41st Annual Meeting-Electronic Media Session, May 31, "Technical Documentation of Source Code at the Museum of Modern Art" by Deena Engel and Glenn Wharton

Glenn Wharton began with an overview of the conservation of electronic media at the Museum of  Modern Art (MoMA). When he set up the Media Conservation program at MoMA in 2005, there were over 2,000 media objects, mostly analog video, and only 20 software objects. The main focus of the program was digitizing analog video and audio tapes. Wharton was a strong advocate for the involvement of IT experts from the very beginning of the process. Over time, they developed a working group representing all 7 curatorial departments, collaborating with IT and artists to assess, document, and manage electronic media collections.
Wharton described the risk assessment approach that MoMA has developed for stewardship of its collections, which includes evaluation of software dependency and operating system dependency for digital objects.  They have increased the involvement of technical experts, and they have collaborated with Howard Besser and moving image archivists.
The presenters chose to focus on project design and objectives; they plan to publish their findings in the near future. Glenn Wharton described the three case study artworks: Thinking Machine 4, Shadow Monsters, and 33 Questions per Minute. He explained how he collaborated with NYU computer science professor Deena Engel to harness the power of a group of college undergraduate students to provide basic research into source code documentation. Thinking Machine 4 and Shadow Monsters were both written in Processing, an open source programming language based on Java. On the other hand, 33 Questions per Minute was written in Delphi, derived from PASCAL; Delphi is not very popular in the US, so the students where challenged to learn an unfamiliar language.
Engel explained that source code can be understood by anyone who knows the language, just as one might read and comprehend a foreign language. She discussed the need for software maintenance that is common across various types of industries, not unique to software-based art projects. Software maintenance is needed when the hardware is altered,  the operating system is changed, or the programming language is updated. She also explained four types of code documentation: annotation (comments) in the source code, narratives, visuals, and Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams.
Engel discussed the ways that the source code affects the output or the user experience and the need to capture the essential elements of presentation in artwork, which are unique to artistic software. In 33 Questions per Minute, the system configuration includes a language setting with options for English, German, or Spanish. Some functions were operating system-specific, such as the Mac-Unix scripts that allow the interactive artwork Shadow Monsters to reboot if overloaded by a rambunctious school group flooding the gallery with lots of moving shadows. Source code specified aesthetic components such as color, speed, and randomization for all of the case study artworks.
One interesting discovery was the amount of code that was “commented out.” Similar to  studies, underdrawings, or early states of a print, there were areas of code that had been deactivated without being deleted, and these could be examined as evidence of the artist’s working methods.
Engel concluded by mentioning that the field of reproducibility in scientific research is also involved with documenting and preserving source code, in order to replicate data-heavy scientific experiments. Of course, they are more concerned with handling very large data sets, while museums are more concerned with replicating the look and feel of the user experience. Source code documentation will be one more tool to inform conservation decisions, complimenting the artist interview and other documentation of software-based art.
Audience members asked several questions regarding intellectual property issues, especially if the artists were using proprietary software rather than open-source software.   There were also questions raised about artists who were reluctant to share code. Glenn Wharton explained that MoMA is trying to acquire code at the same time that the artwork is acquired. They can offer the option of a sort of embargo or source code “escrow” where the source code would be preserved but not accessed until some time in the future.

EMG Wiki Day 9/27

AIC’s Electronic Media Group announces our upcoming EMG Wiki Day on Thursday, 9/27, from 1 to 5 PM Eastern Time.  EMG members and allied professionals are invited to write and edit for this valuable online resource.  We actively seek contributions on topics including film, digital audio and video, optical audio and moving image formats, and digital storage.

Log onto the EMG wiki during the afternoon of 9/27 to join other EMG members in writing and editing content.  The event offers collaboration and support for experienced wiki authors and novices alike.

Still need a wiki account?  View the AIC wiki training video and then contact AIC e-Editor Rachael Arenstein to get your login.  If you have content to contribute but can’t train in time, please contact EMG Webmaster Sarah Norris.

Visit the EMG wiki to learn more.

Mark your calendars for the afternoon of 9/27 and join your colleagues as we enhance this valuable wiki resource for the field.

-Sarah Norris
EMG Webmaster

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.

