the images. Upon reflection, it seemed that a target incorporated into a blank slide (with black, not metal, opaque backing) that was exposed at any point in the presentation for an average time would provide a measurement tool for exhibition technicians and the Coleman Studio. The color target would get light from the bulb, but the black paper backing would absorb the light, and no light would reach the screen. Periodic color measurement of the target would allow the accumulation of information on the fading characteristics of a specific artwork's exhibition set. In Wilhelm and Brower (1993), the best performing film when projected is listed as Fuji duplicating slide (and armature) with the longest duration (5 hours, 20 minutes), using early 1990s film formulations. Today's and tomorrow's slide films may (probably will) have different exhibition durations. A series of bench tests with color targets—IT 8.7/2 (reflective); IT 8.7/1 (trans-parency)—using Coleman's film, processed by his service bureau, would go a long way toward making his days-on-exhibition number firmer. Fading Calculation.

Modern slide films have a relatively short life when projected. The very popular Fujichrome Velvia has a display life of 4 hours, 45 minutes. Other Fujichrome duplicating (and amateur) films have a life of 5 hours, 20 minutes (best of the group). Kodak Ektachrome amateur and professional films have a projection life of 2 hours, 40 minutes when exposed in standard Ektagraphic projectors using a standard EXR bulb (300W, rated 30 hours), for multiple 30-second exposures, at the illumination level of 1 Mlux, on the film plane (Wilhelm and Brower 1993). Fading was judged to be past acceptable when the individual dyes, with a density between 0.6 and 1.0, had faded: cyan = 25%; magenta = 20%; yellow = 35% (Wilhelm and Brower 1993, 224).

Making several assumptions, each of the 95 slides in the exhibition would be exposed about 200 times in a 10-hour day. If each exposure were five seconds, each slide would have an average exposure of 1,000 seconds per day. Assuming the best film and the most lenient standard (5 hours, 20 minutes), at the same illumination level (EXR bulb), the slides would reach the threshold of failure in 36 days. Common exhibition periods are 50–80 days; the SFMOMA venue of Seeing Time had about 74 days of being open to the public. Slide Projection Equipment.

The Kodak Ektagraphic III E (manual focus) slide projectors, or the backup Kodak 2050 carousel projectors (only available in Europe), are standards. They allow external control of the projector with an AVL Dove X-2 slide controller. In time they will have to be replaced by newer units. Although the Dove X-2 is a standard “rental unit,” it will fall out of common use. Coleman said he would accept slide projector replacements that register the slides in plane, with internal light condensers and color corrected and flat-field lenses (the Schneider Vario-Cinelux 85–210 mm f3.9 zoom lens). However, a substitute for the AVL Dove X-2 controller would not be sanctioned yet.

As of the SFMOMA installation, the one piece of equipment that Coleman will not allow a substitution for is the AVL Dove X-2 slide controller. An Internet search yielded about 12 websites where the AVL Dove X-2 can be rented or purchased. One website rented vintage equipment, but none of it was older slide projector controllers. In time, the Dove X-2 will become obsolete. Its replacement's specification and backwards compatibility cannot be known at this writing. The Dove X-2 specifications are as follows:

AVL Dove X-2 computerized playback module for Procall programs

Slide projector dissolve playback unit for all Procall programs. Accepts cues from either RCA or XLR jacks on front panel; links additional Doves together for multisided projector capability. Industry-standard workhorse in sturdy metal case for dependability and travel. Each Dove X-2 controls three slide projectors and three auxiliaries. Accepts EC-2 compatible remote for live dissolve control. User-selectable 110 or 220V. Available in Kodak 7-pin or SAV 12-pin plug configurations (www.icia.org/avl/dissolve.htm).

