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Documenting New Media Art: Feedback Session

> transcript  

Speakers:>  Beryl Graham & Caitlin Jones & Gary Malkin & Iain Pate & Rachel Baker & Sarah Cook & Shaina Anand & Simon Bradshaw

Caitlin responds to breakout group comments and questions.

Caitlin Jones: Feedback Session

Caitlin Jones: So I think weíll start with the Ďinstitutionsí. Group C, Simon, do you want to give us your most contested talking points or the things that you spent the most time on?

Simon Bradshaw: I think weíre all in concurrence pretty much, itís not really contentious. We all talked about the importance of documentation and for whom, for every stage: for research, for conservationists, for people who couldnít experience it or couldnít get to the gallery. Something which I said at the start of the session is that one of the main reasons to document is when the artist dies. We recently showed some stuff at FACT (, and it didnít matter what we said, or what was recorded. . . because we had all shown the work before and it didnít really matter if we said Ďthis is how it was shown beforeí. The artist would say, Ďwell, it doesnít matter how I showed in the past, this is how I want to show it nowí. The organization doesnít have any say really, if the artist wants to show the work differently than twenty years ago. Caitlin said thatís the difference between an art organization that has a collection and an organization that doesnít have a collection. So that was a big point in our discussion, I donít know if anyone else wants to chip from our group.

Caitlin Jones: Well, I had two questions from your group that I thought were really interesting for everyone else. The first question which I think that came up for a lot of people, is that documentation is a lot of work, and whose responsibility is that? As an artist is it your responsibility, and as a curator, an independent curator, you take on a certain responsibility. In an institution, whose responsibility is it, where does that responsibility lie? Does it just lie with the curator, or with the technical staff, and if thereís a conservation department, or with the library and archivist? Itís a big job, and is it shared or is it one personís job? And then the other thing I thought that you guys were talking about a little bit was the documentation of the audience experience from an institutional perspective, which is I think an element thatís often left out of the equation, and I think it often really enriches the experience of watching, reading a work through its documentation.

Letís move on to the independent freelance curators.

Sarah Cook: Well, we tried to cover all of the discussion that we talked about. Why to document from the artists perspective, and feel that as curators weíve often got an artist who wants to either make a pure copy of a degradable medium or wants to create a value around a particular work either to make it saleable or to make it more visible, or for distribution, or to situate themselves historically - so thatís a question: whoís role is it to do this documentation? Artists have all these potentially different reasons for wanting their work documented. Then, what happens when the artist doesnít want any documentation at all, and whatís the pressure that puts on the curator or the organization. We talked a little about contracts and negotiations and clauses around the use of documentation both before, in terms of publicity, when youíre touring the project you need pre-documentation available of the work, as well as documentation after the fact; questions of future use. We talked a lot about display technologies, weíre working in such an inherited field that we feel like weíre doing these experiments in art technology. And you are not necessarily aware that what you are doing is ripped off when you know that someone is going to maybe staging it later. When it comes to restaging it, the curators are often made responsible to source the kind of equipment on which to see the work properly, if that work hasnít been documented in its previous iterations because the artists donít think their work isnít necessarily going to have a long shelf life.

We also talked a little bit about strategies for documenting interactive exhibitions, about videoing interaction in order to capture audience engagement. We talked about having a database thatís a useful database through the process of curating, a database that contains all of the information about the work and the technical requirements for touring it, for showing it etcetera. What else from our group that Iíve left out?

Iain Pate: The catalogue, and we were talking a little bit about how thatís used as a documentation of an exhibition, but before it actually happens, and therefore is sort of a false, or a tool that documents the process of the exhibition, not the end.

Sarah Cook: Capturing context is something that seemed really important to people in our group as well, because curatorially that is often the almost conclusive record of how the exhibition occurred, not just a catalogue for Ďmarketingí the exhibition. Caitlin, do you have points from our discussion?

Caitlin Jones: Well, I thought what you guys were talking about is a real practical concern as an independent curator and your rights to your own documentation, how to negotiate between the institution in which youíre showing it or in which you exhibiting and the artists whose work youíre exhibiting. Where the rights of the independent curator come in and who, once again, is responsible for making that documentation, and who is responsible for paying for that documentation? Sarah says that in all her exhibition budgets now she writes in a budget for documentation, I thought that was very useful.

Sarah Cook: Regardless of the venueís existing budget or strategies.

Caitlin Jones: Regardless of what the venueís got and because most venues probably have a small budget for documentation as well. Group A, do we have someone who wants to talk, Beryl?

Beryl Graham: We were looking at things that were a bit different to what other groups have mentioned, but I think the Artist Group was particularly interested in mess, and whether its possible to have an archive which is somewhere between completely messy, and somewhere totally anally retentive, so somewhere in the middle. Also, in relation to your point about it being really labor intensive, if you might have something which is more messy, like Flickr and YouTube, but at least it archives itself in some kind of way, at least it gets out there and is not just sitting on a curatorís desk for a few years, itís in the public domain. But then there is how to find it; tagging becomes really important, and there is a lot of inappropriate tagging, you need to be able to flag it.

