Curating Documentation #2
Published on January 11th, 2020
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Curating Documentation is part of a year-long research on documentation and collecting practices of art organisations and the first workshop in a series of workshops that explores the value of documentation in the context of museum collections.
15 January 2020 @ LIMA, Amsterdam
Presentations by Carolin Bohlmann, Anni Wallenius, Gaby Wijers
A collaboration between Annet Dekker (University of Amsterdam), Karen Archey and Britte Sloothaak (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) and Gaby Wijers (LIMA, Amsterdam).
Similar to the first meeting we will discuss different positions on documentation of digital and performance art. Whereas the focus in the first meeting was on various strategies and practices of generating and collecting documentation in relation to the museum, this meeting will pay attention to the use, and particularly, the making accessible of documentation for different purposes: from best-practice in relation to preservation to material for reinterpretation and (re-)use in exhibitions or as part of the (‘original’) artwork.
Some of the questions that will be leading: What are the virtues and limits of the documentation, i.e. how and by whom are they created, what do they (not) show? In what ways does the documentation represent the artwork to current and future audiences, for instance, how are the audience, the liveness and participatory elements acknowledged? As well, we’ll return to some of the overarching questions of the research: Does documentation become a new version, thus changing the status of the ‘original’ artwork that was once collected? If so, how does this impact the conservation and curation of these artworks? And, how can these various instances of documentation enable art historians, curators, and conservators to reimagine and represent the relevance and value of digital art in the future?
Carolin Bohlmann, Hamburger Bahnhof, will present a case by Carolee Schneemann and the unclear installation and ownership situation within their institution and what role it gives to documentation in the history of the collection. Carolee Schneemann’s installation ”Up to and Including Her Limits“, 1976 comprises audiovisual as well as sculptural elements; the work’s exhibition history is characterized by a number of variations and sometimes rather radical changes. Schneeman’s work raises questions for the museum such as: Is the work in the collection complete? What might be missing? What modifications were made and by whom? Apart from questions relating to conservational treatment and documentation, the most important question concerns the work’s identity: Is it a performance relic, an installation, a media work? Dealing with such complex works and questions requires the rethinking of documentation practices that calls for the collaboration of diverse actors of the various departments.
Anni Wallenius, The Finnish Museum of Photography, will talk about how museums and archives can find sustainable ways to work with photography collections in the age of social media. How should the roles, motivations and methods in documentation practices change to better accommodate the networked, fluid, ephemeral and communicative social digital photograph? While trying to answer these challenges she will present the Nordic project Collecting Social Photo (2017-2020) that addressed these questions through case studies, where social media photography and the social and visual practices it is part of have been documented together with the producers of the images.
Gaby Wijers, LIMA, will share their practice in collecting important information, documents, and metadata on digital artworks and how they structure and store these and make it accessible. Describing their documentation “tools” for describing artworks, as Collection Information System, checklists, case study reports, video registrations, presenting a case study by Geert Mul as example. Questioning How can we activate this information? How can we share this information and collaboratively document?
Bio of the presenters:
Carolin Bohmann is conservator of modern and contemporary art at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart Berlin since 2000. She has a PhD in Art History on painting techniques and her research focus is on conceptions of light in painting, art technology and conservation theory. She has worked on various exhibition projects on contemporary art at Hamburger Bahnhof including the 2013 conservation of Beuys’ Richtkräfte für eine neue Gesellschaft, conducted with Ina Hausmann and Eva Rieß, and the exhibition series Marzona A–Z (2014–16). With Angela Matyssek she organised the symposium Prozess Art and the Museum at Hamburger Bahnhof in 2016 and she also teaches the conservation of museum collections at the Technische Universität Berlin.
Anni Wallenius works as Chief Collections Curator at The Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki, Finland. In her work she is interested in finding new methods and practices for bringing photography collections, contemporary collecting and audiences together in meaningful, relevant ways. She is currently involved in the international research project Collecting Social Photo (https://www.valokuvataiteenmuseo.fi/en/projects/collecting-social-photo).
Gaby Wijers is director of LIMA. Previously she was coordinator of collection, preservation and related research at the NIMk, Amsterdam (NL); she has a background in librarian ship, theater and informatics. She initiated and participated the last 20 years in multiple national and international projects dealing with the documentation, preservation and access of immaterial and interactive art, specialisation media art. She participates in national and international networks such as Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (SBMK), National Coalition for Digital Heritage (NCDD), is guest lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and is honorable research fellow at University of Exeter.
A short recap of the previous meeting, with presentations by Gabriella Giannachi, Gable Roelofsen and Karen Archey:
At the beginning of the meeting several questions were posed that would be used to link the presentations together: what and how is documentation created, what is the purpose of documentation; how is it used, and by whom for what purpose? What are missing elements? And what can institutions learn from other practices, and vice versa? Hearing about the creation and use of documentation from different perspectives and disciplines, ranging from theatre/performance, digital art and oral cultures to the museum, one of the main outcomes was – not surprising – the diversity of ways in which documentation is created and collected, and how it serves different needs. While Gabriella and Gable stressed the lack of audience and users involvement in documentation practices, Karen talked about some of the risks involved when artworks were not documented and in particular the difficulties of setting up continuous information flows in which clear links are made between different steps in the process.
Having to deal with different management and documentation systems can lead to what Britte termed an ‘archive of disappearance’. Interestingly, digital art has made existing challenges more visible: for instance, some artwork will disappear in time, but how to find a balance, for example, is there a policy about letting the ‘original’ artwork die? Or, since there are often multiple versions of a work, what – and when – are important aspects/elements and moments to document? In such cases would it be useful to set up a documentation ‘meta-structure’ practice in which standardization of documentation is formalized, and if so, in which cases? How to compare middle/large institutions to small or audience initiatives? What is the status of ‘social media’ / audience documentation which takes on different forms (for example, from photos and video to text?
- Find parallel ways to document, rather than relying on one or the other system or method (or even one person), while ensuring information is linked or connected.
- Collaborate together with different departments, bring individuals together to discuss an artwork from multiple perspectives; perhaps create a function that fits between departments.
- While the unique artwork is still important, documentation in its diversity is helpful to (re)interpret certain aspect and should therefor also be used in artists interviews / questionnaires.
- Be transparent about the gaps, blind spots or lack of knowledge.
- Create a structure that would also allow other people to get involved, for instance, to contradict or add to the given content, perhaps find ways to visualize disagreement.
- Make vulnerability part of the practice, for instance, by providing an explanation how and why priorities are made and how this may affect the practice and knowledge building.
- Rather than building a new system, focus on the current ones and try to add to and adapt them, or present and discuss their shortcomings.
- To bring out new perspectives, make the invisible visible and create dialogues to challenges ways of thinking, existing attitudes and assumptions: move from names to communities, from work to attitudes.
- When adopting the notion of the temporary (archive) rather than fixed, means decentralization without the need to be ‘corrective’ of the past.
Curating Documentation is part of a year-long research on documentation and collecting practices of art organisations and the first workshop in a series of workshops that explores the value of documentation in the context of museum collections. The outcome of the research will be made public in 2020.
This research is made possible by Knowledge Innovation Mapping (KIEM) within the programme Creative Industry of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Principal Investigator: Dr. Annet Dekker, University of Amsterdam; Public Partners: Karen Archey and Britte Sloothaak, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Gaby Wijers, LIMA, Amsterdam.
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