  • Interprets special effects programmed on the AVL Genesis system
  • Control over duration, bulb-on rate, dissolve ramps, overlap, etc.
  • Operates up to three projectors on dissolve, plus two auxiliary channels
  • Plays back “Protocol X” and all previous Protocol versions
  • Posi-trak playback
  • Allows independent projector control
  • Reset switch “homes” projectors
  • Convenient AC power sockets
  • XLR sync link jacks
  • Equipped to interpret AVL Show Pro commands and all previous versions of the AVL software (www.rentcom.com/catalog/ Slide_Projector_Control.html)

When today's Dove X-2 controllers fail, a newer system will have to be created to run the surviving Ektagraphic projectors or their replacements. It is possible that a system can be handcrafted from computers and output systems of that era. The Dove X-2 technology seems to be based on circuit boards. With reasonable care and continued moderate use, the equipment should last for 15–20 years from date of manufacture. Capacitors are generally the first electronic component to break down on circuit boards. However, any highly used component can fail in normal use, especially if it heat-cycles frequently in use. Replacement for Slide Projection.

If one wanted to use today's technology to replace the slide projectors and AVL Dove X-2 controller, a good replacement could not be easily achieved for control-ling slide projectors. Pip Laurenson of the Tate (2001) has found that the features of the AVL Dove X-2 could not be replaced. However, slides can be converted to digital files and projected using other technologies. Even today's highest-resolution LCD projector technology (LaserGraphics LG2001; HDTV, 16:9, 1,920 x 1,080 interlaced; or stills at QXGA: 2,048 x 1,536; at 2,000 lumina) cannot match the resolution of slides (approximately 6,000 x 4,000 pixels), but this situation will change.

Slides can be scanned at high resolution, placed in the Microsoft PowerPoint format—which has individual time duration settings for each slide with transition, dissolve, and wipes options—and projected with a video projector. The problem is that the majority of today's video projectors have a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 S-XGA, 1,024 x 786 XGA, or 1,365 x 768 for 1,080 interlaced 16:9 HDTV video format. In early 2001 LaserGraphics introduced the LG2001, which, using the new QXGA computer video format, yields 2,048 x 1,536 resolution at 2,000 lumina. In time, the resolution of video projectors will improve, making video projection at high resolution possible. At this point, Coleman will have to determine if the other limiting factor (beyond resolution), the filament heat-up rate, can be substituted for using a type of “transition, dissolve, or wipe” in PowerPoint presentation, for transitions between slides.

A slide can be scanned at greater resolution than film, with significantly more color information than just resolution. A slide scanned at 4,000 ppi has a pixel width of 6.4 μm; it yields a 100-MB file at an image size of 5,520 x 3,720 pixels depending on the opening in the slide mount. A slide scanned at 8,000 ppi has a pixel width of 3.2 μm; it yields a file size of 250 MB at an image size of 11,800 x 7,880. Color slide film grain is on the order of 2 to 7 μm. Each grain has one level of color, as either a cyan, magenta, or yellow film grain with its size somewhat related to saturation of color. However, film cannot yield the same data for an individual film grain that can be gathered digitally about each pixel. To yield the RGB data, a minimum of three individual cyan, magenta, and yellow film grains would have to be viewed together. This process creates a “three-color grain,” with a size of 6–21 μm. This “three-color-grain” element only holds 4 bits of color data, at best. Each 3.2–6.4 μm pixel of digitally captured data commonly holds 24 bits of color data (16.7 M colors). And the 24-bit data is often down-sampled from capture at 36, 42, or 48 bits. At 48-bit color, each pixel's R, G, and B elements have 16-bit color depth, with 65,536 levels of the specific color. The full 48-bit RGB color gamut has 4.3 billion colors. Note that if digital images are not captured and manipulated properly, they can be harsh and compressed and possess soft focus.

Digital images can be output to 35 mm slides using film recorder technology. LaserGraphics has a CRT device (a very small monitor in the unit) called the LFR Mark III digital film recorder that has 8,000 lines of resolution. The Kodak LVT film recorder uses diode technology to render each pixel individually. At present, the resolution seems to be limited to 3,048 pixels per inch. The Problem in 2001.

