Call for Papers for the Electronic Media Group at the 2014 AIC annual meeting

The Electronic Media Group (EMG) of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) is calling for papers about the preservation and conservation of electronic media for the AIC annual meeting, May 28-31st 2014 in San Francisco, California.
The theme of the meeting is Conscious Conservation: Sustainable Choices in Conservation Care. Topics could include sustainability of analogue media formats, migration and emulation strategies, approaches to digital asset management and preservation, care of electronic media collections, and case studies of particularly challenging artworks.
With a great location like San Francisco, we would like to engage with the local electronic media community and encourage first-time submissions from professionals involved in the preservation of electronic materials.
If your paper is accepted, you are expected to secure funding for your registration and travel expenses to attend the conference. See the AIC webpage for more information about grants and scholarships.
Please join the conversation – Submit an abstract by Friday, September 13.
How to Submit an Abstract
Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words, along with a bio of no more than 300 words by Friday, September 13, 2013.
Email it to Ruth Seyler, Membership and Meetings Director, at

1000th post on the AIC blog!

This is the 1000th post for the AIC blog conservators-converse.  Looking back at some of my favorite posts so far:
Proposal for the creation of a Collections Care Network
I love this post for the comments, it was so interactive and it brought out a lot of voices some who were familiar with blogging, some on web 2.0 for the first-time, which was great.
From the Bench Series
This is a fun series with images and information about current conservation projects.  I probably like it a lot because I am an objects conservator, but I would like it still if there were examples of paper, photography, electronic media, and other materials featured.
10 Tips for becoming a conservator series
I think this was a good example of someone (Heather Brown) understanding how the medium of blogging works and how to write a good series of posts offering advice for potential conservators.  It worked really well.
AIC members have been blogging since 2008, so perhaps there will be 2,000 posts by 2018?

41st Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Session – June 1st – “The Role of the Technical Narrative for Preserving New Media Art” by Mark Hellar

Mark Hellar used the example of the website artwork “Agent Ruby“, acquired by SFMoMA in 2008, and how the use of a technical narrative has helped with the continued preservation of this evolving work of art.
The “Agent Ruby” work was interactive, so it required many components that worked together.  The technical narrative had 4 parts:
1.  A high level functional description of the artwork
2.  Modular examination of components and how they work as a system
3. Detailed description of the artwork as it exists on acquisition, and how the components serve the operation.
4.  Analysis of current technology and longevity
“Agent Ruby” is an avatar made up of 22,000 entries that create Ruby’s personality.  Visitors interact with Ruby online in a chat setting. The archive of the work from 2001-2009 of visitor interactions was an 80 GB text file. There were some non-essential components that were archived like the original interface and a 3-D model and Hellar discussed how these types of artworks have many components and how the obsolescence of one component (like Flash which is now unsupported on an iPhone) will require creative solutions to allow the work to continue to function.
A migration plan was discussed with the artist, and it was interesting to note that the artist did not want the AIML Interpreter to be updated, even though when Ruby is asked “Who is the President of the United States” she answers “George Bush” the artist said about this, “Ruby will learn”.

41st Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Session – June 1st – "A hands-off approach to controlling media-based artworks" by Brad Dilger and Richard McCoy

Brad Dilger showed how the IMA has transitioned from manually controlling all media-based artworks (meaning that someone had to physically turn on every artwork at the power source each day) to the current system that can be controlled remotely. He walked us through the process of choosing different systems, the museum began using a server which crashed when devices were added or taken away and a programmer had to redo the whole system each time which was expensive.  The second version of the system was a stable integrated control system, they had 3 manufacturers to choose between: Cresteron, Exteron, and AMX.  Exteron was the only system that had an open source, free configuration and wouldn’t require a certified technician for maintenance.  The Exteron processor was made to function as a network or a stand alone device with serial communication and/or a remote power control unit (RPC) power strip.
The Exteron setup has a software configuration is straightforward to use, and the user can set up a schedule, and set notifications by e-mail, for example, for projectors it is possible to set up an e-mail notification when the lamp bulb nears 2,000 hours so the bulb can be changed. The system prevents circuits from overloading if the artwork requires a high draw (13 amps).
He showed 2 case studies: Julianne Swartz’s 2008 “Terrain” and Will Lamson’s 2010 “A line describing the sun” and how those two works functioned using the Exteron system.  The presentation offered many solutions to the issues surrounding the display and maintenance of electronic artworks.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Electronic Media Session, Thursday May 10, 2012, Toward an ontology of audio preservation, Sarah Norris

The final talk of the morning session was a fascinating lecture by Sarah Norris. Sarah described herself as a musician and librarian and how she has been exploring the theoretical ideas about the preservation of original or reproduction materials through the preservation of audio materials.

