El cuarto del Quenepón: Collaborative and Cross-Disciplinary Approaches in the Preservation of Time-Based Media on the Web

Caroline Gil, Claire Fox, Danielle Calle, and Amye McCarther
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


In 1995, Puerto Rican visual artist and designer María de Mater O’Neill created the cyber zine el cuarto del Quenepón, the first electronic publication devoted to cultural production in Latin America and one of the first Spanish-language electronic publications in the world. Taking its name from the artist’s graphic design studio, O’Neill envisioned the website as a cultural space—a contribution toward the community—with the purpose of spreading the vitality and diversity of Puerto Rican culture to a global online audience. Central to Quenepón was its cultural projects section, which presented the work of a series of artists and writers from Puerto Rico and across Latin America, the United States, and the Caribbean. 

A multidisciplinary platform that presaged the digital ecosystem of cultural production today, the site hosted the first digital library specializing in the contemporary cultural production of the Caribbean and served the online transmission of conferences via video, audio, and live chat. The site further acted as a hub of cultural activity, publishing news, artist calls, calendars of events, and an e-mail directory of artists, writers, curators, galleries, and museums. Quenepón is both a unique cultural document and an artistic work in its own right. An early adopter and producer of online content, O’Neill was only the second individual in Puerto Rico to install an Internet connection at her home in San Juan. The original site was designed to be rendered in Mosaic, an early precursor to Netscape, and continuously evolved in step with emerging multimedia and browsing technologies until its close in 2005.  

O’Neill, who continues to practice as a designer, art director, educator, and scholar, has noted her concern over the inaccessibility of Quenepón due to technological obsolescence of proprietary tape drives used for data backups and native browsing environments, as well as the broader threat posed to Puerto Rico’s design heritage due to lacking technological infrastructure in the wake of ongoing economic austerity. In 2019, while visiting Puerto Rico to participate in the APEX (Audiovisual Preservation Exchange) Program, a group of conservators and students from the Museum of Modern Art, New Museum, and the NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program connected with O’Neill to evaluate the possibility of migrating and preserving the data backups of el cuarto del Quenepón and restoring the site to its original function so that researchers in Puerto Rico and beyond may once again access this rich document of the island’s cultural past.  

This presentation will report on the process of restoring the website from elements stored on data tapes and optical media, and efforts to realize its original functionality via a spectrum of emulated production and browsing environments. This interdisciplinary project highlights the importance of partnerships between the embedded knowledge of artists and the expertise of time-based media conservators in identifying and preserving cultural materials that fall outside the bounds of institutional collections or that exist in regions where institutional resources have been impacted by economic austerity.


Caroline Gil
Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Media Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Claire Fox
Postgraduate Fellow, Regional Media Legacies Project

Danielle Calle
Audiovisual / Digital Preservation Librarian, National Library of Medicine 

Amye McCarther
Archivist, New Museum