For display slides using today's video projectors, the image would be down-sampled to the resolution of the digital (LCD) projector. Even though an image is 5,432 x 3,590, it is down-sampled to 1,024 x 768 pixels, the resolution of the projector, a decrease of about 5 times. This is well below the resolution of slides. In addition, the projected video image will have visible scan lines, which is very different from the smooth gradation color in film, albeit mottled by grain. As video projection technology evolves, it will catch up with projected slide resolution. Audio Channel

The audio soundtrack is on CD-R. CD-Rs have a shorter life (2 to 20 years, depending on brand) than pressed CDs (5 to 50 years, depending on brand), because the pits are created by changing a dye from one state to another rather than forming a physical pit. Pressed CDs have physical pits. The CD-R dyes can revert to a less distinct state well before interlayer corrosion creates significant errors in a pressed CD, making the CD-R unusable before the pressed CD. Scratches to the outer surface of the data side can render both CD formats unusable equally quickly. All the CD formats have built-in error correction (appendix D). Error correction makes sure that slightly corrupted data is output with little or no error, a must for all CDs, which are very prone to errors in manufacture and playback, especially as the data surface becomes scratched with age and use. Room Equalization.

Coleman specifies the use of a specific CD player (Tascam CD 301, or equivalent), a stereo (two-channel) amplifier with stereo equalization, and an additional stereo equalizer. An audio equalizer adjusts specific parts (bands) of the audio spectrum (20–20,000 Hz). The least complex equalizer has three bands: bass, midrange, and treble. A more complex graphic equalizer has 12 bands (one common band allocation has band centers at 20, 50, 90, 160, 300, 500, 900, 1600, 3000, 5000, 9000, and 16,000 Hz). The goal of using an equalizer is to render recorded sound as originally made, in rooms of different sizes and sound-absorbing surfaces. Equalizers can also be used to emphasize specific sounds in specific channels. Based on the installation drawing specifications (fig. C–4, appendix C), the equalizer was used for two channels (stereo), and speakers one and two could be differentiated from speakers 3 and 4. See the first drawing to locate the various speakers.

3.2.9 Summary

James Coleman is committed to preservation. He is willing to allow equipment and format substitutions if they do not degrade the look and feel of his work. He holds positions based on today's technology, but he knows technology will evolve and said at TechArchaeology that he will evolve with technological changes. He and his heirs do reserve the right to specify changes and will not leave this responsibility up to curators, installers, or conservators.



Vito Acconci is more interested in the concepts of his work and less interested in maintaining original media format or exhibition equipment.

Acconci's work has been altered from the original format. While questions exist about that format, the monitor channel was on video and the projection channel was on Super 8mm film in 1975. Nothing is known about the state of the original slides.

The master copies of the two video channels for Acconci's Pornography in the Classroom are on Betacam SP analog videotape. For the Seeing Time exhibition, the exhibition format was DVD using MPEG-2 compression. The Betacam SP master copies are held by Acconci. The Kramlich Collection holds Betacam SP submasters.

Exhibition copies of the 80 slides are held by the Kramlich Collection. Use copies were made for the Seeing Time exhibition from the exhibition copies. There are no limits to their use.

Acconci is maintaining his own archives.


James Coleman is very interested in maintaining the original format of his work: 35 mm color slides and analog audio on CD-R.

Most aspects of the work and its display are specified by installation instructions supplied by Coleman.

The Coleman Archives maintains the master copies of INITIALS and all other Coleman works.

If any one of the exhibition slides is faded, the entire set is not sanctioned for exhibition. The specific degree of fading has not been specified, but 30% density loss is a temporary working limit.

Based on several assumptions, some of the slides will be faded past the “temporary”color-change limit midway through a normal exhibition period.

Coleman provided two exhibition copies for the SFMOMA venue of the Seeing Time exhibition. The slides were changed to the second copy halfway through the 74-day exhibition period.

Coleman provides extensive installation documentation, and he wants to be present for the final stages of installation. In some instances, he will allow an approved assistant to supervise the final stages, rather than himself.

Coleman wishes to maintain the current media formats, but acknowledges that he may change his mind in the future. Coleman formerly used 1/4 in. audiotape, and later 4 mm cassette tape, for the sound track, but has switched to CD-R.

The Coleman Studio Archive is off-site from the studio and is closely monitored by Coleman.


