DOCAM Summit :: Lucas Ihlein

September 26-27 2007, Montreal Canada

DOCAM stands for Documentation et Conservation du Patrimoine des Arts Mediatique. It is a research alliance which works towards strategies for the documentation and preservation of new media art, initiated by the Daniel Langlois foundation. DOCAM members (together with invited guests) meet annually to share their research findings.  I was invited to the Summit to give a presentation about my ongoing collaborative project with Louise Curham, re-enacting Expanded Cinema works from the 1970s.

There is an increasing awareness among museum professionals (curators, conservators, collection managers etc) that much of the art produced during the last fifty years or so is highly unstable in nature. Moving image, performance art documentation, and, more recently, interactive digital art all present great challenges for preservationists.

For example, the magnetic media utilised by pioneer video artists may be decaying rapidly, requiring swift action and transmission onto more stable “storage” materials. However, if an artwork was created to be “medium-specific” (as is often the case), transferring it to an alternative, less “ephemeral” medium cannot be considered a satisfactory preservation method. These problems formed the basis for many of the strategies offered by speakers at the DOCAM Summit.

The Variable Media Network’s method, as presented by Jon Ippolito, calls for artists to define their work in such a way that it might be able to continue into the future, even if the medium with which it was created no longer exists. This is a particular concern in the case of computer-based artworks, where both hardware and software may become obselete and unavailable. If an artwork is to transform itself in order to continue to “live”, the Variable Media Network seeks to involve the artist in the process, by completing an in-depth questionnaire about the nature of the work. The Variable Media Questionnaire seeks to answer the question: to what extent can an artwork be “migrated” to different media, and still be considered the “same”? Stan Douglas, who presented a keynote address, provided some illuminating examples of this dilemma, including Nam June Paik’s pieces created specifically for the technology of cathode ray tube televisions and early 3-beam video projectors. Canadian conceptual artist Vera Frankel, who was in attendance at the Summit, suggested that this “future-projection” (or migration) process could be seen as the creation of a “living will” for an artwork.

If the Variable Media Questionnaire is based around the artists’ intentions, other speakers suggested that this might be complemented by a study of audience reception techniques. For example Lizzie Muller, a curator from Sydney, presented her research into documenting the audience’s experiences of new media artwork, and argued for the development of an Oral History for new media art. In collaboration with archivist Caitlin Jones, a key player in the development of the Variable Media Network approach, and electronic art installation specialist Paul Kuranko (both from New York), Muller had developed an online documentary collection for David Rokeby’s artwork Giver of Names. The combined approach of Jones, Muller and Kuranko emphasised the relationship between the “real” and “ideal” manifestations of the artwork. Their collection consisted of several different types of data including technical information about the artwork’s hardware and software, interviews with the artist, and first hand accounts of the way audiences interact with the work.

Other speakers dealt with preservation issues unique to particular fields. Belgian researcher Clarisse Bardiot, for example, works towards the creation of moving image “scores” from live performance artworks. Bruno Bachimont and Jean-Francois Blanchette have for some years been working on a project called Mustica, which enables musicians to closely document the materials and methods involved in the creation of electronic music. For Blanchette, Bachimont and Bardiot, the emphasis is on enabling these works, which were intended to be experienced “live”, to continue to be performed – rather than existing only in documentation.

This imperative for “live-ness” also informed the presentation I gave, on behalf of research carried out by Louise Curham and myself, as the Teaching and Learning Cinema (TLC). The TLC produces re-enactments of 1970s Expanded Cinema events, as a way of trying to understand what the lived experience of those works might be like for audiences. At the summit I reported particularly on our re-creation of Anthony McCall’s 1975 piece, Long Film For Ambient Light. Re-creating an older work in the present involves a fascinating process of re-contextualisation. How does the work change in a geographically, culturally and technologically different situation?

As the production media used by artists continue to multiply, proliferate (and just as quickly obselesce), initiatives such as DOCAM will become ever more relevant. In Australia, the recent Disappearing Video conference in conjunction with the Video Logic exhibition at Sydney’s MCA is one such initiative. It is essential that artists are present at every stage of the discussion, as, increasingly, the life (or death) of their artworks depends on their active participation.


DOCAM 2007 Summit:

Jon Ippolito:

Variable Media Network:

Vera Frenkel:

Caitlin Jones / Paul Kuranko:

Lizzie Muller:

Clarisse Bardiot:

Bachimont / Blanchette:


More on Mustica:


Daniel Langlois Foundation

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