The other thing we talked about is that sometimes documentation is really boring and as an artist you sometimes feel slightly obliged to make it visually more interesting [laughter].

Then we had lots of very intellectual points about that whole mythic art historical archive which fixes reverence for your artwork, and how it might be good to have more Ďirreverenceí: something like a traditional archive is very definitive and singular and maybe new media is much more collective and messy and archives need a way of dealing with this. Thereís the technological side, and the process based side, and the public face side, and the generative code aspect in that you donít have control over it once it leaves your hand.

Social context kept coming up again, and how do you document the social context and the experiential aspects, and the live aspect were really important. If your networked art is responding to data on the net then how far do you go to collect and document that data and context?

Caitlin Jones: Very good. So it seems to me that I think you honestly canít come up with answers to some of these questions! I have written down a few things that came out in all of the discussions. First, the idea of capturing process that may be new media art where process is so important for the work. That documenting just the final iteration of the work is not enough, that documenting the installation process and some of the creation process is a really important part of the picture. I think issues of rights to documentation came up a little bit in all three groups. Whose documentation is it, and how will you be able to share that documentation? And the other one which I think is a real concern is the issue of it being very labor intensive. You canít deny that this isnít something that you can snap your fingers and the work is documented. It really takes some dedication, and financial dedication, and also itís not just to collect it but itís actually to organize it to make it accessible. These are sort of the major issues that everybody touched on. Also, once again the issue of capturing interactivity was a big question thatís not addressed by any of the models that I showed you before, and I believe it too mentioned the context of oral histories of media art. So, Sarah, I think this is the CRUMB site and, which many of you probably know, after this workshop this is the section right here, Documenting and Archiving Ė ( and as you can see right now there are some links under it, and after having this discussion and taping the conversation and by taping my talk and meeting everybody here weíll have a lot more things to go in this section, so, I wonder if anyone knows of any interesting archives, media archives that do a good job about documentation if you could just let us know or shout out.

Rachel Baker: LUXonline ( I think that they are very good at providing contextual information, content information in the archive. They do interesting things like featured artist of the month, theyíll be present online. They provide a time line, time lines are useful and other institutions have used that as a device; theyíve done time line video art in the UK for example not artists from the UK, and placing certain key moments over the last twenty, thirty years. And itís just very well presented and the qualities of the moving image encoding is good, what else, the information is arranged well and clearly. Itís not too retentive but itís written well.

Shaina Anand: ( This is something we just finished making six days ago, and itís a sort of artist-made website. It is completely non-proprietal, itís got Open Source format. Itís video clips and you can browse it, thereís a search engine, and right now it has video footage that six collaborators put in. But, video is difficult to search within, so in particular what you can do is see a description of the video evolving at a certain point, and that takes you to a time line of annotation. The reason why this could be interesting is that, like Caitlin said, itís a lot of hard work, you would have to make the time-accurate log, and it takes you until the end of time! You have key words, you have location, you have descriptions and transcriptions and you can read them. What you can do is go forward and trip any points the first time you view the work. But you can also reconstruct your work. If I disagreed with this description and wanted to clean it up, I donít need to do that. I can add layers. I can search for my own key points to watch the video and say in or out, and add a completely new layer of tagging. I think when documenting your art, an artist could write his or her version, you could disagree, you could put a critique over it, you could link it to another article, you could have lots of, more points of view rather than flat or very authoritative, one curator or one critic based thing. But sort of this kind of way of re-annotating and writing about video would be particularly interesting in documenting media art. It also does become a problem space in that artists will refer to each otherís works, people will tag it or annotate it, describe it a lot more richly, in collaborative ways. Then the writing and other peopleís statements could also become another important resource, not just for video documentation.

Iain Pate: There is another project that was presented as part of the AV Festival called the Spectrum Atlas (, which is a map of the electro magnetic scale, which is about the frequencies used for broadcast etc. Also, the Visual Research Centre at the University of Dundee has an archive of video and performance called Rewind (

Sarah Cook: Does anybody have interesting examples of institutions having documented their exhibitions? Or exhibition documentation archives as opposed to art documentation.

Caitlin Jones: Thereís BALTIC Archive (, Gary was saying that they make three levels of documentation that you make available in your resource centre for every exhibition.

Gary Malkin: There are three levels of film, plus wider documentation. What we try and do for every exhibition, is make a twenty minute film, a five minute film, and a quick sixty second film. The twenty minute film includes an artist interview, we would also keep a full length interview, put that on our database as well, so the levels can be accessed at all times, plus press releases, workshops etc.

Caitlin Jones: Thereís also Media Art Net ( by Dieter Daniels and Rudolf Frieling which is an amazing resource, with some installation photos, but not really about exhibitions.

