45th Annual Meeting, Electronic Media, June 1, “Establishing a Workflow for the Preservation of Software-Based Artworks.”

Warning: I am a paper conservator who knows her way around a computer, but that doesn’t mean I totally get all of this. We’re starting to consider doing work like this at my home institution, so I thought I’d better see what it was all about. Luckily, there are a lot of pictures of slides, and it was presented in such a way that I just saw it as another case of documentation of an artifact – it just happens to have many moving parts (literally).  Oh. And I apologize in advance for the photobombing microphone stand in the slides.

The basic summary is that the Tate collaborated with Klaus Rechert from Freiburg University to develop a workflow, and created a report describing a framework for the use of emulation for preservation of artworks. This was made possible by PERICLES, a European funded project which focuses on evaluating and representing the risks for long-term digital conservation of digital resources. As part of that collaboration we then tested that approach in a workshop with the participation of Dragan Espenschied of Rhizome on works from the Tate’s collection. One of those artworks was  “Subtitled Public” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (T12565).

The emulation challenge with “Subtitled Public” (2005) was that it involved electronic and live components in addition to the operation of cameras. Good news is this is one artwork that was deeply documented, so it was a good test case for developing a workflow. Below is the extent of the documentation (BTW the computers were Mac Minis):

Selecting Preservation Strategies: These are the Essential Steps, which are complimentary:

Note on artwork’s significant properties: one of the elements of the artwork is projecting words on people. The entire artwork would need to be reinstalled in order to compare completely and properly.

Note on resources, sustainability, and application: how many artworks can you support? You need to think about the collection as a whole; resources, sustainability, and application for the long term.

Defining boundaries will help you identify commonalities among artworks, which can help with prioritization and creating systems that will work for multiple artworks.

In the emulation environment, you have the artwork itself as a digital artifact. This does not change over time and can one of any huge number of different objects. The computer system are a rather small number of different hardware environments, but they require constant replacement.

In between is the most interesting work to approach the problem: keeping the operating system monitored and functional. If the OS is interfering with artwork directly, monitor and maintain technical interfaces (OS and CS – hardware environment).

So why do it this way? Scalability!

Making emulation approachable is the ultimate goal.

  1. Image disk and normalize it. Make it work in an emulator. Unify hardware configuration. Disk controller issues may appear if moved to different emulator.
  2. Generalize disk image otherwise you’ll get the blue screen of death. Goals: All images share the same technological risks.
  3. Yay! It works! Changed a layer on top to original image to get it to work, but the original image was untouched.

EaaS: automate image ingest of disk image. Select matching machine template. Automatic check of hardware configuration of operating system.


The proposed workflow is reversible and recyclable. One can try different ways and every revision can be forked.

The operating and computer systems are not specific to the work itself. Emulation can be considered since the digital artifacts and the hardware are not tied to the artwork itself.

Unfortunately, the entire installation couldn’t be completed,  so further testing needed for this artwork. But now they understand the process, and disk images are captured and archived.



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.