The preservation of audio materials has a number of difficulties, audio recordings are made on unstable media which leads to format obsolesce, requiring reformatting, which separates the content from the carrier. This is a unique part of the conservation of electronic media that is not practiced by conservators in other disciplines.

Walter Benjamin (1936) famously discussed reproduction and the idea of aura in art – the uniqueness that lends a work of art authority.  There are differences between an original and a fake and an original and a copy in that the copy has integrity, there is also an authenticity of multiples which is often dependent upon production history.  In The Languages of Art, by Nelson Goodman (1968) Allographic authenticity was defined as musical score where the authenticity depends upon conformity to established notation or performance of the piece. Because a painting does not have an established notation system it can be forged, the idea being that the authenticity would be forged, where the authenticity could be realized in the performance of the musical score.

Autographic authenticity preservation could involve a novel or an intaglio print that are concerned with the preservation of the object as well as the preservation of the content.  Allographic preservation would be concerned with the recorded content only.

Sarah Norris covered general Eastern and Western preservation values, using an example of a Shinto shrine and the preservation of meaning instead of the preservation of the original materials.

Modern art and audio recordings may force an acceptance of change to preserve the material substance of the work, the artist and the conservator could be considered as co-creators, working with an audio technician attempting to establish playback settings for a synthesizer recording.

A few examples of Platonic vs. Aristotelian ideas were presented, for example:

Plato – believes matter and form can be separated – this approach is used in general collections that are digitized.

Aristotle – believes form and matter cannot be separated – this approach is used in special collections.

The paper concluded that allographic, Eastern, Platonic items can be duplicated.  Autographic, Western, Aristotelian items cannot be authentically duplicated.


AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Electronic Media Session, Thursday May 10, 2012, Acts of non-conservation: developing more effective means of communication and advocacy through metadata, by Joshua Ranger

The second talk of the Electronic Media Session was from Joshua Ranger, who described the conservation of analog media in terms of the soul.  That preservation is soulful and grounded in the past, and non-conservation is soul-less or uncaring of the past.  He then turned this argument on it’s head to say that preservation of analog materials is machine-dependent and machines are made of plastics and chemicals, they are essentially emotionless androids who argue against passion.  He then argued his point of view for the conservation of analog materials from the point of view of an emotionless android, without passion.

There are aesthetic and monetary values to analog media and advocacy gives us a foot in the door, but we need to utilize many forms of advocacy. Before we can start an advocacy program we need some quantitative information about our digital collections:

1. How much do we have? How many of what kind do we have? How old is it?

2. How much is it going to cost to preserve it all?

To answer these questions he demonstrated FATMAP:

FAceted Technical Metadata Aggregator Project (which won the twitter competition for the best acronym of #aicmtg2012)

FATMAP reads hundreds of thousands of files and comes up with data about the files including file formats, aspect ratios, file extensions, audio codes, and image formats.  This allows us to create metrics, plan for storage needs (current storage needs and projected future storage needs), plan for research and accessibility needs like software, emulation, and migration, and finally for obsolescence monitoring.

FATMAP is ideal for unprocessed digital collections to get an idea of the types of materials in the collection and then use this information for future advocacy campaigns.

Joshua Ranger demonstrated from a case study of an unnamed client who had 400,000 files that were run through FATMAP.  The program uncovered some interesting facts like the popularity of certain files formats over time and how file extensions could be used for a tool for collection profiling and to manage collections.

To me, this seemed like a great tool for the management of digital collections, especially those collections that may have no previous collection management system.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, May 10, Electronic Media Session, Geeks, Boffins, and Whizz Kids: the key role of the independent expert in time-based media conservation, Kate Jennings and Tina Weidner

Kate Jennings and Tina Weidner said this talk was inspired by outreach and advocacy  because it highlights how conservation connects with allied professions.  Neither the conservators nor the artists are experts in the media conserved so it is important to  seek out technology experts to work with.  In the time-based media department at the Tate there are 3 conservators and 1 technician, the department was established 16 years ago by Pip Laurenson who is now head of research and collections care.

