Looking Forward and Backward: Practical Approaches to the Stewardship of Time-based Media Art

Erin Barsan and Elise Tanner
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


While time-based media art (TBMA) is defined by how it unfolds to the viewer over time, this increasingly popular artistic medium is also uniquely complex in its physical, technical, and conceptual structures. In many cases, artists are explicit about the media they choose, the way in which their work is installed, and the technology used to display it. As a result, museums need to adapt their installation and preservation practices in equally complex ways, pushing the boundaries of traditional practice. Nevertheless, many institutions have been acquiring ever-increasing numbers of TBMA without proper documentation or systems in place to ensure that the integrity of these works is preserved over time. Leaders in the field have laid much of the groundwork for the stewardship of TBMA. However, these large institutions number their collections of TBMA in the hundreds to thousands—what might be a good solution for them might not be appropriate for museums with more modest collections and resources.

This presentation introduces two projects from the National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information (NDSR Art) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which are building on the existing work related to the care and preservation of TBMA. The NDSR Art Residents will detail their efforts toward creating frameworks for the acquisition, documentation, installation, display, and preservation of TBMA at their institutions. They will highlight how they are tackling the challenge of simultaneously developing best practices for future loans and acquisitions while retroactively applying these standards to their existing TBMA collections. By juxtaposing these two projects and opening the conversation in a panel discussion, the Residents aim for these cases to serve as a practical model for art institutions of varying sizes, backgrounds, and needs on how to begin taking steps to ensure the viability of their complex media artworks now and into the future.

Erin Barsan
2017/2018 Resident, National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

Elise Tanner
2017/2018 Resident, National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia