Managing My Work: Video and New Media Artworks

Introduction: Letting go or holding on?
There are many common misconceptions regarding the archiving and documentation of technology-reliant artworks, particularly in relation to those works that are taken to be intentionally ephemeral.

Often in relation to web art, performance, or interactive-based work, there is the sense that such works should be allowed to ‘go’, that trying to ‘hold on’ to them is a contrived gesture that at worst undermines the original intention of the work, and at best can only represent a part of it.

‘Archiving’ is a loaded word: it is often negatively bound up with notions of ‘fixing’, ‘preserving’ or ‘freezing’, or with an approach that places too much emphasis on materials, components, and their durability etc.

Archiving does often connote a sense of ‘completion.’ It is also seen as something that institutions, curators, archivists, or conservators are concerned with rather than being the preserve of artists themselves.

Philosophical issues aside, there is the simple fact that artworks, which are reliant on technologies, typically require close management if they are to remain viable or displayable beyond their initial incarnation.

Remember, most technology-based works or installations have to be ‘dismantled,’ and comprise of numerous disparate parts. This makes ‘the work’ quite vulnerable. Those ‘parts’ are rarely dedicated to one work, where many artists will re-use some of parts in other works. The best, most well-intentioned memory is fallible when it comes to recalling installation specifications, and technology is in a constant state of upgrade as formats become incompatible, data becomes unreadable and equipment wears out.

All of these factors have bearing upon the integrity of your work, and upon your ability (or the ability of others) to re-install it as per your preferences into the future.

Consider the following scenarios:

· I made a video work for Glasgow, and now I want to restage the work in a gallery in Berlin. But the only copies I have now are not in good condition, and they don’t give the picture quality that I wanted.

· A curator has asked to loan a media work that I installed two years ago in Limerick. She seems to remember it differently from me. I have some slides of it somewhere I think.

· I loaned a video installation to a gallery in Cork, which I was not able to install myself. I thought it was pretty obvious how it should be arranged from the photograph that I sent them. But they did it wrong, and it was installed incorrectly for three weeks.

Managing Your Work
Simply put, ‘managing’ your work means putting in place certain documentation and back-up practices. These will help you safeguard the conceptual, visual, or physical integrity of your work.

If you document and archive your work, you can help:

* Ensure its correct display, even by others, to your specifications.
* Ensure that its integrity is maintained, to your intentions.

It is important that you make realistic choices; choices that will keep your work safe and easily accessible, and which will also be cost effective for you.

Depending, of course, on the nature of your work, there are those aspects of ‘managing’ your work that you should undertake frequently ‘as routine’. There are other aspects that are more ‘on demand’ – but it is worth developing some idea of how you would deal with them in advance.

‘As routine’
-Backing Up
-Display documentation

‘On demand’
-Making display copies
-Certificates of Authenticity
-Maintenance Statements

The following sections will focus on these aspects more closely, providing tips and further reading.

Formats and Backing Up
If you work with some form of technology – be it digital video or an Apple 280c Powerbook, backing up or making archival copies of your work is vital.

It is a good idea to distinguish between an ‘archival’ format, and possible formats your work will be copied onto for ‘display’ purposes. It is also important to distinguish between, and decide upon, types and number of copies, i.e.

* At least one that will be ‘archival’, and not used for making copies
* At least one that is ‘archival’, but from which copies can be made
* Copies for display

You will have to make choices about formats, which will be informed by a number of factors, such the nature of your work, but also *importantly*, economic considerations. Do some research on formats (about prices, accessibility, durability, playback quality), and take good specialist advice where possible before deciding.

Tips & advice for Video

* Back up and store your work in a way that you can get to it easily.

* Currently, most industry specialists suggest digital tape formats such as Digibeta or DVCam for back up/archival purposes. However, it depends on your original working format: there is less loss when you dub within format, but something mastered on Digibeta, and transferred to DVCam will suffer loss during that process.

* Always retain two master versions in whatever format your work was originally formatted on.

* DVDs are cost effective, giving you good sound and image quality. However, they can be difficult to move to other formats. It is a good idea to archive the Splits (the MPEG2 and sound files) on a hard drive, because they can then be used or modified more easily, for different sync units, or compilations.

* Compression: Ask about data-rates. You can have a very poor image resolution with a high data-rate compression, and it can affect playback on some players. Other factors such as the type of compressor used can also be influential.

* Hard Drives: Watch storage capacity vs. file size. With some computer systems there can be an issue with storing files that are larger than 2GB.