1. Elements are the discrete visual or audio components in a work, such as slide, video, and Web components.

2. Channels refer to electrical signals in an artwork— video signals, or feeds, or audio signals sent to the speakers.

3. Installation art was not made in multiples prior to the late 1980s (approximately 1987). Artists typically made one-of-a-kind works, and a work was sold only once. The artist could not show the work after it had been sold without the permission of the owner. In the case of Pornography in the Classroom, Acconci, not his gallery, holds the masters; another edition will not be made from them.




Quoted from Kramlich Collection (2000) registration materials assembled by the Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services:

Monitor image:

  • VHS tape, NTSC format with sound, total 60 minutes.
  • The piece is comprised of a sequence of 29 spoken phrases (parallel to the appearing and vanishing image). Two phrases are repeated in irregular intervals.
  • Running time: 21 minutes, 58 seconds (Betacam SP) on the VHS tape, it is 21/2 times looped.

Projected images:

  • VHS tape, NTSC format, no sound, total 61 minutes, 38 seconds.
  • The piece is comprised of a sequence of 66 different views (camera moving over photographs of female bodies).
  • Running time: 35 minutes, 28 seconds (Betacam SP) on the VHS tape, it is 12/3 times looped.

Pornography in the Classroom, 1975 (VAT79), includes:

  • 1 Kodak Ektagraphic slide projector with a variable timer
  • 80 35 mm slides in carousel (slides are labeled and numbered)
  • 2 VHS video tapes (one for monitor, one for wall projection)
  • Installation diagram from Vito Acconci certificate issued by Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Equipment needed:

  • 1 video projector with ceiling mount
  • 1 monitor
  • Various cables required for setup
  • 2 auto-repeat VCR players



Seeing Time catalog entry for Vito Acconci, Pornography in the Classroom(Riley et al. 1999, 144–45).

During the 1960s and early 1970s American art was transformed by a climate of radical experimentation, influenced by new psychological and social theories, sexual liberation, and political rebellion. Vito Acconci was a pivotal figure in a group of artists whose work in performance, body art, video, sound, and installation during this period redefined the parameters of art.

Pornography in the Classroom belongs to a group of installations Acconci made in the mid-1970s, after he stopped working with performance. Its title refers both to the grounding of Acconci's work in writing, literature, and language and to his subversive use of sexual content to destabilize the viewer and disrupt the repressive social order, for which the classroom functions as a metaphor. Acconci's mutation of the classroom into the gallery—which, for him, operated as a “general structure,” “training room,” or “frame-work for meaning”—suggests the construction of an alternative social structure.

Fig. A-1. Vito Acconci Studio drawing showing basic installation of Pornography in the Classroom (not to scale)

Language, in spoken and written form, is inserted into the gallery “framework” as a parody of the ordering system. Eighty slides are projected into one corner of the darkened gallery, showing a blackboard on which titles of books appear one after the other, in alphabetical order, written in white chalk capital letters. The books cover topics that were of deep importance to Acconci's thinking and to the counter cultural climate of the 1970s: psychology and social science (Transcultural Psychiatry, Sociology as a Skin Trade, Identification and Projection), philosophy (The Dialectical Imagination, The Negativity of Reality), radical politics (A Manual for Direct Action, Society Against the State), and linguistics (Language as a Symbolic Action, The Sociology of Mass Communication). These titles represent a body of thinking about the redefinition of the self and society. Their collective presence, a kind of alternative syllabus for the classroom, reflects Acconci's deep interest in semiotics and the role of language in the production of meaning.

Inserted after every nine titles are single words in red, expressing strong emotions—fear, desire, frustration, envy, anger, hate, detachment, will—all indirect subjects of many of the book titles. Projected in the opposite corner of the room are large color close-up images of naked women's bodies, resembling stills from a pornographic movie, which are arguably the focus of the conflicted emotions expressed in red on the opposite wall. In front of the projected images, a small monitor on the floor displays an erect penis in black-and-white, which appears every thirty seconds, rising vertically toward the image, as Acconci's voice shouts,“Help me, I'm drowning. Land ho!”

