Interdisciplinary Discussions about the Conservation of Software-Based Art

Published on March 8th, 2017


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This report summarises the outcomes and examines some key questions from the discussions hosted by Tate for the Community of Practice group on Software-based Art Conservation Challenges. The idea for this series of meetings arose from the realisation that managing technical change in software-based art is not only a common concern for practitioners working in the field but also of interest to the research community. A group of engaged expert practitioners and researchers were invited to consider a set of topics at the core of the conservation of software-based artworks. Six discussion sessions were organised over a period of one year.

This report is part of PERICLES FP7 Digital Preservation and summarises the outcomes and examines some key questions from the discussions hosted by Tate for the Community of Practice group on Software-based Art Conservation Challenges. The idea for this series of meetings arose from the realisation that managing technical change in software-based art is not only a common concern for practitioners working in the field but also of interest to the research community. A group of engaged expert practitioners and researchers were invited to consider a set of topics at the core of the conservation of software-based artworks. Six discussion sessions were organised over a period of one year.

Report by: Annet Dekker (Tate), Patricia Falcao (Tate)

From discussions with:
Agathe Jarczyk (Hochschule der Künste Bern), Arnaud Obermann (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart), Ben Fino‐Radin (MoMA), Deena Engel (NYU), Dragan Espenschied (Rhizome), Emanuel Lorrain (Packed), Gaby Wijers (Lima), Joanna Phillips (Guggenheim), Katarina Haage (Tate), Kate Lewis (MoMA), Klaus Rechert (University of Freiburg/bwFLA), Mark Hellar (Hellar Studios LLC / SFMOMA), Martina Haidvogl (SFMOMA), Morgane Stricot (ZKM‐Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe), and Tom Ensom (Tate/ Kings College London)
Final edit by: Esther Harris (Tate)

Introduction and Aims
In 2015/16 Tate organised a series of virtual discussions related to the preservation of softwarebased art as part of Tate’s partnership in PERICLES, a European‐funded project which focuses on the long‐term digital conservation and preservation of digital resources, with particular focus on actively managing change and risk as part of this process. The idea for this series arose from the realisation that managing technical change in software‐based art is not only a common concern for practitioners working in the field but also of interest to the research community. A group of engaged expert practitioners and researchers were invited to consider a set of topics at the core of the conservation of software‐based artworks. Six discussion sessions were organised over a period of one year.

This report summarises the outcomes of these meetings and examines some of the key points. The discussions were informed by a series of questions that we posed based on our collective experience of working with software‐based artworks, as well as a survey of related studies in the conservation of new media, complex installations and software, in relation to art, digital forensics and archiving (see appendix). One of the main goals was to move beyond specific approaches or case studies and work towards more general statements about the conservation of software‐based art. To achieve this, we organised the discussions around the following topics:

1. Analysis and classification: How do we currently analyse software‐based artworks and identify risks for conservation and display? How might we develop our protocols? Can we develop general basic guidelines for this assessment? What do they need to include?
2. Current preservation techniques: Disk imaging, emulation and virtualisation and recoding. What are the roles of artist, developer and conservator in the preservation process?
3. Documentation and reporting: How do we, and how might we in the future describe or model a digital environment? How do we currently capture and report on change within (existing) management systems or preservation workflows? How might we develop and improve these workflows?
4. Quality control: Once a conservation approach is chosen (for example to recode, virtualise or emulate) and executed, how can the ‘new’ version be compared and assessed against the ‘original’? What is the status of the original source code and its hardware dependencies?

The focus group consisted of people from diverse backgrounds (ranging from computer science to time‐based media conservation, digital conservation, and curation), working with different collections (in some cases without collections) and in different organisations (from large international and mid‐size contemporary art museums, to universities and small specialised organisations). This variety was apparent throughout the discussions, as the experience and views expressed were directly related to the institutions and collections that people were involved with. For example, those in institutions engaged with software‐based installation art felt the need to understand the individual details of each work. In this situation conservators will usually have a fairly small number of works and will have elements and instructions supplied by the artist. On the other hand, the concerns of those working with web‐based or CD‐ROM art were more focused on understanding a wider range of technical environments that would support as many works as possible. This reflects the fact that the collections mentioned (Rhizome and Transmediale) consist of hundreds of works, and also that these type of works were meant to be seen on most computers of a specific period in history. This report reflects these different approaches and acknowledges that each will benefit from understanding the other and where possible adopting common strategies. The other key goal of this Community of Practice was to establish an international network of professionals with different backgrounds to share knowledge and develop practice. This was achieved, as evidenced by this report and the other outcomes of the project.

Read the full report:
PERICLES_SBA_CoP_report_2017_FINAL


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