* Hard Drives: Good, reliable portable hard drives are relatively inexpensive now, and are becoming indispensable. As they can be very large, you might feel tempted to store lots of material on a single, large capacity unit. However, hard drives do fail, and it can become difficult or expensive to get material off once they do. They can be dropped/damaged, so where affordable it is best to invest in a number of hard drives that you can dedicate to raw footage, to edits, and Masters respectively.

* On the whole, backing up your work on multiple formats is the key: Back up projects onto hard drives, but also keep copies on tape (DVCam or Mini-DV) and on DVD.

* Keep your masters safe, in a dry place where there is not going to be fluctuations in temperature or moisture.

* Always store tapes of whatever kind standing vertically. Do not stack tapes horizontally, as this can damage the tape.

* Once you have played a tape through, do not immediately rewind, as this changes the tape tension. Rewind it just before you next play it back. This is better for the tape tension.

FACT, who are based in Liverpool, offer a number of services for artists. For instance, they operate MITES – The Moving Image Touring and Exhibition Service, and a Digital Mastering Service. They offer telephone and on-line support, and they have also developed a manual that is available to those who attend their new tool courses, or those hiring equipment.

Installation Notes / User’s Manual
Many purchase or commission agreements require a set of installation notes as part of the negotiated agreement. For the artist, they are an important means by which to communicate the keys factors about the work’s display and functioning.

Remember: video and new media work will exist for periods of time in a ‘de-installed’ state. They do not themselves suggest to any future re-installer how they should be reassembled. Some aspects of how any given work is installed may appear to be self-evident. Some will not be. It is best not to take this for granted.

Installation Notes give you the opportunity to make sure all aspects of the work are explained, so that it can be correctly and appropriately installed to your preferences by other parties.

There is no template for Installation Notes. They have to best meet the needs of the work, and the information the artist wants to communicate.

However, there are some general principles to follow:

1) Name of artist

2) Document Type ( i.e. ‘Installation Notes’; it is also worth prominently noting that these must stay with the packed work)

3) Details of work (Title, date, duration (running time) and other details of ‘performance’, materials, dimensions where applicable, exhibition history)

4) Images and schematic drawings (video still, or screen shot, or installation view)

5) A description of the intention of the work, including a description of it as installed (noting a preference for any one particular installation of the work)

6) All equipment and spatial specifications, including:
-List of all equipment requirements
-List of all spatial requirements
-Instructions on how to make exhibition copies of video/digital elements
-Instructions on how to install/position playback equipment
-Instructions on how to cable equipment
-Instructions on how to calibrate projector/or monitor/image quality
-Instructions on how to set lighting/projection conditions
-Instructions on how to position furniture, objects, and other artefacts
-Instructions of how to build or modify gallery/display space ( including any false walls, colour of walls etc)

Making copies for display
I have been invited to show a video piece in a small exhibition in the US. It will run for three months. What do I supply for it?

I have sold a video installation, and want to stipulate how exhibition copies should be made from the masters that I have supplied

When works are displayed or sold, it can be difficult to maintain some control over how, where and when copies are produced, and the formats on which your work is displayed. It is worth considering how much involvement you would like to have in such matters, and how and where you might communicate any specifications or stipulations.

Some notes

* The primary display format at the moment for video works is DVD.

* Some artists still like for their work to be displayed using analogue formats such as laser disk, but increasingly galleries and museums are replacing analogue systems with digital.

* Remember, display copies will be run for up to 8 hours a day, sometimes 7 days a week for intensive periods. They will be subject to wear and tear.

* So, choose a format that gives the image quality that you want, and which can deliver that quality for the longest time before having to be replaced.

* Most venues will have playback equipment or preferences for the format that you supply on, and will let you know. If you have specifications, they may require that you supply hardware or playback equipment yourself.

* Make sure you communicate all your specifications for looping, syncing etc. in Installation Notes. This will help ensure that future display copies of your work can be made as close to your preferences as possible.

It is well worth also considering the following

* For an exhibition running time of 3months, it is a good idea to supply two DVDs.

* Tapes often have an optimal running time of 2-3 weeks before they need to be changed for fresh copies.

* For a longer show, you might also want to send a contact, so that the venue can make more if required.

* Make sure EVERY copy you send out is clearly labelled Exhibition copy only. Not For Sale. Return to the artist.’

* Remember to have the contact returned to you after the show is concluded. Also request that any display copies are returned to you, or are destroyed.

* There are factors such as the quality of playback equipment, or of technical support, that will influence how your work is installed.

* If the venue is in the US, you also have the issues of PAL/NTSC standards problems. There is also SECAM too. This will be the case whether you are using DVDs or tape formats. Also, make sure they are not region coded.

