Tech Focus I: Caring for Video Art, occurred September 1-2, 2010 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This workshop aimed to familiarize participants with the technological aspects of both analog and digital video art, as well as the technical and aesthetic impacts of digitization, compression, and format migration. In addition, a comparative “School of Seeing” was offered to train participants’ eyes in identifying image structure and quality.
Sessions focused on the range of display methods used in exhibiting video art, and demonstrated the impact of equipment selection on the integrity of the artwork. Curators, conservators, and technicians provided insight into their decision-making processes, and discussed their perspectives on the variability of video art installations.
DAY 1: TURNING IT ON–MOUNTING VIDEO EXHIBITIONS (SEPTEMBER 1, 2010)
10 AM: Welcome
Christine Frohnert welcomed the audience to TechFocus I: Caring for Video Art. The event was the first in a series of planned workshops on the preservation and presentation of media art, marking the 10th anniversary of the groundbreaking TechArchaeology symposium, which was held at SFMOMA in 2000. The concept for this didactic workshop series was developed by the Electronic Media Group of the American Institute for Conservation in response to the increasing need for education in this new and fast-growing conservation specialty. Together, the TechFocus workshops, planned for different institutions in subsequent years, make up a complete conservation curriculum, each focusing on one media art category and its preservation issues.
10:05 AM: Introduction
Carol Stringari provided insight into the involvement of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the conservation of media art. Between 1999 and 2004, the Variable Media Initiative and Variable Media Questionnaire were developed through collaboration among curators, conservators, registrars, and archivists. In 2004, the results were presented to the public in the exhibition Seeing Double, with the goal of stimulating discussion about conservation methods, including migration, emulation and re-interpretation. More recent activities have included the launch of a research project to preserve conceptual works from the Panza collection. Stringari stressed the fact that the exponential rise in the creation and acquisition of technology-based art requires conservators of contemporary art to venture into unknown technological territory and dig deeply.
John G. Hanhardt provided an historic overview on artists’ use of film, video, audio and performance in the last four decades, and elaborated on changing curatorial practices. He described the transition of media works from alternative spaces into museum galleries, and the impact of this transition on the appearance of media works. Hanhardt explained that artists themselves had changed technology and modified it according their artistic needs. He described how he developed the Whitney Museum’s exhibition program for the presentation of single-channel video works in the early 1970s. Later, he incorporated multi-channel works, projected works, closed-circuit, and site-specific works into the Whitney Museum’s programming. Hanhardt’s talk was illustrated with images of multiple display technologies and projection techniques, particularly in the context of the exhibition The Worlds of Nam June Paik, which Hanhardt curated at the Guggenheim Museum in 2000. Hanhardt emphasized that artistic ideas and conceptions have informed an ever-growing variety of media that have, in turn, changed curatorial practice in museum collections.
Chrissie Isles focused on early film, video, and slide art in her presentation. While very few museums have collected media artworks since the 1960 or ’70s, the Whitney Museum houses a strong collection of these early works. She referred to the iconic Magnet TV (1965) by Nam June Paik, originally intended to allow the visitor to move a magnet to create different image distortions on the TV screen. Isles explained that due to conservation concerns, the artwork can no longer be experienced in its intended performative state. Michael Heizer’s slide projection Munich Rotary (1970) and its sculptural components served to describe the challenges of preserving slide works and the consequences of moving them into the digital age. Iles concluded that early analog artworks face challenges not only in terms of preservation with authentic components, but also in how these works can be perceived in the future. She stressed the need to work very closely with the artist and the importance of proper documentation.
Jennifer Blessing is one of the two curators of the Solomon R. Guggenheim exhibition Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance that was on display in the museum during TechFocus I. For the workshop participants, she introduced the underlying curatorial concepts of her show, focusing on the installed video and film works in particular. Following the structure of four thematic groupings, “Appropriation and the Archive,” “Documentation and Re-iteration,” “Landscape Architecture and the Passage of Time,” and “Trauma and the Uncanny,” Blessing explored notions of technological obsolescence and melancholy inherent in the media chosen by featured contemporary artists such as Stan Douglas, Tacita Dean, and Douglas Gordon. She elaborated on the unique temporality of recording media such as photography, film, and video, and illustrated their employment by artists to memorialize trauma and the past, to revivify contents, and to create mementos.