The conflicted emotions expressed by the words in red, the comical presentation of the small male organ encountering the large erotic image, and the ambiguous fear and pleasure in Acconci's sensation of drowning in the erotic, maternal body, all suggest a sense of emotional and sexual confusion and inadequacy before the female. Acconci's relationships with women, and his often-disturbing feelings about intimate emotional and sexual issues, became subject matter for his work. The projection of his inner anxieties outward became a strategy for defining the self, using the personal for impersonal ends. The juxtaposition of sexual space with a space of learning also suggests a blurring of the boundary between public and private (domestic, intimate, erotic) space, a theme that many artists explored during this period.(Acconci's provocative performance Seedbed [1972] became a land-mark of this genre.) The late 1960s saw a reform of censorship laws, which brought pornographic film into the open for the first time. Acconci's reference to pornography reflects both the importance of sexual freedom in 1970s counter-culture and his interest in the increasing power of the media, of which pornography was rapidly becoming a part, in shaping American identity.

On a more abstract level, the symmetry of the piece underlines Acconci's analogy between the body and a word system. The spatial split between the body and language reflects the underlying semiotic nature of much body art. The gallery space was regarded as a perceptual field, onto which, as Kate Linker has observed, the human subject was mapped in space and time! Within this structure Acconci reveals the self to be fragmented, split, divided. Pornography in the Classroom epitomizes the profound transition in American culture that took place in the 1960s and early 1970s, from the coherent unity of the heroic modernist “I” to the decentered, fragmented, postmodern self.

Fig. C-1. Installation drawing of the floor plan for the full room of James Coleman's INITIALS. Drawing by Coleman Studio



Quoted from Kramlich Collection (2000) registration materials assembled by the Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services. The following written documentation was supplied by the James Coleman Studio. A random section was removed at the request of the studio so as not to publish the complete text of the artwork's documentation.


  • Units x 3 Kodak Ektagraphic III E (manual focus) or Kodak 2050 carousel projectors
  • Units x 3 Schneider Vario-Cinelux 85– 210mm f3.9 zoom lenses
  • Units x 3 Kodak covered slide trays (80 slides each)
  • Units x 1 Buhl stacker-stand for Ektagraphic III—3 tier; no. 577–33 (or for Kodak 2050 projectors as required)
  • Units x 1 AVL Dove X2 (no alternative possible)
  • Units x 1 Tascam CD 301 player unit, or equivalent CD player
  • Units x 1 amplifier (stereo) with stereo equalizer system
  • Units x 1 stereo equalizer unit
  • Units x 4 high-quality speakers (excluding optional fifth speaker)

Fig. C-2. Installation drawing detailing various elevations of Coleman's INITIALS. Drawing by Coleman Studio.

Fig. C-3. Installation drawing showing pedestal design for Coleman's INITIALS. Drawing by Coleman Studio

Also required: Cables for equipment installation relative to equipment deployment to include an AC power bar with surge protector

Projectors are placed on a Plexiglas pedestal specifically designed for installation and exhibition space (see appendix A architectural drawings).



The work is installed in a space (blackout) specified in the drawings to accompany these notes. Installation of the equipment and the alignment of the projectors is carried out by an experienced, professional AV technician. Due to the fragility of the slides and software, only experienced technicians must install the work.

Consult the architectural room plan, which includes detailed technical instructions for installation.

Under no circumstances should slide material be brought into the space before the technical installation is completed.

1.2.2 PRIOR TO INSTALLATION Equipment Check

Check that:

  • equipment is fully functional
  • Tascam CD-301 is equipped with remote control, which controls the repeat function. The CD player must have a repeat mode
  • sufficient replacement projector lightbulbs are available
  • sufficient fuses for all equipment are available
  • equipment is provided with the correct cable connections
  • connecting cables from Dove X2 to projectors have correct connectors/adapters
  • all equipment functions correctly from CD program using CD and empty carousel slide-trays Room Check

Note: Check that there are no light leaks through cracks or openings in the ceiling or walls. Check that all construction and preparatory work in exhibition space is complete, i.e., (1) cable-laying, (2) loud-speaker installation, (3) acoustic insulation, (4) carpet-laying, (5) painting. Check that space is thoroughly vacuum-cleaned after construction work is completed.

