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Title: Il dibattito internazionale intorno alla conservazione e alla documentazione della New Media Art 1995-2007
Other Titles: Conservation and Documentation of New Media Art. The Debate between the Italian Tradition and International Strategies
Authors: Barreca, Laura
Keywords: New media art;Documentazione;Conservazione immateriale;LART/03
Issue Date: 28-Apr-2008
Publisher: Università degli studi della Tuscia - Viterbo
Series/Report no.: Tesi di dottorato di ricerca 19. ciclo
My PhD research project “Conservation and Documentation of New Media Art. The Debate between
the Italian Tradition and International Strategies” deals with the theoretical issues related to the
strategies of conservation and documentation of New Media Art. I am especially interested in
attempting a comparative analysis of the international theories of conservation of technology-based
media works. In contemporary art the format and the presentation of the artwork is constantly
changing, as the broad availability of new technologies continues to grow very quickly. Over the past
ten years, the problems of long-term preservation and documentation of New Media Art have been a
central issue within the international debate initiated by a network of American and North-European
museums of contemporary art. In the XX-th century, New Media artworks represented the most
significant artistic creations within the art-world. At the same time, such artworks are a challenge for
museums that have been collecting them, as they are made with new, non-traditional technologies and
media, such as video, film, computers, media installations and digital formats. As a new artistic display,
New Media Art has changed the perception of artistic practices since the Sixties. The special element
that defines a New Media Art work is its “proceeding character”, related to the inner temporality of the
work. For instance, a movie shot on film may, with new technologies, be transferred onto DVD and
converted into a digital format, on magnetic tape, or it may be reproduced as a Quicktime or Windows
Media Player file. It can be displayed on the internet at low resolution or may even be sent and received
over the web, therefore traveling in a completely “immaterial” format. Furthermore, the short life and
the very quick obsolescence of the hardware does not allow an easy development of strategies regarding
the conservation of New Media Art works. The international debate concerning the preservation of this
new aesthetic category of art is focused in particular on the problem of documentation. In other words,
it is necessary to consider that without an adequate conservation and documentation many art works
will be lost to future generations. This is also the reason why theories and tools of conservation are to
be urgently developed by the international, scientific community. Documenting the memory of the
present represents a real challenge for curators, conservators and restorers. It is their task to ensure the
“access” to the digital heritage for generations, to come.
Over the last decade, several international projects have focused on research relating to the general
criteria and the strategies of conservation and documentation. First of all, it is indispensable to define
what must be preserved and how. Since it is impossible to preserve everything, it is necessary to make a
selection. Like every choice, this process is discriminating and therefore needs to be supported by
agreed standards and common theoretical references able to assure their correctness and transparency.
In the light of their “ephemeral” nature New Media Art works are also called “Variable” or “Unstable
Media”. The first definition of “Variable Media” was proposed in 1998 by Jon Ippolito, who, at that
time, was Associate Curator at the Guggenheim Museum of New York. This definition is related to the
variability of the physical formats for transmission. The so-called “Variable Media approach” seeks to
understand the intended behaviour of the art work and its inherent characteristics, through the
documentation of the artist’s intent. In 2002, the Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois
Foundation for Art, Science and Technology in Montreal have established a special partnership for a
consortium of contemporary art museums, named Variable Media Network. The aim of this consortium
of international museums was inventing and sharing new approaches, new strategies and tools for
preserving New Media Art works in museum collections. A major incentive to do so was inadequate
documentation and technological obsolescence. This initiative has been developed through a series of
conferences, symposiums and meetings around the world. As Gaby Wijers, the Dutch conservator of
The Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/Time Based Art, said: “the ‘variable media
approach’ proposes that the best way to preserve artworks in ephemeral formats, from stick spirals to
video installations to Web sites, is to encourage artists to describe them in a medium-independent way,
so as to help translate them into new forms once their current medium becomes obsolete.”1 In
Northern Europe there were also other institutions involved in the preservation of New Media Art. In
2003, the archive team of the V_2 Organization in Rotterdam conducted fundamental research on the
documentation aspects of the preservation of electronic art activities. This pioneer project was called
Capturing Unstable Media, and it focused on an approach balancing archiving and preservation initiatives.
This project presented a broad inventory of case studies that have developed a different methodology.
Rather than taking a static approach on modern and contemporary art, it primarily defined which
immaterial and physical components of New Media Art work should be documented, described or
preserved. In general, the main question is: “HOW TO PRESERVE AN ARTWORK THAT
It is not very easy to answer this question, but one can say that every work of art has a sort of internal
linguistic code, which could also be identified by applying the concept of “aura”, in order to quote
Walter Benjamin. For instance, computer-based work of art has a “computer code”, a set of
instructions that tells the machine what to do and when. This “computer code” should be preserved
because it represents the original part of the art work and the place where the artist conceptualized his
or her idea. As Wijers said: “the traditional codes for the visual arts, such as uniqueness of the physical
manifestation, are not applicable to video art [New Media Art]. The work of art is certainly unique and
authentic, but its tangible form as such is not”.2 The Italian theorist Cesare Brandi in his famous book
Theory of Restoration published in 1963 writes about the concept of “unità potenziale” - the potential
unity of the artwork.3 Brandi asserts that the final aim of any kind of restoration strategy is the
preservation, and eventually the re-composition of the original information. The Theory of Restoration
refers most of all to painting, sculpture and traditional art, but its principles can, in my opinion, also be
used as an interesting starting point to address strategies in respect of New Media Art. In order to find
common solutions and useful criteria for conservation and documentation it is very important to gather
and compare all the different theories developed by international museums involved in New Media Art.
The aim of my research project is to study the strategies developed in a number of museums in the
United States and Europe and to compare them to the Italian approach, in order to acquire the
knowledge for the development of this pioneering issue in Italy.
1 Rif. Gaby Wijsers, Preservation and / or Documentation. The Conservation of Media Art, 2005, published in
2 Ibidem
3 Cesare Brandi was an Italian intellectual, art historian and critic. In 1939 he founded the Istituto Centrale del
Restauro in Rome, with Giulio Carlo Argan. In 1963 he wrote the book Theory of Restoration, which was later
translated in English, French, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, German, Japanese and Chinese.
In the course of my current research, I had the possibility to interact with the following international
public institutions: MoMA, Guggenheim Museum, Electronic Art Intermix, New York; Daniel Langlois
Foundation, Montreal; SFMoMA, San Francisco (my PhD Tutor is Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media
Arts); ZKM (Center for Arts and Media), Karlsruhe; MonteVideo, Amsterdam; V_2 Organization,
Rotterdam; the platform; TATE Modern, London. These museums have been developing
New Media Art preservation, by promoting research projects, case studies and laboratory experiments.
In addition, they frequently organize symposiums and projects, in order to share the results available
with the museum network at large.
Dottorato di ricerca in Memoria e materia dell'opera d'arte attraverso i processi di produzione, storicizzazione, conservazione, musealizzazione
Appears in Collections:Archivio delle tesi di dottorato di ricerca

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