2:15 PM: Caring for Video Art
Joanna Phillips introduced the audience to the conservator’s responsibilities in caring for video art, focusing mainly on the content of the information carrier and briefly addressing the classification and management of playback and display equipment in a collection context. Phillips argued that the art world has learned to manage the storage, handling, and migration of physical information carriers, but is neglecting quality and condition assessments of artwork’s actual moving image and sound content. Through video excerpts from the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s collection, she demonstrated unintended transfer and compression artifacts and artists’ image manipulations. She also highlighted image phenomena that are characteristic for certain production or distribution formats, and thereby inherent features of the video image. The Solomon R. Guggenheim’s newly established media conservation lab illustrated the necessary infrastructure for video inspection during acquisition, digitization, and preparation for exhibition.
3:00 PM: Preservation and Exhibition of Video Art, Featuring Installations by Artist Doug Hall
Heather Lyon Weaver detailed the process of preserving video installations through a case study of Doug Hall’s “Terminal Landscape.” When created in 1995, the piece used two 35mm slide projectors and one video projector, showing two laserdiscs in sync. Though the piece is less than 20 years old, it has already required a restoration and reformatting for digital technology. Weaver explained the challenges of the restoration and the techniques used to migrate original analog video elements to digital video. She also explained that the differing resolutions of 35mm slides and standard-definition video meant that simply merging the various elements into a single video stream was unacceptable. She detailed the means by which new digital elements were used to re-create the installation.
4:15 PM: Assembling Video Art
Steven Dye‘s talk focused on the practical aspects of exhibiting time-based art. He explained common problems encountered in exhibiting these works, as well as the strategies and methodologies used by the SFMOMA to address them. Emphasizing the need to define the work of art and plan for its display, Dye then described the following steps: acquiring art; defining its parts (media, display, player); displaying the work, and; properly meeting its requirements for exhibition. Numerous choices can be made when displaying a video work, and these choices affect various aspects of the exhibition, including the amount of power needed (for amps and speakers); type of player (DVD vs. digital file); type of display (including factors such as resolution and types of monitors), and; speakers (passive vs. active.)
5:00 PM: Panel Discussion
John G. Hanhardt, Chrissie Iles, Jennifer Blessing, Joanna Phillips, Heather Lyon Weaver, Steven Dye, Glenn Wharton, Sidney Briggs:
The panel brought together curators, conservators, registrars, and technicians to discuss the topic “Roles & Responsibilities in Media Art Conservation.” Panelists discussed the strong need for trained media conservators in the field as a whole. But conservators and other collections caretakers are still hesitant to apply the same degree of attention and responsibility to time-based art as to more traditional artworks. While format identification, handling, storage, and archival duplication of video tapes have become common knowledge at many collecting institutions, examination and treatment of the video content itself remains outside the capabilities of most conservation labs, and is often exempted from contemporary conservation approaches and ethical decision-making practices. Consensus seemed to be that conservators need to expand their technical skillsets in order to take appropriate care of these artworks.
DAY 2: TOWARD A SCHOOL OF SEEING (SEPTEMBER 2, 2010)
9 AM: Welcome
Speaker: Christine Frohnert summarized the first day of the conference, and then stressed the need for more education in time-based art conservation. Since TechArchaeology was held in 2000, engaged and determined individuals have been pioneers in the field, and have worked to build a body of published research, including case studies and best practices. A handful of major museums have created positions for conservators exclusively devoted to the preservation of technology-based art. But in spite of these important developments, there are still few opportunities for most professionals to gain practical in-depth experience and hands-on technical knowledge that can be brought back to their institutions. With no formal education program for time-based art conservators in the US, the Electronic Media Group is dedicated to provide opportunities for further education, including the TechFocus workshop series.
9:15 AM: What’s Analog Video?
Mona Jimenez’s presentation described aspects of analog video, such as how the image is recorded onto magnetic tape. She discussed how the image is interlaced, synchronization, chrominance, and luminance. Together with Maurice Schechter, she displayed the inner workings of a ¾” videotape deck, using an overhead camera to project the machine’s main components, including the video heads, erase heads, and audio heads. The audience viewed how videotape is fed through the machine. Jimenez discussed playback deck calibration and emphasized that while broadcast television has standards, artists often work outside normal ranges for video signals. Jimenez described how information can be lost when transferring non-standardized analog video to digital video. She also emphasized that digitizing artistic material requires sensitivity to the aesthetic of the original analog video, how it was made, and the intentions of the artist.