Fig. C-4. Specifications for Coleman's INITIALS. Drawing by Coleman Studio

Note: After vacuum cleaning, a minimum time of six hours has to be allowed for dust to settle before the installation of slide projectors and equipment may begin.


[The text from the following sections was omitted at Coleman Studio's request.]

  • Projector/AVL X2 Installation
  • Acoustic Installation
  • Commencement of Projection
  • Slide Maintenance

Condensation: The exhibition space should be kept at a constant temperature of not less than approx. 20º Celsius to avoid condensation during projection. Condensation can be very damaging to the images.

Dust: Dust levels must be kept to a minimum in the exhibition space. The images must be periodically checked for dust and dirt.

When slides have to be cleaned, this work must be undertaken only by a professional slide-lab technician. The laboratory will be equipped with the adequate facilities, i.e., anti-static air and brush-cleaning.

All images are mounted in WESS mounts, a number of spare mounts are included. It is important that the technician carefully removes one slide only at a time of cleaning and replaces it in the cleaned WESS mount prior to opening a second image. This is necessary to avoid any risk of slides being replaced in incorrect mounts.

After cleaning the slide and slide mount, the technician must be careful not to reverse the slide.

All slides are coded and must be replaced in the exact slide with tray number. Any mistake will destroy the sequence of images to audio-synchronization and the integrity of the presentation of the work.

After extended projection hours, the color of images will depreciate and eventually fade. At this point the entire set of images (trays A, B, and C) must be replaced. It is not possible to replace only the faded images.

New complete copies and duplicates of the work may be acquired through Art Productions. Please allow six months for reproduction when you order. Please quote the confidential ordering number supplied in the acquisition contract.



Copyright © 1995 Gordon Rudd at www.cloversystems.com/verisnot.htm

1.1 Cross Interleave Reed-Solomon Code (Rudd 1995)

All CDs incorporate an error detection and correction scheme known as Cross Interleave Reed-Solomon Code (CIRC). It would be impossible to make a usable CD without this error correction, since many errors are generated playing even the best discs under ideal conditions. CIRC is a powerful error detection code that can detect and completely correct all errors on a reasonably good disc. It relies on two principles for its operation. One is redun-dancy. Extra parity bits are added to the data stream to facilitate error detection and correction. These extra bits reduce the available capacity of the CD by about 25%.

The other principle is interleaving. The data is not recorded on the disc in its natural order as it would be on tape or magnetic disk. The data are organized into blocks of 24 bytes (called “symbols” in CIRC terminology). These are the blocks referred to in the Block Error Rule measure. Four parity bytes are added to each block of 24 symbols (bytes), making the block 32 bytes long. The data symbols belonging to one block are then distributed over a fairly large area of the disc by “interleaving” them with symbols from other data blocks. The 24 symbols of one data block end up distributed over 109 data blocks. The advantage of this technique is that physical defects on the disc do not eliminate complete data blocks, but instead, parts of many blocks. These partially bad blocks can then be reconstructed using the parity information.

CIRC error correction is done in two stages referred to as C1 and C2, with deinterleaving of the data taking place between the stages. The C1 stage is used to recover from random errors caused by noise in the signal; the C2 stage is used to recover from larger errors caused by physical defects such as scratches and dirt. The error correction chip typically can correct two bad symbols per block in the first stage, and two bad symbols per block in the second stage. Some chips can correct four bad symbols in the second stage.

1.2 Layered Error Detection Code and Error Correction Code

CD-ROMs include an extra layer of error detection and correction, usually called Layered Error Detection Code and Error Correction Code (for brevity's sake, typically referred to as Layered ECC), that works similarly to CIRC by adding parity information to each data block. The extra error correction capability can correct errors that are not correctable by the CIRC because it adds additional parity bytes and additional scrambling of the data.