Sarah Cook: I do think there is conversation to be made between resources and documentation archives built by curators, about works that are not in collections or have an institutional affiliation. We have known artists who were very good at documenting their own work like Jonah Brucker Cohen maybe ( Likewise, are there examples of curators who are particularly good at documenting all of their curatorial projects and there are people to work with for that reason, maybe. If you think you have interesting answers then send them inÖ

Caitlin Jones: So there is institutional documentation and then there is artist documentation. Sarah and I put together this checklist, itís in your pack. Itís a checklist and I thought we could both spend time going through this quickly. Iím sure there are things that we could add to this as well. The first thing we decided that was important was to define your budget and to make sure that you leave yourself time for documentation of the exhibition or your own work, or your exhibition. There are some examples we put with each item.

The second one is capturing context, which I think everyone here talked about. We only put in the exhibition context but I think that could be expanded to social context that Group A was really interested in. Iím not sure what we can give as a good example of someone who has captured the social context of their work that works, so think about how youíd want to go about doing that.

Copyright issues: so before documenting make sure you have permission to do so and what kind of permission to have, can you put it on your website or put it on Flickr or whatever platform you decided to use. And there is some sample language for the contract, from various contracts here. This is something that we didnít really talk about that much, which is deciding on format, and this also relates to the preservation issue which Sarah talked about. Because itís all very well and good to document these things and take reams of video tape and maybe do mini disc recordings and stuff, but what happens to those things in twenty years? And do you just end up with another thing that you have to preserve, and would it migrate to be with all those tapes and digitized files and stuff? Deciding on what kind of format to use plays into that a lot. And often people ask me or tell me that theyíve gotten this really great high definition format but itís a format thatís rarely used. And to me, itís much better to record something on MiniDV than on tape that is not very popular because on MiniDV youíre going to have much more chance to play it back when you need to than if you pick some strange format. The other issue for documenting, this is more for event-based work but also I guess for installation, is to think about how your documentation should look. I showed that example of the Cory Arcangel performance at MOMA ( where they set up the camera and you couldnít see the performance at all, so this seems very obvious but itís something to think about. Point six relates back to the idea of deciding on the format for storage and providing access, so what format are you going to store it in, are you then going to digitize it to make it available online, where are you going to make it available online, or is it a situation where youíre going to have to basically come into the space to see the work.

This gets into the really hard work of documentation, and some of us chose not to do it, but thatís the arrangement description. And, making things fit into specific sharable files or formats, thereís a V2 ( example. How do you make your search engine at FACT compatible with the search engine at BALTIC. Is there a way to share this information through the way you structure the information about the documentation in a complimentary way? And then also to keyword searching and cataloguing is something to think about. I think folksonomy is a great idea and a really easy way to generate key words. There are however some drawbacks to that because itís not a standardized cataloguing language, what one person might tag as DIY, someone else would catalogue as self/home broadcast, this is something to think about.

And then the last one is the actual physical preservation of stuff. Do you have a place to store this, do you have proper filing to it, and do you have in your budget that it needs to be pulled out of its box every five years if no one has looked at it and fast forward and rewind it, just take off the tapes or check the digital files for deterioration and things like that. But like I said, everything here has a small link to it and all these things will also all be available online at the CRUMB site as well.

Simon Bradshaw: Youíve mentioned budgets a few times and in an ideal world it would be great to budget for all this, but this is a very expensive business and obviously somethingís got to give if you can project an exhibition budget for documentation. What would be useful is maybe some information on potential funding for sustainability of archives - you mentioned a number of institutions. Because that kind of information would be really useful, where one can seek, and whether the funders are building that into grants, which I donít think they are.

Caitlin Jones: I donít think they are either.

Rachel Baker: Just to comment on that, I think funders are obviously trying to think this through because they are getting a number of applications from different organizations and artists who all want their own individual archiving solution. Whereas it seems to make more sense to have a solution that adapts and accommodates many institutions so thereís not replication each time an individual or organization applies for some kind of archiving project. That brings us back to the good questions about the institutional responsibilities and what capacity large institutions have to build archiving systems, and the platforms that can be shared amongst smaller institutions and individuals.

Caitlin Jones: I think thatís a really important point, and one to maybe wrap up with. For example the conceptual model of the Variable Media Group that I showed, these are structures that everybody can use. They are freely available for everybody to use rather than us all having to go through this same process. Everybody has to do their own documentation, but can we not learn from each other. They have to be flexible models because sometimes you look at these mediated archive structures and theyíre just outrageously complicated: There should be complex levels of description that you can go deeper into, but thereís an overarching simple form that almost anybody can just take and adapt to their own system. I think thatís a really important point, and I think itís something that a lot of institutions have tried to do, to share this information.

Sarah Cook: On that key note, I want to thank Caitlin for the time she has spent with us over the past week, and thanks to all of you guys for coming and sharing your experience with us, because I think that is extremely useful, and will feed into the future activities that weíre going to undertake. Thanks for coming.



  media art


  Sarah Cook
  Beryl Graham
  Caitlin Jones
  Shaina Anand
  Rachel Baker
  Simon Bradshaw
  Gary Malkin
  Iain Pate
  Rudolf Frieling