The collection includes audio, film, slide, performance, software, and video. There are 470 works, 40 are accessioned each year.

It is important for conservators to work with people who get what we do, and can convey what they do to us.  While you should build up in-house knowledge, you must also continue to rely on outside experts as well. The talk then discussed a few of the experts they rely upon for assistance. These included:

– Robert Wheeler – bob{at}rlwconsultancy{dot}co{dot}uk
He offered assistance with projector “shoot out” to demonstrate different types of projectors to determine the best aesthetic as well as set up.

– Timothy McGill tim.mcgill{at}btinternet{dot}com
He is a videotape technology post-production expert in editing. After working with Sean Randolph he noticed that the artist work-flow was very unorthodox compared to the industry, but he really enjoyed this unpredictable production style in which works of art are created. He really understands what conservators do and the conservation needs for ephemeral materials.

– Jochen Trabandt info{at}activity-studios{dot}de
He is the operator of Analog Slide Lab Digital, he duplicates slides and analog graphics, he has a degree in electronic engineering, he was surprised in the substandard quality in which artworks were duplicated. He specializes in slide duplicating with mounts that have been discontinued.

– Adrian Fogarty fogartyadrian{at}hotmail{dot}com
He has been working on computers since 1974, simple programming and designing circuit boards. For the London Film Core, an artist collective, he designed a synthesizer.  He worked on the Duncan Gorden Turner Prize Installation 1995, Gustav Metzker installation, Martin Creed “Work no 112” 1995-2005 – 112 metronomes, for which he designed rewind mechanisms to keep the metronomes working for 70 hours straight.

Kate and Tina closed the presentation by saying that they are looking for experts in emerging technologies, especially internet based,  as well as considering a workshop on amps, volts, resistance, slide projector maintenance, or other potential topics.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Outreach Session, May 10, 2012, Communicating Conservation with Nancie Ravenel, Rosa Lowinger, Heidi Sobol, Melissa Tedone, and Beth Doyle

This outreach session brought together conservators from different parts of the profession to discuss how they have communicated conservation through social media, especially blogging.

Nancie Ravenel introduced the session, she has been running a very successful Flickr site to promote conservation at Shelburne Museum. Nancie presented for Rosa Lowinger.  Rosa Lowinger’s paper focused on a television interview that she gave after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.  Rosa had prepared for the interview and cleaned her lab, set up a few art pieces she wanted to talk about, and felt that the interview went well.  6 months later she saw the interview and she was shocked at how she appeared, while she felt she was slightly irreverent during the interview, she thought she came across as incompetent.  This experience taught her a few lessons about working with the press that she shared:

1.  Everything you say is on the record, do not share anything you do not want quoted.

2. If you know you are going to be interviewed, prepare.  Prepare some anecdotes you want to present.

3. Don’t do your thinking out loud, take your time before you answer something tricky, as you can be quoted on anything you say.

4. Make sure your space is ready to be recorded as well, clean your space, remove any confidential information out of sight.

Rosa also blogs for for the column ‘Ask the Art Nurse‘ and she had a few pointers for bloggers.

– All the rules of journalism apply to blogs, you should check the Electronic Frontier Foundation for more information about your rights.

– Consider your audience and format accordingly, people want to see pictures and not read text (something I am not following in this post, sorry!)

– Be generous with links and link to other sites, they will in turn link to you, ask to use images, you can register with MoMAPress as a blogger to gain permission to use images.

– For music check or

– For video there is

– You should have a clear point of view, be pithy and informative and not self-important, blogs are not digital versions of our academic position papers, but they are living with pictures, videos, and they are interactive.

The next presentation was from Heidi Sobol and Mark Farmer at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Heidi presented about 2 case studies from the ROM.  The first case study was from ‘Restoring the Palampore‘ which was a video blog on the ROM website and Youtube.  This covered a major treatment and highlighted the opening of a new gallery.

