Documentation Symposium 2017

Reporting on FUTURE PROOF!? Transformation Digital Art 2017
By George Barker
Digital artworks are increasingly being presented and collected by institutions in the Netherlands, as can be demonstrated by Jan Robert Leegte’s solo exhibition at Upstream, the As If exhibition at Framer Framed, and Geert Mul’s ‘Match Maker, 25 Years of Media Art’. In light of this, Future Proof!? - held at the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam - was designed as an opportunity to share best practises concerning both artist led and institutional strategies geared towards the future presentation of born-digital and software based art. Inviting international participants from an array of professional backgrounds, this symposium continued in the tradition of the 2016 Transformation Digital Art, but also pushed further to ask what strategies could be developed in order to make art works of an inherently performative and processual nature future proof.
During the two days of Future Proof!? Transformation Digital Art 2017, numerous research projects involving LIMA were presented. Rachel Somers Miles delivered a presentation on the utility of the in-house developed artwork documentation package and its specific application to the work of Geert Mul in 'Future Proof Media Art!?'. Nine of his works including God’s Browser and Match of the Day were used as case studies for this documentation package. These were thereafter seen in artist-led tours of the Geert Mul exhibition Match Maker. In relation, Claudia Röck, PhD student at the University of Amsterdam, spoke more specifically on the case-study of Shan Shui by Geert Mul which was also exhibited in Schiedam.
On the second day of the programme Miles led a workshop on documentation strategies for artists, whilst Nina Van Doren conducted another documentation session targeted towards museum and heritage professionals. In the latter workshop, Van Doren and Alex Michaan brought into discussion previous projects around the software-based works of Peter Struycken and practices of CD-ROM archiving. Also Arthur Van Mourik from the Centraal Museum Utrecht spoke extensively here about the documentation of the reinstallation of Pipilotti Rist’s work. A final reflection on the collaborative project ‘UNFOLD’ by LIMA was offered by Lara Garcia Diaz, who gave a presentation on the value of re-interpretation as preservation strategy and the need to practise the reinterpretation of digital art in an institutional context. She did so in order to counteract suppositions that reinterpretation may be considered as a radical or dangerous technique in conservation practices.
As might be anticipated within a field of preservation which requires practitioners to hold a hybrid knowledge of software engineering, digital preservation and art conservation, the participants of Future Proof!? covered a broad scope of interconnected topics and case studies. Jesse de Vos from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision commented on the interrelation between his work on video documentation and the exhibiting of historic computer games with the concerns of conservators in time-based media art institutions and departments. Tom Ensom, a PhD researcher from King’s College London who has been working with the Tate Modern spoke about the possibility of descriptive and therefore more legible documentation for software based artworks in relation to research conducted for the Realtime 3D presentation of John Gerrard’s Sow Farm. Josef Gründler thereafter gave an example of mediation and  documentation practices through the lens of an artist. Showing images captured on a 2004 cellphone of his re-interpretation of Nam June Paik’s TV Buddha, he pointed that retrieving the past in its inaugural form is ultimately an unachievable goal in light of tech-based arts intrinsic processual configuration, which in turn opens up potential spaces for playful reinterpretations. Sandra Fauconnier offered an entirely different approach by positing how preservation may take place through writing Wikipedia articles for digitally based artists, delivering guidelines of the protocols and best practices in which to make a contribution as a Wikipedian.
Florian Cramer’s presentation was in line with Fauconnier’s argument of preservation continuing in a written tradition. Whilst commenting on the pitfalls of preservation that exists in increasingly technical, complex and time-consuming forms. Instead, he suggested that robust low-tech strategies and formats as well as non-institutional archival methods may be considered as best practices for digital preservation. Jon Ippolito also called for a certain reconception of digital art preservation practices by calling attention to the ways in which digital art may be considered as both time-based and instructional. Drawing from research conducted for Re-collection, Art, New Media and Social Memory, and the ‘UNFOLD’ meetings at LIMA in 2016/2017, Ippolito stated that both instructional and time-based media are alike in that they are synonymous with processes of modification and unfolding which should in turn influence their models of conservation. In light of the unfolding nature of such works, Ippolito also suggested the practical implementation that the variable media endowment should always be calculated and integrated into a budget at the moment of the acquisition of a digital artwork by a museum (15 %). In relation, by introducing the need to collect versions of an artwork through the case study of TV TV Bot 1.0 / 2.0 / 3.0 by Marc Lee, Sabine Himmelsbach from HeK also commented on the need of institutions to recognise the inherent processual nature of unfolding and variable works.
At the end of her talk entitled ‘Museums and the Future of Media Art, Building up a Collection of Media Art at HeK', Himmelsbach went on to suggest that a further form of preservation may exist in the preservation of social information and relations, stressing the importance of inter-institutional cooperation and the spread of expertise within the specialist field of digital art conservation. This sentiment introduced at the opening of the symposium was reciprocated at its end by Martine Neddam, the artist and author of, who introduced the notion of  conversation as conservation whilst also configuring generative preservation as a term which could displace that of re-interpretation. On the first day of the symposium, the afternoon panel discussion entitled ‘how to become and stay a professional in digital art conservation?’ brought together Annet Dekker, Patrícia Falcão, Tjarda de Haan and Eef Masson in a conversation moderated by Marcel Ras, which also stressed the exchange of knowledge amongst different spheres and institutions of research in digital art curation and conservation. Collaboration, also mentioned by Himmelsbach and Wijers, similarly took centre stage in Ward Janssen’s presentation on the processes of an evenly split collaboration between the Stedelijk Museum Breda and MOTI/Breda in the acquisition and preservation of digital art works. He stated that although working processes may become slower when working with larger institutions, the expanded budget and team afforded by collaboration can allow for a perhaps more ‘futureproof’ workflow which dedicates more energy towards the preservation of digital art works at the point of their acquisition as well as their presentation in general.
Whilst there may be no overarching method or model which can take into account the variable forms of software based and digital art that are placed in the hands of its makers, conservators and curators, the production of shared knowledge is - as was discussed during this symposium - a vital strategy through which to overcome certain challenges facing its artists and museum professionals. As a symposium centred around the production of shared resources and knowledge, LIMA would like to warmly thank all participants of Future Proof!? Transformation Digital Art 2017 as well as the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam for hosting this valuable networked event.
Download the extended report by George Barker, here.
Click here for the photobook.