* A lot of DVD players can play both PAL and NTSC, but it is important to check that the monitors/projectors can as well.  Some services, such as MITES, can author disks on NTSC, some in the UK don’t.

Certificate of Authenticity
A Certificate is an indispensable way of stating categorically what a work comprises. The Certificate of Authenticity must stay with the work if it is subject to further sale.

There is no one template for a Certificate. It will be informed by the specific needs of the work, and also perhaps by certain aesthetic considerations on the part of the artist. However, here are some general principles to follow:

  • Name of artist:
  • Document Type: (i.e. ‘Certificate’; it is also worth prominently noting that this certificate must stay with the work)
  • Details of the work: (title, date, materials, duration, dimensions)
  • Image: (video still, or screen shot, or installation view)
  • Edition:(if applicable)
  • Work comprising: (I.e, this certificate, installation notes, 1 x 60 minute digibeta master tape)
  • Relevant notes: (i.e, installation notes are based on such-and-such exhibition; issues of replacement for hardware or playback items; issues of re-formatting or transfer)


Certificate of Authentication

Joe Smith Images
Video Still

Still Night, 2005

Video Installation
Edition 2/3

Comprising: this certificate, installation notes, and 4 x 35min Digibeta Master tapes.

The installation notes apply to the work as installed at the Spacex Gallery, Exeter, 25-04-2005 to 25-06-2005.

The equipment listed in the installation notes was acquired in 2005 to exhibit the work and should be dedicated to the display of this work only.

The equipment was chosen for picture quality and for its ‘industry’ appearance [i.e. not for domestic purposes]. If it needs replacing, or the work changes hands, and the selected models are no longer available, please contact the artist to discuss selection of new equipment.

The Digibeta Master can at a future date be transferred to a new archival medium. Both will then comprises part of the work. The artist must be consulted where possible.


Maintenance Documentation
What is the difference between ‘Installation Notes’ and ‘Maintenance Documentation’? Aren’t they the same thing?

No, not necessarily.

Sometimes clauses are added to Installation Notes or a User’s Manual, with regard to possible malfunction of equipment, or the need for replacement. These are often particular to the timeframe of a particular exhibition or installation.

However, there is much to support the idea of dealing with issues of maintenance, particularly in the longer-term, under separate cover from installation notes, and in a proactive (rather than reactive) manner.

Video and new media works typically rely on numerous variables (power supply, network feed, equipment maintenance, cleaning etc) in order to continue functioning correctly over periods of time. Often different variables influencing the working of a piece will be the responsibility of a chain of different parties. With works in public situations, those parties may be subject to change.

It is always best to clarify those variables, the individuals responsible for each of them, and what should occur if problems arise, and if individuals change.

Jill Sterret, Head of Collections and Conservation at SfMoMA, has noted: with new media works, ‘there is this inherent variability. Keeping an artwork alive over the long-term calls for mediating this variability, and it puts key aspects of decision-making in the hands of the collector or steward of the work.’

Technologies change rapidly. Contexts change. Analogue is giving way to Digital. Actual hardware or software is superceded, but also, more broadly, cultural transitions take place (i.e. from fax to email to SMS) that make certain types of work seem ‘out-moded.’

All of these elements incur losses to the work, of different kinds and to different degrees. With video or new media works, the integrity of any one work has to be managed through those kinds of changes.

Therefore, it is important that you expect and plan for malfunctions, contingencies and change

Is it important to my video installation that it is shown with CRT projectors? How might I feel about exhibiting it with LCD projectors? Would it become a different work?

Could my work be re-created using newer technology? Would I be happy with the fact that it could look quite different?

What happens if there is a loss of Internet connection? Or even loss of power?

For works that are reliant upon a power supply or a connection, it is important to consider options or possibilities if either of those sources is disturbed. Sometimes, solutions can be built into the work itself. In a recent on-line discussion, Craighead and Thomson noted about their work, ‘we have a series of strategies in place so that even if the computer is not replaced and network connections are lost, something can still happen that looks ‘graceful.’ The bottom line for us is if mains power is lost, as we have no other means of running the screen.’ Similarly, Matt Gorbet noted of his installations, ‘We like to design in layers, so that if a network connection is someday no longer maintained, or LED brightness fades, the piece itself will not appear ‘broken.’

For further perspectives on technology reliant works, change, and maintenance, see ‘Public Art and Permanence’ Theme of the Month July 2006 on the CRUMB discussion list. It is archived at

Maintenance Statements
There is no template for a maintenance statement or for maintenance documentation. The type of statement or documentation will be dependent upon the specific work in question, the context [whether the work is in a private or public collection for instance], and the needs of the individuals involved in the future care of the work.