Maurice Schechter’s talk aimed to give technological insights into analog video, including digitizing as well as care and preservation. As the field is vast, he concentrated his presentation on ¾-inch U-Matic videotape, a popular format that started in early 1970s and ended in the late 1990s. Schechter described the technology of the U-Matic tape and its playback machine, explained interlaced and progressive pictures, and outlined the principles behind color video. This information is significant when transferring from analog to digital. Using a Zone Plate Test Pattern, which stresses the system that is being tested, Schechter presented a series of visual examples illustrating how an analog U-Matic video looks when transferred to a variety of digital formats, like DV and MPEG-2. He also discussed Digital BetaCam 8 bit and 10 bit uncompressed files.
11:30 AM: What’s Digital Video?
Howard Besser’s presentation began by laying out the fundamental differences between analog and digital video signals. He went on to define video codecs and their implications for preservation. Besser discussed the basics of video compression, including the difference between interframe and intraframe compression, frames and frame rates, bit rates, and chroma subsampling. He gave examples of the visual anomalies that can be created in the process of compressing video, such as graininess, pixelation, and unsteady images. He also explained the pros and cons of tape-based video preservation vs. file-based preservation, including encoding formats and file wrappers.
12:15 PM: Considering High Definition Video: A Primer for Museums and Curators
Chris Lacinak’s presentation, subtitled “The Black Hole that is HD Video,” discussed the complex issues arising from the lack of a single standard for “High Definition” video, a term which requires more detailed information in order to have a meaningful conversation. He explained how widely-held ideas that “HD” is defined by aspect ratio, pixel count, or frame rate are not sufficient to define what kind of high definition video is being considered. Lacinak described a landscape of “HD” video that includes the categories “Greater than HD,” “DTV,” and “HD” itself. Visual examples showed the difference between different HD frame sizes and resolutions. He also explained factors that should be considered when migrating film or standard-definition video to high definition video, such as the problems created in moving between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios.
2:30 PM: A School of Seeing
Agathe Jarczyk, Maurice Schechter, Joanna Phillips, Heather Lyon Weaver
Agathe Jarczyk concluded the two-day workshop with an extensive School of Seeing, assisted by Joanna Phillips, Maurice Schechter, and Heather Weaver. Building on the knowledge of analog and digital video accumulated in previous sessions, the School of Seeing offered a broad variety of video examples to help participants develop a real-world understanding of image structures, damage, and artist-intended manipulations. The content of the School of Seeing was divided into six chapters. In Chapter 1, titled “Video Image Errors: Damage or Artist’s Intention?” Agathe Jarczyk opened the discussion of image errors with prominent examples of their intentional creation and use by artists. In Chapter 2, “Analog Video: Identifying Damage”, Joanna Phillips focused on unintended analog image errors that occur due to tape damage or equipment problems. In Chapter 3, Maurice Schechter compared the functionality and visual characteristics of different display systems, and highlighted their impact on the structure and appearance of the video image.
3:30 PM: Inspection of Displays
Participants were invited to view Maurice Schechter‘s comparison of different display technologies, all of which were showing the same video image. Technologies included a 1950s color TV set, Sony’s 19-inch flat-face CRT monitor, Sony’s 42-inch Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitor, Panasonic’s 49.9-inch plasma monitor, Sony’s 7.4 inch Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) panel, Microvision’s laser Pico Projector SHOWWX, and Digital Projection’s TITAN WUXGA 700 3-chip DLP Imager (digital projection).
4:00 PM: A School of Seeing, continued
Agathe Jarczyk, Maurice Schechter, Joanna Phillips, Heather Lyon Weaver
Agathe Jarczyk continued the School of Seeing with Chapter 4, “Digital Video: Identifying Damage”, which demonstrated unintended digital image errors and their various causes. In Chapter 5, she focused on “Digitization of Video Art”, complemented by Heather Weaver’s contribution on field dominance problems and time base correction. The last chapter, “Conservation Ethics: Image Integrity and Correction,” discussed ethical considerations and decision-making processes in video restoration, such as retouching drop-outs and other means of correcting image defects.
5:15 PM: Discussion and Wrap-Up
Christine Frohnert and Carol Stringari summarized the content of the second day and highlighted some of the sessions’ key points, including refined practices for condition assessments and the acquisition of media artworks; the identification of generations in analog video art; determination methods of artist-intented image errors vs. those caused by damage and deterioration, and; standards for digitization and compression. TechFocus I participants were invited to contribute their examples, experiences, viewpoints, comments, and questions for further in-depth discussion with the School of Seeing speakers.
In conclusion, Christine Frohnert expressed her sincere gratitude to all who contributed to the inauguralTechFocus event: the speakers, co-organizers, NEA, AIC, TechFocus I planning committee, and participants.