366 unique page views
time spent ~ 4 minutes
86% bounce rate (high)
77.4% exit rate (high)

The second case study was a series of blog posts titled ‘On the mend‘ that followed the treatment of a portrait of a Chinese official.  These posts were text with images, encouraging the visitor to check back to see new posts while the treatment progressed.

On the mend
241 unique page views
time spent – 57 seconds

Overall, visitors to the Palampore site spent longer (probably to watch an entire video) but did not read much else on the ROM blog.  Visitors to the On the mend posts were 2x as likely to read other posts, showing an increase in ‘stickiness’ for these posts.

She emphasized that the most popular posts are ‘behind the scenes’ and conservators should take a popular event or topic and then embed scholarly facts to really capture an audience.

The final presentation came from Melissa Tedone and Beth Doyle, about a collaborative project between Iowa State University Library and Duke University library where they work, respectively. Each library uses different social media, Duke has Youtube and Pinterest while both libraries use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and WordPress. The collaboration meant the libraries chose a topic that interested them and wrote a post, then posted on the same day and linked to each other.  Blog posts covered a variety of topics and included a ‘Quick Pic’ series, when a post would only contain an image.

There were many questions about a social media policy and Richard McCoy said the IMA has posted online about the creation of a social media policy and encouraged conservators to review the policy information.


AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices Luncheon, May 8, “Linking the environment and heritage conservation: presentations, tips, and discussions” by Braden Allenby, Matt Eckelmann, Jia-sun Tang, Christian Hernandez, Patty Silence, and Eliza Gilligan

This lunch session featured engineers, poetry, and enchiladas.

The session opened with a few remarks from Sarah Nunberg, the chair for the Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices, thanking all those present for the support she has received in the planning and implementation of this lunch session.

Laura Word of the NEH said a few words about the NEH grant program for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections and that the intent of this program is to help Museums, Libraries, and Archives to plan and implement preventive conservation measures in sustainable ways.  She encouraged conservators to not only be involved in these projects at the planning phases, but to stay involved throughout the duration of the proposed NEH project.

Braden Allenby, PhD presented ‘Sustainability and Conservation of the Human Past’ He began with a quote from Martin Heidegger, 1977, “So long as we do not, through thinking, experience what is, we can never belong to what will be.” Allenby then laid out the basic ideas of sustainability in 3 parts: environmental, social equality, and economic (and culture should be added) Sustainability and basic political values include egalitarian versus libertarian values, communitarianism and welfare is optimized by individuals being absorbed into community.  However, current U.S. policies include libertarian and corporatism political values so we can see where we have gotten confused.  The big questions like – What is to be sustained? the Earth? Biodiversity? Human life? or Existing economic and power structures?  If the answer is the last, where have we gone wrong?

There is a socio-cultural importance of heritage conservation which is absolutely critical to sustainability, but this is not well-recognized by the heritage conservation community or the sustainability community.

3 levels to sustainability and heritage conservation

1.  Environmental practices (keeping in mind that we do not ask hospitals to kill patients to improve their carbon footprint, it is so important to maintain high levels of professional practice while striving for improvements in environmental practices)

2. Display sustainable practices as part of the preservation of cultural heritage

3. People learn not just from artifacts, but from the context they symbolize and create, and sustainable heritage conservation is a critical, and heretofore overlooked, educational pathway towards a sustainable culture.

Allenby ended with a quote from Goethe, perhaps from this original translation –

Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben der täglich sie erobern muss.

Of freedom and of life he only is deserving

Who every day must conquer them anew.

The next keynote speaker was Matt Eckelman, Phd

Eckelman discussed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  He began with examples like the LCA of a cup of coffee (140 liters of water), a sheet of A4 paper (10 liters of water).  The amount of water that is used in the production of everyday materials like a newspaper is sobering, and it is easy to see why LCA is so important to fully understand the environmental impact of the materials we consume in our lives.

Eckelman gave an example of how we can evaluate LCA for the chemicals used in conservation, using toxicity data, and he outlined the limitations of toxicity of chemicals (650 chemicals are tracked by the Toxic Release Inventory, and there are 80,000 chemicals in commerce). For more information see this article by Sousa, et al in Green Chemistry

Each person in America generated nearly 2 pounds of paper waster per day, 93% of original material used in production i the USA becomes wast before the product reaches the consumer, 80% of the remaining 7% goes to waste, making 98% of materials used in the production of new goods.  However, one of the biggest sources of environmental impact in your life is your car so at the grocery store ‘Paper or Plastic’ doesn’t matter as much as how you got there, starting biking to work programs could be a big benefit for the environment.