However, it is vital that your wishes, as the artist, are represented in any decision-making process about the future of a work you have made. Typically, where you are available, you must make it known where you require to be consulted in all maintenance or re-formatting matters.

Maintenance documentation does NOT necessarily replace actual consultation where you are available.  However, maintenance or re-formatting/re-creation issues may arise on occasions that you are not available. Maintenance documentation will be invaluable for those who are placed to make decisions about the future of your work.

You may feel that it is impossible or undesirable to hypothesise possible future problems with your work. However, it is possible to state how you feel about certain aspects of the work, i.e. its appearance, functionality, or ‘cultural relevance’, and how they might fare under certain changes (i.e. different OS systems, etc.)

A maintenance statement is an excellent way to present:

  • Your preferences for courses of action, i.e. exhausting all available supplies of items
  • Your ‘philosophy’ regarding aspects of the work and possible changes to them (i.e. is colour change ok from one OS system to another)
  • Any ideas you might have with regard to future re-creations of the work
  • Any preferences you have for potential approaches, i.e. emulation, migration etc.
  • If /how you would expect changes, or changed states to be acknowledged
  • Your ‘bottom line’, i.e. when you think that changes would indeed lead to the work becoming ‘another work

The presentation of preferences and recommendations regarding the future maintenance of works varies from work to work, and artist to artist. Some artists supply formal documents that include information about carrying out repairs, or replacement of parts. Others supply more simple philosophic statements, or even a letter outlining preferences. It is important that these statements represent, as accurately as possible, your current thinking, whilst not forcing you to be definitive to a degree that you might find uncomfortable, or even untenable in the future. Your attitude or preferences with regard to any one work may change or adapt over time. It is worth putting in a clause in any maintenance statement that you supply that you retain the right to revisit (and possibly revise) your opinions at a later date.

Further Reading
* TechArchaeology Special Edition, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 40, 3, 2001

* Medien_kunst_net, Dortmund, 404: Object Not Found: International Congress concerning the Production, Presentation and Preservation of Media Arts, 19-22 June 2003, conference proceedings accessed here

*Wijers, Gaby, Ramon Coelho, and Every Rodrigo, The Sustainabilty of Video Art: Preservation of Dutch Video Art collections, Amsterdam: The Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art, 2003, downloadble here

*Frieling, Rudolf and Wulf Herzogenrath, 40YEARSVIDEOART.DE – Part 1 Digital Heritage: Video Art in Germany from 1963-the Present, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2006

*Besser, Howard, ‘InterPARES 2 and the Electronic Café International: Aging Records from Technology-based Artistic Activities,’ presented at AIC, Electronic Media group, June 2004. Download here

*Richard Rinehart, A System of Formal Notation for Scoring Works of Digital and Variable Media Art, 2003, p. 2. Available for download here

*Frohne, Ursula and Mona Schieren, Jean-Francois Guiton (eds.) (2005) Present Continuous Past(s): Media Art. Strategies of Presentation, Mediation and Dissemination. Vienna: Springer- Verlag.

*Besser, Howard (2001). “Longevity of Electronic Art.” Available from thiswebsite

*Bruce Altshuler (ed.) (2005) Collecting the New: museums and contemporary art. Princeton: Princeton UP.

* Depocas, Alain, and Jon Ippolito, Caitlin Jones (eds.) (2003). Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach. Available here

HorizonZero issue 18. ‘Ghost’ (November/December 2004) The Banff New Media Institute. Available here

Dr. Tina Fiske

Dr. Tina Fiske is co-director of Bracker Fiske Consultants, a consultancy specializing in the documentation of contemporary artworks. Tina received her PhD from the University of Glasgow, for her thesis on the acquisition and long term care of ‘non-traditional’ contemporary artworks by British public collections.She currently teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses on ‘Collecting and Conserving Contemporary Art’ at the University of Glasgow, which introduce students to some of the philosophical, historical, and practical issues that attend the collection and conservation of non-traditional contemporary works of art.

Tina has convened several conferences and workshops on issues of preservation in relation to digital and video media: for example, The Preservation of Digital Art (with Erpanet, October 2004) and The Work of Video Art in the Age of Reproduction (with Streetlevel, April 2006), both at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. She has also organized workshops for Visual Artists Ireland (Dublin and Cork, 2006) on issues attending sales and management of new media / video artworks.

Tina would like to acknowledge the advice and help of the following people: Alison Bracker, Clare Mitchell, Paul Cameron, Russell Henderson, Jon Mack, Susan Collins, Jon Thomson, and others.

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