39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, The Tree Decision Making Model for the Preservation of Technological Equipment for Time Based Media Art, a DOCAM Research Tool Outcome, Richard Gaigner

Richard Gaigner, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
The Tree Decision Making Model for the Preservation of Technological Equipment for Time Based Media Art, a DOCAM (Documentation et Conservation du Patromoine des Arts Mediatiques) Research Tool Outcome

The goal of the project was to take a holistic approach to time based media, and to bring awareness to the format.  The research was done in French because DOCAM is located in Montreal, but also to augment the small amount of research in French in this field.  The research team was made up of 14 researchers from a variety of backgrounds and expertise.  Did the research by focusing on 7 case studies.  Established a topology of practice and approach to the issues at hand.

Case one involved a very specific installation, and a complicated production of the image.  The artist took parts from multiple films to create a complex layered image.  Used a Barco projector to show the image.  Over time these machines essentially self destruct, so migration had to be considered.  Looked at the complexities of creating a suitable substitute.

Case two was an early Jenny Holzer sign made by the American Sign Company (which only existed for a short time), which predates her LED work.  The sign took a lot of wear due it’s design, which uses an electric arm to turn tiny RGB beads to create the image.  The sign had stopped working so the artist’s suggestion was to recreate the technology, but it was an expensive project.  The other option was to recreate the sign in LED.

Case three is a computer based design program, which makes “blob architecture”.

Caase four is a Nam June Paik from 1989, ten monitors making up a sculpture.  The issue was the CRT monitors undergoing expected degradation.

Case five is a Sony video Walkman, a mini tv essentially.  This piece was acquired unable to produce an image, and they were unable to fix it.  After contacting the artist the solution was to use a Casio mini monitor as a replacement.  They have been trolling eBay now looking for replacements for the original monitor.

Case six is a monitor with a piece of paper held on the screen by static to make the image look more grainy.

***I seem to be missing the seventh case from the DOCAM project here, if anyone has notes on it please contact me so I can add the missing information (mmw356@nyu.edu).  My apologies!

Out of the project they developed a three part guide: common problems, recommendations, etc.  They also thought critically about integrity and authenticity of art (Brandi), and the significance of the work, its behavior, the viewers experience, and aesthetics.

The decision making tree was made in Free Mind, an open source program, which asks you a series of question like, can it be repaired?  Do you want to repair it?  The steps help you to make an informed decision as to whether to fix or replace the equipment.  More questions include is the equipment visible?  Does it have any other significance to the work?  Is the equipment stable or obsolete?  Is it easy or hard to replace the equipment?  The tree is only available in French, but it can be accessed online on the DOCAM website.

Question: how can we apply Brandi’s theories to time based media more specifically?  Brandi is a good starting point to think about the significance of original material, particularly with TBM

39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, The Preservation of Display and Playback Equipment for Audiovisual Art, Emanuel Lorraine

Emanuel LoRraine, PACKED, Brussels
Joint project with Netherlands Institute for Media Art, supported by the Ministry of the Flemish Community.

Goals of this project include the identification of people who could help with the equipment, find spare equipment, create inventory of people who could transfer old media, collect guidelines and make a useful model for dealing with electronic equipment in art collections.  Interviewed manufacturers, technicians and transfer services, AV archives, TV channels, conservators, media art centers, and computer gaming associations.  Found that literature was limited and hard to access.  Gathered a lot of info from the interviews, found an overall importance placed on common sense.

The most important first step is to achieve the best possible storage conditions.  Storage should have good piping and controlled atmosphere, and protection against fire and theft.  These points may seem elementary, but they are the first defense in avoidable damage.  Generally found that the professionals interviewed recommend 0-40 degree temperature (Celsius) for storage, and they often recommended different temperatures for storage than for exhibition.  Some said store below 18 degrees to slow chemical deterioration.  If the temp is over 40ish deterioration will accelerate, weaken spot welds, and deform many plastics.  Humidity is also a factor in these processes.  20-80% RH is the range recommended by the people interviewed, but best if below 45%.  If the humidity is low it can also encourage static discharge in the equipment.  Cabinets can be used to control the RH.  Sunlight should be strictly limited because it effects temperature, and fading and yellowing of plastic parts.  Storage space should be regularly cleaned because dust and dirt will clog equipment.  Smoke also has an adverse effect.  Equipment should not be stored on the ground, but on raised shelves.  Metal shelves are better than wood, and they should be quite stable.  Equipment should not be stacked on shelves, not left plugged in, cables should be properly wound and stored.  Batteries should be removed because they can leak acids and bases into the rest of the equipment.  Batteries have about a one year life, any equipment that requires batteries and stores information should have the info backed up before the batteries are removed.  Metal and plastic boxes are a good solution for storage.  Sealing in a plastic bag is also an option.  Dormancy is a problem so techs recommend turning the equipment on regularly to prevent breakdown.  Range from once a month to once a year for about an hour, depending on the machine.  Once a year or once every six months seems acceptable.