Eckelman ended by pulling it all back to museums, going to museums to enjoy art is a fairly low environmental impact activity, while art is expensive it is usually small and does not have the same environmental impact as other activities.  Museums can lead the way with sustainable practices that are economically, environmentally, and socially conscious.

Michael Henry lead a discussion, beginning with a statement about the search for an increase in longevity, in our buildings and our collection materials.  Because of multiple climate zones in the USA there are no ‘best practices’ and conservators go right to the object to determine the needs of the object, but to determine sustainable solutions we need to step back.

Braden Allenby warned of using terms associated with social engineering because it could be interpreted as a political and cultural hierarchy, but instead to focus on the economic benefits obtained from adopting sustainable practices.

The luncheon then transitioned into a series of tips sessions from 4 speakers.

Jia-sun Tsang, LEED AP, described a project in the Smithsonian Institution Sustainability Committee that researched materials for the retrofitting of exhibit cases.  The research included fabrication of a micro-chamber to provide zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).  Her research showed that bamboo held together with adhesive emitted VOCs from the adhesive, materials that are PVC based also emitted VOCs during testing.  This project is also included in the Smithsonian Environmentally Responsible Exhibits and Displays.

Christian Hernandez gave a presentation of the research for his thesis, which included a discussion of the different terms to describe sustainability and his decision to use the word ‘green’.  He tested many Eco-friendly materials including Ethafoam (in a variety of recycled contents), coroplast, corogreen, corrugated board, multiuse board (archiveart ecophant).  Most of the materials passed his Oddy testing, except the EcopHant, which will be re-tested. These materials were evaluated for a re-housing project at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Patty Silence from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation presented on how her institution reduced energy costs while maintaining a safe collections environment by focusing on making the room or case work as efficiently as possible. Her tips included – installing shades on western facing windows, correcting thermostats, opening or closing vents, only using a fume hood when needed, installing CO2 monitors so the HVAC is moving air depending on how populated the museum and storage areas are, nighttime setbacks, LED lights and light occupancy sensors. Reducing the amount of light realized significant savings and is better for the collection materials.

Eliza Gilligan presented on a new way to purify water in a lab, using electrodeionization.  She showed her set up which fits on a small cart, and described how electrodeionization works to remove cations and anions from water.  She mentioned that this system has high initial costs, but there is no service contract unlike other fractionaing columns and de-ionization systems.

I enjoyed learning so much during this luncheon, both theoretical ideas and practical applications of sustainable practices in conservation.

CSCP luncheon at the AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting

Linking the Environment and Heritage Conservation: Presentations, Discussions, & Tips

Wednesday May 9th 2012
Buffet lunch is included in the ticket price
Tickets: $8.00 each

The AIC Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice has organized a lunch session at AIC’s annual meeting with two keynote speakers in environmental conservation and four tips on art and heritage conservation. The keynote speakers will give an overview of current essential issues in environmental conservation and how they relate to the conservation field. They will also address practical issues concerning materials and solvent use, and will discuss green chemistry. There is ample time aside for an engaged, educational discussion session.

Keynote Speakers

Braden Allenby, PhD

Sustainability and conservation of the human past

Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University. Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Director, Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management

Matt Eckelmann, PhD

Environmental considerations in art conservation

Assistant Professor, Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University

Tips Session

Jia-sun Tang

Retrofit of existing exhibition cases to conservation standards: a close collaboration between conservators and fabricators at the Smithsonian Institution

Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution

Christian Hernandez

Thinking and acting green: a case study of the rehousing of a collection of footwear from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)

Patty Silence

How we reduced energy costs and maintained an excellent collections environment

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Eliza Gilligan

Electrodeionization as a sustainable and practical option for treatment water

University of Virginia

Discussion Panel

Led by Michael Henry, PE, AIA, Watson & Henry Associates, Preservation Architects & Engineers


This session is coordinated by AIC’s Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice. For more information, visit