- EAI Online Resource Guide for Exhibiting, Collecting & Preserving Media Art
Standard film and video preservation models greatly resemble those of non film/video art preservation in that they tend to be stridently object based. Much as the preservation of, for example, sculpture is concerned with keeping an object from the entropic ravages of time and neglect through careful handling and storage as well as conservation efforts, so is traditional film and video preservation greatly (and rightly) concerned with such issues as archival storage and the creation of various preservation elements and masters (even as such issues as distribution and access may be neglected). This object-based model of [End Page 92] film/video preservation, developed to address the preservation needs of the large body of industrially produced audiovisual material that forms the bulk of our collective moving image culture, although greatly adequate, tends to break down when confronted with marginalized artistic creations. Indeed, it has been a perverse pleasure of mine to present to the preservation community “avant-garde” film works that confound the object-based model of preservation—works that concern, for example, the deliberate growth of mold on the film surface (e.g., in kemia by the collective, silt), or direct manipulation of projector light in Luis Recoder’s Liquid Light. In these presentations, at the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conferences and other venues, I have argued the significance of such explorations of cinema’s margins and urged the preservation community to embrace these works as worthy of its attention.
Electronic Arts Intermix’s (EAI) Online Resource Guide for Exhibiting, Collecting & Preserving Media Art (published at http://resourceguide.eai.org in 2006, coauthored with Independent Media Arts Preservation, Inc.) makes a similar argument, presenting issues relating to the field of media arts as a collection of problems to be pondered and (possibly) solved. In defining “media art” the Guide presents a fascinating and diverse collection of nontraditional art works. As a genre, media art is defined by loosely formal terms. It is easily reproducible; it is technologically inspired and located; its physical presentation may be widely variable (or it may have no physical manifestation). Platform obsolescence is almost always a factor in collection or preservation. These traits present challenges not only to preservation models but also to the areas of exhibition and collection. Examples of media art presented are installation works that incorporate video and/or computers, conceptual works in the form of Web sites and blogs, works that allow viewers to participate technologically, or works that exist as replicable pieces of computer code or “viral” pieces of cultural data.
Defining media art by these terms, the Guide presents an intriguing array of discussions around a challenging body of work. Although ostensibly a hands-on guide for institutions exhibiting, collecting or preserving media art, the Guide is more valuable as a rich collection of diverse ideas around contemporary artistic practice. Each section of the Guide—exhibition, collection, and preservation—presents a series of practical issues posed by three forms of media arts—single-channel video, computer-based art, and (media) installation. In each area, practical information—for example, step-by-step planning guides, budget outlines, sample contracts, and so forth—is presented in a somewhat boilerplate fashion followed by very complex interviews and case studies intended to illuminate the issues. It is admirable that EAI, an artist-focused organization known primarily as a distributor and preserving body, would address practical issues relating to exhibition and collection of works, but the formulaic presentations are easily eclipsed by the case studies and interviews with artists, collectors, curators, and other concerned parties, which essentially argue that the exhibition, acquisition, and preservation of each work of media art be taken on a case-by-case basis. Of course, this tendency for all practical discussion to give way to complexity is the most fascinating aspect of the field of media arts. In this way, the Guide illustrates the ways in which the vibrant field confounds prescriptive approaches.
Works of media art often present viewers with unique...