Misuse of equipment can be a serious problem, such a wrong voltage, dust exposure, use of spoiled cables, etc., and can ead to serious damage.  Angle of tilt is also an important factor to be aware of.  Strong contrast should not be used in CRT technology because it can cause image burn in.  CRT monitors usually have failure of the tube, which can be replaced but replacement supplies are decreasing quickly.

The results of these interviews will be published in a forthcoming publication.

Questions: one useful source is the standards on the care of large and industrial collections written in 1994

39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum, Virginia Luerhsen

Karen Pavelka (lecturer, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information)
Virginia Luehrsen (phD student, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information) *presenter
Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum

The Goodwill Computer Museum in Austin, TX, was opened in 2005 and presents educational exhibits in computer technology.  The museum also provides information and support on the appropriate disposal and recycling of computers.  The museum is staffed by a director and twelve volunteers from UTexas, a collaboration that started in 2009, which now supports students doing surveys, creating databases, restoration, and cataloging.  Trying to gain better intellectual control over materials.  Challenges include building and facilities at the GCM.  The museum is split into four main areas, with an additional resale shop.  Computers in the museum are not kept plugged in and running because of the cost.  The archive contains manuals, documentation, and relative software.  Computer materials are processed in the same space as the rest of goodwill donations, which causes problems.  Moving between the four storage areas is difficult, which is an issue they are trying to address in grant applications.  Major donations have come in but space for storage is limited.  Light is fluorescent so visible and UV light levels are high.  Biggest problem is the generation of dust that accumulates on al, the equipment.  Loading bays introduce a high RH, pests, and dirt into the space.  There are no clear guidelines yet for storage and handling of the electronics, implementation is problematic, staff is inadequate, and there is yet to be a clear development plan.

The museum is a functioning museum, conservation is important and has been incorporated from the beginning.  Conservation at the GCM is about preserving the artifact, and the experience of using the machine.  The current museum director is an important resource to the museum, and has a background in software engineering.  Cleaning of the electronics is performed but mainly concerns dusting exteriors.

The preservation team is developing a machine called the “ditto”, which saves information from discs on bit stream.  They are also recreating an early computer.

The paper collection has conservation needs mainly in the area of rehousing, but in some cases greater intervention is needed.  They are currently using distance education tools to learn about appropriate conservation practices, often using Skype in a setup time frame for each project.  They were surprised by how effective the Skpye system is, and how much time is saved.  The technicians are working on site at the GCM, and Skyping with conservator Karen Pavelka at UT, which about 10 miles away.  They are exploring the applications of this remote training technique for situations such as emergency response after disasters.  Considering use of telephone lines rather than wifi in areas where that service is more reliable (ie Haiti).  Also transferring images via smart phones.  Looking forward to developing these projects with the UT partnership.

Questions: has Skype technique gone to CERT?  Yes, in coordination.  How do you get people interested in the collection if the machines don’t run?  Do scheduled demonstrations now, in the future want to employ docents to monitor the systems so people can use the machines.  Did have a problem with vandalism, so require more employees.  Suggestion to set up a calendar for different days spent on particular and popular technology, which may help draw interest and visitors.  Suggestion about dust accumulation to tent the area with plastic and pressurize it.  How is the software being dealt with?  One problem is law against retaining machines with personal information, which includes systems that have been modified.  Have a store of software they can reinstall on good machines, but most info is on the original carrier.  What would the ideal storage conditions be?  Address biggest concerns such as dust, reallocating space, increasing security in the galleries, possibly move to a new space.  Ideal would be 45-50% RH and 65 degrees.  Hard to define ideal because so many different media, so really need separate storage spaces.  What is the community around the museum?  Lots of retired engineers and currently working engineers, recent engineering and IT grads, and current students in the same disciplines.