Cross Disciplinary Conservation: Building a Synergetic Time-based Media Lab

Joanna Phillips
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Four: 2015-2016


In 2009, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum launched its first conservation lab for the care of time-based media artworks in its collection. Since then, a number of other pioneering museums have established similar technical infrastructures. Core purposes of these labs include the access of audiovisual content for condition and quality assessment, the preparation of exhibition copies, and the digitization of tape-based formats. A recent expansion of the Guggenheim’s Time-based Media Lab adds critical new functions to its infrastructure. With the aim to encourage a more holistic investigation of time-based media artwork as an installed environment, the new lab features a staging area that allows artworks to be installed and experienced with different playback and display equipment, both of which can have a dramatic impact on the appearance of an artwork. This improved viewing space has encouraged cross-departmental decision-making into the process of examining and evaluating time-based media artworks. By enhancing the preparation phase prior to a time-sensitive installation, curators, exhibition designers, technicians, and conservators gain the opportunity to carefully assess the properties that define an artwork, allowing them to (1) thoroughly evaluate the selection of audiovisual materials; (2) to compare the output quality from different equipment makes and models; (3) to invite the artist’s input on possible adjustments; and (4) to find an informed agreement on components and iteration-specific modifications of the artwork. This paper presents the new lab infrastructure, details its technical features and discusses its potentials for cross-disciplinary collaboration.