There are two basic methods of measuring film color, densitometry and colorimetry (see below). The traditional method for measuring film is densitometry, a photographic technology developed in the era of black-and-white film and prints. Densitometry is more sensitive to changes in darks than in lights. It is not as sensitive as the human eye (Popson 1989).

When densitometry is applied to color, filters are incrementally placed over the light sources, and the three resulting values are run through an equation to yield the single number measurement. Another method is to measure a specific color patch using a gray scale—that is, measuring just the lightness or darkness of the patch, not the color. A single number is reported for a specific color patch, based on the original density. Shift in color tint would not be noted using this method.

Density (D) has a logarithmic scale. A density of 2.0 is 10 times as dark as 1.0; a density of 3.0 is 100 times darker than 1.0. Few materials have a density greater than 4.0. Color transparencies generally have a density range of 0.05 to 1.0–1.6. The author's Kodak Q60 (IT8.7/1) 1999:03 transparency color target has a density range of 0.11 to 1.40. The thinnest colors are at about 0.15D.

In practice, a density measurement would be made before exposure to light (T1) and then measured again after exposure (T2). If the difference (T1 – T2 = ∂1–2) is less than 0.3 of T1(30% of the original measurement), then the change would not be great enough for the slide set to be pulled from exhibition. If a medium green has a density of 0.9800, then a light green has a density of 0.1679. A 30% change in a 0.1679D green is 0.05D units (0.1179D). The thinnest density the author has ever measured was 0.04; 30% of this value is 0.012D, which is right on the theoretical limit of the density measurement.

The measurement in a thinly colored area could easily fall below the native repeatability of the density measurement, which is 0.01 (Popson 1989). The precision of any actual instrument is often less than theoretical limits of the measurement, so a measurement could be so small as to fall below the abilities of a specific instrument; that is, a significant change could be present, but it could not be measured by the densitometer. Examples in Coleman's work would be thin colors such as light blue background or a delicate yellow tint in a cream-colored item of clothing.

The percentage of density change is calculated from the beginning measurement for the color being evaluated. If the color to be measured has just a slight tint (0.15–0.25D), a 30% change will be a relatively small amount. If the color has a medium density (0.6–1), the change will be much larger, and small changes (10–20%) will be instrumentally perceptible.

Densitometry is not ideal for measuring differences in color, although it is the traditional tool for measuring photographic materials.


Colorimetry is a method of measuring color with three-value (tristimulus) color spaces using basic XYZ color coordinates. It is the standard for the measurement of color. Colorimetry data is commonly output in several alternate color spaces, with L*a*b* (Lab star) the most dominant at this time in digital imaging.

Delta E (δE) is a method of determining change in two colorimetric measurements. The δE equation for the L*a*b* color space is: δE = [(δL*2) + (δa*2)

+ (δb*2)]1/2, where δL* = δL*x –δL*y, and where x >and y are taken from the same site at different times.

It is generally advisable to make at least three (if not nine) measurements and average them before making the δE calculations.

The units of color change in colorimetric measurements, δE, are of equal value across the scale. The best human perception is 1δE for trained observers, and 3–5 δE for the average person. The theoretical limit of detection is 0.05. In practice, good instruments have a precision of about 0.1, thus 0.1δE is the commonly accepted measurement precision. Colorimetry is 13–20 times more sensitive than the human eye (Popson 1989). A change of 20δE is quite large.

Coleman's estimate of 30% difference could be calculated as follows: the L* axis has a value of 0–100, while a* and b* have values from –60 to +60, or 120 units, from one pole to another. The maximum δE is therefore 197. A 30% difference of the absolute maximum (197) is 59.1 δE units. This is a very large difference. Clearly, a 30% δE is not an effective analog to the density measurement, because red and yellow are about 30% different in δE in the L*a*b* color space. If colorimetry is going to be used, the degree of “difference” permissible should be several times the perceptual ability of the average human, about 10 δE in critical situations and 20 δE units for normal applications.

