"Unavoidable change does not mean that the work was designed to change. Artists and other stakeholders are at liberty to assign significance to a specific piece of display equipment, even if that object is set to become obsolete and fail." Pip Laurnson
During a visit to the opening of the Sonnier exhibition at the Hall Art Foundation in Reading, Vermont, I was told that the flourecent tubes in installations were replaced prior to this exhibtion. The works had been fabricated spanning decades, beginning in the 1960's. It made me reflect upon art that intrinsically relies upon technology and equipment. In the Sonnier exhibit, I was told that the artist supervised the replacement of the tubes, which are key elements of the work.
I began to investigate the effect of changing or obsolete technology in relation to digital and time based media installations. I found a wealth of information online.
Matters in Media Art is a multi-phase project designed to provide guidelines for care of time-based media works of art (e.g., video, film, audio and computer based installations). The project was created in 2003 by a consortium of curators, conservators, registrars and media technical managers from New Art Trust, MoMA, SFMOMA and Tate.
In many cases artists are very specific about the way in which the work should be installed and the technology used to show it. The installation of these works requires new skills and new areas of collaboration within museums. Whereas internationally agreed standards exist for the handling, installation and care of traditional works of art, there are no such standards at present for time-based media works.
"Unavoidable change does not mean that the work was designed to change. Artists and other stakeholders are at liberty to assign significance to a specific piece of display equipment, even if that object is set to become obsolete and fail.
Here lies the nub of the problem: display equipment is certain to fail and become obsolete, therefore any
strong link between specific display equipment and authenticity or value will mean that a degree of loss is inevitable. The stronger and more specific the link, the more vulnerable the work is to loss. Does it make sense to associate the identity of these works with elements thatcannot be preserved? As with other types of vulnerability, for example light sensitivity of pigments in a painting, difficulty in preserving what is valued does not mean something is less valuable, rather that we may have to accept a greater degree of loss than in works that exhibit a different or lesser vulnerability."
He goes on to say:
"Considering scenarios about the future helps to identify the values underpinning decisions in the
present. In the following quote the artist Bill Viola has done just that:
I can envision some historical researchers and technicians in the basement of some museum one hundred years from now relearning the art of blowing glass and circuit wiring to recreate CRTs from scratch so the late-twentieth-century Nam June Paik piece in the collection can be presented as originally seen. Whether it will be the adapted/updated technology approach or the purist,original technology-at-all-costs approach, preserving the hardware,or at least detailed information about it, will have to be considered an essential element in the preservation of these works.*
How one reacts to the ‘purist, original technology-at-all costs approach’ depends on how the relationship of
the equipment to the identity of time-based media works of art isviewed. Significance is context dependent."
Artwork above: Keith Sonnier, Lit Circle Blue with Etched Glass (Lit Circle Series), 1968 neon, glass, wire and tranformer, 58 x 61 x 25 in. Hall Collection
* Bill Viola, ‘Permanent Impermanence’, in M. Corzo (ed.), Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of 20thCentury Art, Getty Conservation Institute 1999, pp.85-95