Colorimetry is more sensitive to color change than the human eye, and it is especially critical for measuring slight changes in small amounts of color (where fading occurs first) (Popson 1989). Hand-held devices for measuring reflective color have become very inexpensive. In mid-2001, however, there are no “inexpensive” methods of making transmission colorimetric measurements. Measurement of film requires an integrated light source; these devices are still expensive. The Gretag-Macbeth SpectroScan T comes in a hand-held version with an integrated light source for transmission measurement of film. Bench-top units are more expensive.


The author extends a special thanks to Christopher Eamon, curator of the Kramlich Collection, for editing this text. Eamon also helped resolve the issues associated with Vito Acconci's artworks. Colin Grif-fiths helped resolve issues with James Coleman's work. A. J. Coleman, son of James Coleman, spent several hours of phone conversations helping to get the details correct, to the best of my abilities. The author wishes to thank the Coleman Studio for allowing the publication of Coleman's technical drawings and text. Both Steve Dye and Matt Bieder-man, technical installers at SFMOMA, were very forthcoming with their knowledge. Special thanks to Robert Riley and Jeffrey Walkowiak of Thea Westre-ich Art Advisory Services.

The two excellent artworks in this “TechArchae-ological” analysis reflect the fine efforts of the artists, their galleries, the agents of the Kramlich Collection, SFMOMA's installation, curatorial, and conservation staff, and Mona Jimenez and Paul Messier, who organized the TechArchaeology Symposium in 1999–2000.

The author has made a good-faith effort to get accurate technical information, but it is only as good as the era in which it was gathered. Technological eras are becoming shorter, and in the near future (one to four years), these technical projections will need to be reconsidered based on newer technology


Acconci, V.2001. Personal communication. Acconci lecturing at CCAC, San Francisco, Calif.

Coleman, A. J.2001. Personal communication. Spokesman for James Coleman, Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Cooke, L.1995. Introduction to James Coleman: Projected images, 1972–1994.New York: Dia Center for the Arts. www.diacenter.org/exhibs/coleman/coleman.html (accessed October 2000).

Dye, S.2000. Personal communication. New media installer, SFMOMA, 151 Third St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103.

Kramlich Collection. 2000. Personal communication. Information provided by Thea Westreich/Art Advisory Service, 114 Greene St., New York, NY 10012.

Krauss, R.1997. … And then turn away? James Coleman.Vienna: Wiener Secession; Brussels: Yves Gavaert.

Laurenson, P.2001. Personal communication. Tate, Millbank, London SW1P4RG.

Popson, S. J.1989. A comparison of densitometers and colorimeters. TAPPI Journal2(3):119–21.

Real, W.2001. TechArchaeology: Toward guidelines for practice in the preservation and documentation of installation art. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation40:211–31.

Riley, R. R., M.Sturken, and C.Iles. 1999. Seeing Time: Selections from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art.San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Rudd, G.1995. Why data verification is not enough! www.cloversystems.com/verisnot.htm (accessed 1995); also available from www.archive.com.

Sterrett, J.2000. Personal communication. Director of conservation, SFMOMA, 151 Third St., San Franciso, Calif. 94103.

Tuer, D.1996. Blindness and insight: The act of interrogating vision in the work of James Coleman. In Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art, no. 1, ed. L.Cooke and K.Kelly. New York: Dia Center for the Arts.

Wilhelm, H., and C.Brower. 1993. The permanence and care of color photographs: Traditional and digital color prints, color negatives, slides and motion pictures. Grinnell, Iowa: Preservation Publishing.

Zippay, L.1991. Electronic arts intermix: Video. New York: Electronic Art Intermix.


TIMOTHY VITALE is a conservator and consultant with more than 30 years' experience in treatment, survey, research, imaging, management, and consulting. Institutional venues where he has worked include Winterthur Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pierpont Morgan Library, National Archives, Smithsonian Institution, and Glasgow School of Art. Now in private practice, Preservation Associates, he works out of his Emeryville, California, imaging studio and the Oakland Museum Conservation Center's paper conservation laboratory in Oakland, California. He has a bachelor's degree in art history and chemistry from California State University at San Jose (1974) and a master of science degree in art conservation from the University of Delaware (1977). Address: 1500 Park Avenue, #132, Emeryville, Calif. 94608.

Section Index

Copyright 2001 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works